Substance and symbolism of the PM's visit to Scotland

Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street Image copyright PA

It is highly symbolic that Theresa May has chosen to visit Scotland so soon after becoming prime minister.

But this visit will be about substance as well as symbolism.

As Mrs May sits down with the Scottish First Minster Nicola Sturgeon we will see two women, both of whom wanted to keep the UK inside the EU, who now have very different agendas.

Mrs May's job is to take the UK out of the European Union. Ms Sturgeon says her task is try to keep Scotland in the EU.

Whilst Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon says Remain means Remain. Because Scotland voted decisively to stay in.

First - the symbolism.

This swift trip to Edinburgh sends a strong message to Scottish voters and to her politicians that Mrs May will fight passionately to try to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom.

If we were in any doubt about her commitment to the Union we won't be after she arrives in Scotland and says she believes with all her heart in the United Kingdom. What she calls a "special union that has endured for centuries".

Clearly she is determined she will not see the break up of the UK on her watch.

Image copyright AFP

Second - the substance.

Mrs May will assure Ms Sturgeon that the Scottish government will be fully involved in the Brexit negotiations.

But the first minster will tell her she intends to do more than just take part.

She wants to use those talks to explore ways in which Scotland can retain its links with the EU and negotiate a different relationship with the EU.

Exactly how that might work no one is quite sure. But Ms Sturgeon is urgently trying to work out how Scotland could get some sort of special deal.

The new chancellor Philip Hammond has already ruled out the idea that that Scotland could have some kind of separate relationship with the EU, saying the whole UK voted to leave and that decision will be implemented by the UK as a whole.

Today's visit by the PM shows that she understands that Nicola Sturgeon is entirely serious when she says that if Scotland can't get some kind of special deal with the EU then the option of a second referendum on Scottish independence is still very much on the table.

Something Theresa May clearly wants to avoid.

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