When British politicians are talking about Scotland’s politics, and particularly the constitutional issue, there is a perfectly understandable urge to simply dismiss what they say as the inane and irrelevant babbling of people who are not only abysmally ignorant on the subject but too arrogantly superior to feel the need to inform themselves. It’s only Scotland. They reckon they can say anything they like so long as there is no hint of respect. In the fervid atmosphere of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism gripping the Westminster clique, showing any hint of respect for Scotland is likely to be taken as a sign of weakness. Nobody wants to be seen as ‘weak on the Union’.
It would be a mistake, however, to discount completely statements such as Jeremy Hunt’s three ‘conditions’ for a new referendum. Scrutiny of such utterances can provide clues as to the ‘thinking’ behind them. Because, while Hunt and his ilk see no need to be properly briefed before making such statements, the content will have been influenced by their advisers. And those advisers will be at least broadly acquainted with the tactics the British state intends to use in its efforts to preserve the Union and eradicate the threat to established power posed by Scotland’s distinctive political culture.
Hunt’s first ‘condition’ is clearly repeating and reinforcing Ruth Davidson’s pretentious stipulations. British politicians of all parties will know how important it is to support Davidson and encourage the idea that she has real authority. She is the ‘Queen of the BritNats’. The native figurehead for the British Nationalist cause north of the border. She may be a nonentity whose status relies entirely on media hype; but. second only to David Mundell, she is the British political elite’s most important asset in Scotland.
This ‘condition’ also serves to obscure the fact that the Scottish Government already has a mandate for a new referendum. This is part of a wider effort to create doubt and uncertainty in order that the British media can impose a more helpful version of reality. And, of course, it oozes the contempt for Scotland’s democracy that is an essential part of any British politician’s image/
The second of Hunt’s ‘conditions’ tells us that the British establishment is fully aware of how well the ‘currency issue’ worked for the anti-independence effort in the 2014. It also tells us that they recognise how and why it worked as well as it did. Given its effectiveness, it is hardly surprising that they would wish to exploit it again. Note how Hunt picks at the scab of a debate which has raged fiercely within the Yes movement. The hope is that we will again fall into the trap that did so much to weaken the Yes cause in the first referendum campaign.
Arguably the biggest mistake made by the Yes campaign was that so many in the movement were so easily led into trying to answer the question ‘What currency?’. It is, without doubt, the most telling example of Better Together’s use of doubt as a campaigning tool. Jeremy Hunt – or, more likely, the minds directing him – is obviously intent on keeping the dispute about currency running. And, more significantly, determining the terms of that dispute. It would be gratifying to think that lessons had been learned. But I fear many in the Yes movement will once again fall for this ruse.
Hunt’s third ‘condition’ seeks to bounce the Scottish Government into an undertaking that they will accept and adhere to whatever rules the British state may set for a new referendum. This is interesting for two reasons. It suggests that the British establishment has doubts about its ability to block the democratic process in Scotland. And it hints at fears that the Scottish Government may have its own plans to take control of the entire process and cut the British government out of it completely.
There is one further point to be made here. That British politicians are now setting ‘conditions’ for a new constitutional referendum in Scotland is, in itself, informative. It tells us that they are, of course, anxious to convey the impression that they have the rightful authority to impose such conditions. It also tells us that they have all but abandoned the ‘just say no’ strategy that has been so spectacularly unsuccessful; necessitating a renewed effort to afford Ruth Davidson an aura of credibility.
It is always encouraging when ones opponents implicitly acknowledge their failures and show signs of uncertainty about their ability to succeed. Doubt works both ways.
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