Sketch: Ian Blackford, devolution and Scotland's tampons
The period products bill went through the Scottish Parliament this week, which is obviously hugely worrying. A lot of people are talking about it as though it’s a good thing, of course, but that doesn’t make them right.
Just wait till the cross-border tampon raids begin, just as the SNP foretold back in February. It’s just a matter of time now. Cheer the bill while you can, because the tampon reivers are on their way up from England as we speak. Loading up their horses. You never thought you’d see the day, did you? Like a modern version of cattle rustling, except with sanitary pads.
And how could you stop it? As the Scottish Government’s submission made clear back in February, after warning of “people outside Scotland seeking access to the products or people accessing them to sell at a discounted rate”, it won’t be easy.
“It would be challenging to design a proportionate fraud prevention approach for such low cost products”, it said.
So how could a low cost fraud prevention approach work? The most obvious answer is Ian Blackford. The SNP Westminster leader could to step in and move from spending his spare time harassing photographers on social media, for no reason, to patrolling the English border, by night, to protect free sanitary provision.
It’s just one example of how policy making can go wrong, when you think about it. One minute you’re trying to introduce a well-meaning, progressive new measure aimed at reducing period poverty, with cross-party support, and the next the SNP leader in Westminster has been transformed into his alter ego, NatMan, and forced to turn vigilant. Maybe devolution actually was a mistake.
Not, of course, that anyone is saying that. Oh no, no, no. Well, Boris Johnson did. In fact he said it had been a disaster, but then he didn’t, so that’s all fine.
Basically, the Prime Minister thinks devolution has been a disaster, but he has always supported devolution. It’s a complicated sentence, though the upside is that you only have to make sense of it if you’re the Scottish Tory leader.
Johnson thinks it was a disaster, but he supports disasters. It may sound unlikely, as a political stance, but that’s really only until you examine his wider political strategy.
But poor Douglas Ross. Because that’s what his job now entails. Forced to explain to the public why Johnson said devolution was Tony Blair’s greatest mistake. Yes, that Tony Blair. The one who did all that other stuff.
And of course some would question whether you can say you support devolution if it’s only for decisions you already agree with, but unfortunately the only people who would point that out would need an understanding of devolved policy-making, and clearly no one in Number 10 does.
So what could be done? Well, action was clearly called for, and Downing Street has delivered, announcing a ‘union taskforce’ with the remit of trying to arrest growing support for Scottish independence. Why is this happening? And why does a spike in support for independence seem to follow everything the PM says or does? It’s a mystery, alright.
So what’s the plan here? Some soul searching? An attempt to learn what devolution is and how it actually works? Maybe stop constantly undermining the Scottish bit of the Conservative Party, six months out of the most important election in its history?
No. It’s going to be flags. You really do have to wonder at the logic. As one Scottish Tory MP said: “We have to make sure the union is at the heart of everything we do, every policy needs to have a Union Jack emblazoned on it.”
It’s hard to escape the feeling we’ve been through this one before, huh? A succession of Tory leaders have spent their time talking endlessly about their love of the union, while seemingly doing everything they can to destroy it. It’s the behaviour of someone in the lead-up to an insurance fire.
But maybe it will work this time. Painting a giant Union Jack on the side of that new bridge to Northern Ireland is certainly going to be a challenge, but if that’s what it takes to stop people being confused by the PM attacking the existence of the Scottish Parliament, then so be it.
Of course, it is actually possible that devolution is popular for a reason. That people like it because it’s often quite good. That the period poverty bill is a useful example of the successes of devolved decision-making, and that Downing Street would be better thinking about that than going on about Union Jacks all the time.
But then, while we’re at it, what sort of flags will the tampons have on them? How will anyone know who paid for them? And will Blackford be able to protect them from the Prime Minister?
They’re Scotland’s tampons, at least for now.