IT was truly astounding news. In the decades I have been writing about politics nothing has smacked my gob more than being told that Boris Johnson doesn’t care very much about Scotland. Who’d have guessed?

Yet, according to Dominic Cummings,in his latest commentary on his “useless” former boss, the PM isn’t really serious about being Minister for the Union. He just said that because it seemed like a good soundbite. Mr Johnson is much more interested in painting buses and telling funny stories in Covid meetings.

As has become customary following Mr Cummings’ interventions, Downing Street issued a disclaimer. The Prime Minister, we’re told, is interested in Scotland. Imagine a Government spokesman having to say that the PM is interested in England, or London…

Perhaps the PM’s waning interest in Scottish affairs might be partly a reflection of his chief adviser’s indifference to the Scottish Question. “The tail wagging the dog”, opined Mr Cummings about Scotland’s complaints regarding Brexit. He says he just ignored the Caledonian grievance on the grounds that “Scotland will sort itself out one way or the other”.

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Indeed it might. Though if Mr Cummings thinks that the break-up of Britain, and the loss of a third of the UK landmass, most of its hydrocarbons and all of its nuclear deterrent is irrelevant then that explains a lot about his priorities.

He’s surely right though when he says it’s a waste of time listening to Tory MPs “prattle on about the Union”. One of them, a former minister, is quoted in Politico’s website as saying that dealing with Scotland is like “juggling s**t with white gloves”. Which is a curious image since you’d have to ask: why would anyone juggle excrement with or without gloves?

It’s all contributed to a rather toxic environment into which the latest indyref2 bombshell was hurled. The Times has reported, apparently from UK Cabinet sources, that the Government is considering extending the franchise in the next independence referendum to include Scots living in England. This would, according to pollsters, add several per cent to the No vote. In 2014 only those resident and on the electoral register in Scotland were permitted to vote in the independence referendum.

Now, there is a saying in American politics which goes: “Don’t think of an elephant”. What they mean is that as soon as you talk about something, like an elephant or a referendum, you validate it – you introduce it into the minds of the voters. Discussing who should vote, even hypothetically, arouses expectations that such a referendum is on the way. Yet the official UK Government line is that there shouldn’t be one for at least a decade, or a “generation”.

HeraldScotland: As soon as you talk about a referendum, you validate itAs soon as you talk about a referendum, you validate it

Moreover, raising the franchise issue is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to claim the moral high ground. It may seem reasonable, fair even, that Scots who just happen to be living in England should have a say on the destiny of the country of their birth. But where does that leave people who are not ethnically Scottish who happen to be living in Scotland? If only racially-validated Scots are members of this franchise, then should English-born people living in Scotland – half a million of them – not be excluded, along with Poles, Lithuanians, Scandinavians and all the rest of the beneficiaries of globalisation who happen to be on Scottish soil?

Non-ethnic Scots, whether English, European or Asian make an immense contribution to Scottish society. This is why it was agreed by the Electoral Commission that everyone resident here and registered to vote in Scotland should be included.

After all, what is a Scot? What about people of mixed ethnic parentage? Would we require DNA tests to assess the pure Volk from the impure? There are also lots of Scots living not just in England, but abroad. Once the Scottish diaspora enters the picture the referendum could become totally unmanageable with Scots in Canada and Australia demanding the right to vote.

Defenders of extending the franchise, which include Labour politicians like Lord Foulkes, say that this is silly. They argue only that Scots living in England should vote in indyref2 because they have a right to a say on the future of the United Kingdom. It doesn’t just affect people living in Scotland.

But other Tory backbenchers, pausing to juggle the ordure, might add that English people living in England also have an interest in the future of the Union. The UK is as much their property as Scots’. Breaking up Britain would be a massive constitutional change. It would divide families who live across the Border. It would disrupt trade within the UK and damage companies that have branches in both countries. The UK could lose its seat on the United Nations Security Council. And if the Scots rejoin the EU it could damage Brexit.

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But allowing English people to vote on Scottish independence would plainly be ridiculous. If and when there is a referendum in Northern Ireland about reunification, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, no one in their right minds would suggest that English or Scottish people should have a vote in that. It is for each nation to decide its destiny.

Referendums are tricky to get right and the simplest way is generally the best. It is unfortunate that Scottish footballers playing for English clubs could be denied a vote in any future independence referendum. But two anomalies don’t make a right argument. Best to stick to what works – which is to say that all who are resident in Scotland and on the voters roll here should be included, while those who have not made Scotland their home are not. This was the precedent established by the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and it is a mistake to try to reopen it now.

But one of the other ideas currently being floated in the UK Cabinet does make sense. They should indeed bring back Ruth Davidson into front line politics, possibly as constitution minister. There would be howls of anguish at an unelected baroness having a say on Scotland. But it would be worth it if she were able to kill off daft ideas like this one.

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