A tighter weave
On the face of it, an utterly unexceptional meeting. Routine. Standard. Apart, that is, from the fact that the participants have radically different aims and agendas.
The participants? First Minister Alex Salmond and Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy. The topic? Reviving the joint ministerial committee structure which was designed to tackle blockages in devolution.
And those different agendas? Mr Murphy has been tasked by the PM with reviving the JMC in response, substantially, to the SNP’s election victory.
This is an effort to ensure that the UK dimension of politics is not neglected in Scotland.
Alex Salmond's aim? He wants formal recognition for his administration and, perhaps, to create a model of cross-border diplomacy which might survive independence. Council of the Isles, anyone?
Now, of course, there is hard, practical governance here too. The JMC was designed to create formal links between Whitehall and the devolved territories: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.
It fell into abeyance largely because busy ministers and civil servants by-passed it, working directly across administrations on a daily basis without the need for posh “summit” meetings.
That will still happen. That is still happening. But there are now Nationalists in power in Scotland and (partly) in Wales. There is a revived devolution structure in Northern Ireland.
It’s felt, on both sides, that this panoply of political colour requires a slightly tighter weave.
So the JMC, if and when revived, will be a forum for resolving disputes between administrations: for example, where it’s felt London has intervened in Edinburgh’s affairs or vice versa.
As with the exploratory talks in Edinburgh, it will have more than its share of mundane moments.
But still those varying agendas persist. Just look at the separate billing for today’s discussions. The Wales Office in the UK Government reckons Paul Murphy “met with First Minister Alex Salmond”.
By contrast, the Scottish Government says that “First Minister Alex Salmond has today hosted a bilateral meeting with Secretary of State for Wales Paul Murphy”.
“Bilaterals” are customarily held between two states: for example, member states of the EU. In politics, language is seldom accidental.
PS: Did you miss me? A couple of weeks leave followed by a couple of days blighted by man-flu. Actually, I’m still notably below par. Sympathy, I suppose, would be too much to expect.
PPS: Finally saw a production of Black Watch. Magnificent, simply magnificent: contriving to portray the soldiers’ innate pride in their regiment blended with their shame at the particular Iraqi conflict.