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‘Rebellious Scots’ Are Oddly Compliant

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivers a speech on Brexit day in Edinburgh, Scotland, January 31, 2020. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)

This summer, the Scottish Conservatives accused Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon of misrepresenting data on multiple occasions in order to suggest that the prevalence of COVID-19 was five times higher in England than in Scotland. The Office for Statistics Regulation also rebuked the Scottish National Party leader, explaining that “it is important to recognize that a comparison of COVID-19 prevalence rates is not straightforward . . . if it is to be undertaken, the results and the uncertainties should be communicated transparently,” and that the sources Sturgeon used did not “allow for a quantified and un-caveated comparison of the kind that was made.”

Yet, for all her thinly veiled partisanship, the pandemic has not induced a political crisis for the Scottish First Minister in the same way that it has for Boris Johnson, who now faces the potential disintegration of the Union (if current polling on the question of Scottish independence is to be trusted).

Since the summer, Sturgeon has enjoyed a majority approval rating, and by October was not only more popular in Scotland than Johnson (which isn’t difficult) but in England, too. In July, the Daily Record even reported that thousands of her supporters would participate in a national clapping session for the Scottish leader, on the occasion of her 50th birthday. Since when did the Scottish become such sentimental statists?

That is a question to address some other time, perhaps, but for now, it is sufficient to recall the warning of the former U.K. Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption who has argued that “when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated.”

On this theme, there is an interesting summary of a self-published book by Ian Mitchell, The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland? in today’s Times of London. The book includes forwards and endorsements by a U.K. government adviser and a former Supreme Court judge. Per the Times, Mitchell argues that since devolution in 1999:

  • The executive has gathered more and more power for itself;

  • The lines between the civil service and the government have become blurred;

  • Ministers have refused to take responsibility for their departments;

  • An excess of legislation has been introduced, which is poorly scrutinised in committees;

  • Much of the SNP government’s behaviour is driven by a “hyper-moralism” that has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech in Scotland and is backed by a state-controlled police force whose unification threatens to render it a gendarmerie in the future.