Scottish minister compares Westminster’s devolution approach to 1543 war

By Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter
·3-min read

A Scottish Government minister has compared the approach of the UK Government to devolution to a nine-year-long war between England and Scotland.

Addressing the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, Scottish Constitution Secretary Mike Russell likened Westminster’s dealings with the devolved administrations to the Rough Wooing – a war started by Henry VIII in 1543.

Mr Russell said there appeared to be a “dislike” in Whitehall for devolution, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported to have described handing powers to the UK’s four nations as “a disaster” this week – comments which have not been contested by Downing Street.

“If I were taking a historical perspective, I would compare it to Henry VIII’s Rough Wooing of Scotland,” Mr Russell joked to the committee.

“If this is a constructive approach, it does seem to be very destructive.”

He added: “I think to be entirely charitable and fair, I think there is a limited understanding of devolution at Westminster and within the civil service, within officials.

“I think there is a dislike of devolution, which I have noticed particularly.”

Mr Russell added that he believed the UK Government dislikes anyone who does not agree with Brexit, as the Scottish Government – and a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament – has repeatedly affirmed.

The Rough Wooing was an attempt by Henry VIII to forge an alliance between the two countries by marrying his infant son Edward VI to Mary Queen of Scots.

Mr Johnson was earlier this week reported by The Sun to have told a group of Tory MPs that devolution was “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, the Prime Minister attempted to walk back the comments, describing devolution as a “sound policy”, while attacking the SNP for its push for Scottish independence.

Mr Russell was chastised by Tory MP Andrew Bowie for his use of the comparison, with Mr Bowie saying: “I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary would like to revisit his remarks he made a few minutes ago when he compared the current negotiations on the UK Internal Market Bill to the Rough Wooing of Scotland by Henry VIII?

“This was of course a war in the mid-16th century in which people actually died.”

The Constitution Secretary did not comment further on the remarks.

Later in the session, UK Government ministers expressed their support for devolution, with business minister Paul Scully saying: “The Prime Minister was really clear in Prime Minister’s Questions earlier on that devolution is a good thing, that having power exercised as close to people who are affected by it is a good thing and he did exactly that when he was mayor of London.

“But he was concerned, and I don’t want to spend our hour getting into the politics of it, about the Scottish Government.”

Mr Scully, along with Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart, also pushed back on Scottish Government assertions that the Internal Market Bill was a “power grab”.