BORIS Johnson must explain how Scotland is able to have a vote on the constitution and not continue to bat away requests, according to former leading civil servants

Phil Rycroft, a former leading civil servant on devolution and Professor Ciaran Martin, Former Chief Executive at the National Cyber Security Centre told Lords this morning about their views on the union and what the future of the constitution could look like. 

Mr Rycroft said support for the current arrangement is “fraying” and in order to put the issue “to bed” for the medium term, the UK Government would have to obtain support for the union from at least 60 per cent of Scots. 

Speaking at the Lords Constitutional committee, he said: “Consent is clearly fraying, particularly in Scotland…it's not sustainable in the long term to have around 50% of the people at one part of the territory of the UK expressing a wish to leave it.”

He explained that Westminster must have “vision and some courage to take the steps to stabilise the union” and added: “The aim is not just about getting that percentage back up to 51-52%. If we're to put this question to bed for the medium-longer term it means looking to achieve levels of support in the Union consistently over time, 60-65%, or higher. This is not going to be easy.” 

He said polls showed that in England there was a “marked indifference” towards the union which would not help the UK Government in making the “emotional case” for the union.
The former civil servant told Peers “There will come a moment when the UK government's position of 'Now is not the time’ is no longer tenable.

On consent for the union, Prof Martin added: “Clearly the only way to measure consent for the union, decisively, is through a referendum. 
“In the British tradition, that is obviously something used sparingly and has no clear guidelines as to how and when.

“The only two objective facts that we can rely on are the union was maintained by consent in 2014. There was despite rhetoric to the contrary, no agreed timeframe as to further testing of that consent.”

He added: “The two parties that formed the pro-independence majority in the party of the forms the Scottish Government were explicit in their commitment to a referendum. The UK government was explicit that it would refuse one in any circumstances, whatever the result, and the UK governments representatives in Scotland took a contradictory position, which was that a referendum, it was implied and they're campaign would happen if pro-independence referendum parties were electorally successful.”

He said: “ I do think the UK Government has to at some point, answer the question about 'if not this what?' rather than just saying 'now is not the time'.


Mr Martin said there are no “low risk options left for maintaining the union” and described strategies seen by governments present and past to emphasise the collective power of the four nations, as well as more recent attempts by Boris Johnson’s governments at ‘assertive unionism’ as “risky”. 

He explained: “There is a more assertively singular British state model of unionism, and it might be more accurately called anglocentric British nationalism, as distinct from unionism. 

“It's more assertive governance and assertive promotion of British identity, perhaps, one might say embodied in the Internal Market Act.

“I think both [strategies] are valid, but I don’t  think they're complimentary I think they're pretty mutually exclusive. They lead you down different paths of governing.”

READ MORE: Johnson's contempt for devolution and Whitehall 'indifference' a serious threat to the union

Mr Martin added that Boris Johnson's suggestion that a referendum may nto be held for another 35 years created a potential risk for the current stand-off between  Holyrood and Westminster,

He said: "I think the risk of the current standoff when, for example, the Prime Minister pre -election talked about nothing until 2055, in effect ruling out a legitimate political aspirations, lawful and democratic attainment for 35 years is really a profound change in the way that we understand.£ 

The SNP  MP Tommy Sheppard, Constitutional Affairs spokesperson, said: Warnings from former senior Whitehall figures - including those at the heart of policy around the union and constitution - must serve as a reality check for the Tory government."