Fishing for favours
So who do you think will blink first? Richard Lochhead or Ben Bradshaw?
What do you mean you didn’t know there was a contest? There’s a big one - that goes right to the core of devolved government.
Let me backtrack a little.
Today Linda Fabiani is in London attending a Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe.
Big deal? Very big.
Like most ministers in the SNP executive, Ms Fabiani commands a bewildering array of remits.
Quite apart from the unalloyed joy of serving in Alex Salmond’s office of the first minister, she has responsibility for Europe.
Hence the London talks.
The formal JMC mechanism fell into disuse somewhat under the previous executive.
Scottish Ministers and officials found they could sort out most things by a private call to their counterparts.
From the other viewpoint, unless prompted, Whitehall officials often didn’t see the need to involve Scotland at all. You know the feeling: they never write, they never phone.....
But things are rather different now. There is an SNP executive in Edinburgh.
There is a DUP/Sinn Fein administration in Northern Ireland.
These guys are not going to accept for a nanosecond that the “man in Whitehall” automatically knows best. They are going to want proof.
Which brings us to Lochhead/Bradshaw.
Lochhead is Scotland’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs - including fisheries, to which the SNP attaches great importance. Bradshaw is the minister in Whitehall with responsibility for fisheries.
There is a European Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for next week to discuss fisheries.
During the election, the SNP said their government would seek to lead for the UK in EU fisheries talks - because the fishing grounds are mostly in Scottish waters and the industry is of disproportionate value to Scotland.
They derided the impact of previous executive ministers.
In response, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Whitehall has gently pointed out the constitutional position: which is that the UK Government leads for the UK in European negotiations.
So who will blink first? Is Richard Lochhead really going to insist on leading not just for Scotland, but for the UK, when he has never been a minister before and, consequently, has never attended an EU Council of Ministers as a participant?
Scotland’s previous representative at these talks, Ross Finnie, held the post for eight years.
And what of the UK Government stance? Will they stand on constitutional rules - and tell Lochhead where to get off? Or will they give ground?
My guess is they give ground - but not too much.
The history of the British state has been one of accommodating to circumstances, slowly and carefully, to avoid wider conflict.
My guess is Bradshaw blinks, stressing the importance of absorbing and reflecting Lochhead’s contribution, while never at any point conceding the absolute right of the UK Government to deal with Brussels.
Is that enough for the SNP?
It may have to be. The UK Government has the law on its side.