Politicians may, from time to time, mean what they say. But they only very rarely say exactly what they mean. The form of words that they use is carefully crafted and filtered through aides, policy advisers and media relations gurus. Mostly, professional politicians don’t lie. Although the version of the facts that they offer may be so distorted and perverted by that filtering process as to be a long way from the truth, it is seldom an outright untruth such as might come back to bite them on the arse at a later date.
There are, of course, exceptions. But they are exceptions because they are not behaving professionally. They are ignoring the advice and by-passing the filtering process. This may be because they are so junior as to lack a devoted team. Or it may be because they are just plain stupid. They convince themselves that they are great orators and fully on top of their brief, then make complete fools of themselves. Commonly, however, such people are so foolishly arrogant that they don’t even realise they’re making fools of themselves. Between their own lack of self-awareness and the sycophantic reassurance from their entourage, they carry on regardless.
The British political system doesn’t penalise such individuals. On the contrary, it all too frequently rewards them with high office.
Which brings us to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – the final two contenders for the British Conservative Party leadership; and the title of British Prime Minister which is the free bonus prize. I shall leave it to others to judge for themselves whether each of these individuals is a fool behaving professionally, or a professional behaving foolishly.
When trying to discern the true meaning behind what politicians say, it often pays to blur out the actual words and listen instead to the general tone. Take Jeremy Hunt’s responses to journalists prior to the hustings in Perth. Look past all the rhetoric about him being “a passionate Unionist” and how he wants “a Brexit that works for the Union”. Tune out the carefully chosen phrases – “work constructively and positively”, “open mind”, “forward”, “engage fully, responsibly and generously”, “I’m a democrat”. Try to hear the mood, rather than the words. He may not be saying what he means, but what he means will come through in the way he says it.
On second thoughts, don’t totally tune out that last bit where Hunt insist that he is a democrat. It is of particular interest in light of what we find when we listen to the tone of his utterances. He might as well have said, “I’m a democrat, but…!”. Because what comes across is certainly not an unequivocal commitment to democratic principles. The words say one thing. The tone betrays something else entirely.
What Hunt is talking about is, not democracy as we would understand it – and definitely not the democracy we aspire to in Scotland – but something more akin the the managed (or guided) democracy associated with formerly explicitly totalitarian nations. In a managed democracy, elections are held and people vote but no matter who they elect the resulting administration remains effectively unchanged. Elections shuffle the politicians around, but have no effect on policy. Whatever the outcome of elections, whatever the make-up of parliament, whatever the democratic will of the people, the government continues to do what it wants.
This is a million miles from the popular sovereignty of Scotland. It is far, even, from the parliamentary sovereignty of England. This is sovereignty of the executive. This is the dangerous idea that legitimate political authority derives, not from the people or even the monarch, but from those who wield power. It is the notion that what is done is right because of who does it.
The tone of Hunt’s remarks – and in this respect he is no different from any other British politician – tells us that what his commitment to democracy means is that he will generously allow Scotland all the democracy we want so long as we only use in the way that he wants. We can vote for anything we like, so long as it isn’t something with which he “profoundly disagrees”. Our democratic choices are only valid if they accord with his preferences. Our democratic will is conditional on us not opposing his will.
Scotland can be whatever it wants, so long as that is what Jeremy Hunt (the British political elite) wants. That is his idea of democracy. Such is managed democracy.
Having discerned that what Hunt really means when he talks of democracy is democracy ‘guided’ by the British state, we are entitled to enquire as to what we are being guided to. Which is where we deploy another trick of political analysis and look for the imperatives which drive the British state and the options it has in pursuing those imperatives.
Maintaining the Union is a major imperative for the British state. England-as-Britain has to keep hold of Scotland. It is not entirely a matter of economics – geopolitics and pride are significant factors – but the economic implications of Scotland dissolving the Union cannot be ignored. Nor can they be overstated. Brexit is going to be expensive. The British political elite has, through a combination of idiocy and more idiocy, painted itself into a corner where it must deliver Brexit at any cost. And the cost is going to be enormous.
It is questionable whether the UK can bear this cost. England-as-Britain almost certain would not be able to do so. The figures may not mean much, but they suffice to illustrate the point. The cost of Brexit may be £200bn. Scotland’s economy is worth roughly the same amount to the UK. England-as-Britain demands the status of successor state in the event of Scotland restoring its independence. Which means England-as-Britain takes on the entire burden of UK debt plus the additional costs of Brexit. And it takes on this burden with an economy which has shrunk relative to the former UK by around £200bn annually.
Even without Brexit, losing Scotland was going to be economically problematic for England-as-Britain. Which is why the Scottish Government included in its White Paper a number of provisions intended to ease the transition. Unpopular as many of these provisions were among independence supporters, Alex Salmond realised full well that an economically crippled England benefited Scotland not at all.
These provisions were also rejected by the British government. Not because they weren’t aware of the need for them, but because accepting that England-as-Britain would need Scotland’s cooperation post-independence didn’t fit with the narrative of the anti-independence campaign. With the exception of those who were completely taken in by British propaganda, everybody – including the British political elite – was aware that a Yes vote would have prompted several screeching U-turns on the part of the British government.
We know that, regardless of any other considerations, the British government must deliver Brexit. We know that Brexit is likely to be economically crippling to some degree. We know that, failing the kind of relationship with Scotland that British politicians seem determined to permanently destroy, the impact would be considerably greater if Scotland dissolves the Union. We know that, so long as there is an SNP Scottish Government, a Scottish Parliament, and a Yes movement the British establishment must assume that their precious Union is in jeopardy.
Do the math!
It is blindingly obvious that the British state’s imperative to preserve the Union must drive it towards the option of removing the Scottish Parliament from the equation. It has to be Holyrood because proscribing a political party is fraught with problems and the Yes movement is invulnerable on account of its very nature. Besides, removing the Scottish Parliament also removes the Scottish Government. A doubly blow to Scotland’s democracy and to our aspiration to restore constitutional normality.
Whichever British politician we listen to, and whatever form of words they use, the tone tells us very clearly that the British state’s intention is to eliminate the threat of the Union being dissolved by eradicating Scotland’s distinctive political culture and imposing their own brand of managed democracy.
Because we know what the British state’s imperatives are; because we know the circumstances in which the British political elite has placed the UK; because we know the options available to the British government – whoever is PM – and because we know the meaning behind the words when Jeremy Hunt and his ilk speak, we know with a high degree of certainty that the British government will shortly move to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions. We know they are going to emasculate, suspend or abolish the Scottish Parliament.
The question is whether we are prepared to let them. How determined are we to stop them? How committed are we to democracy? How resolved are we to rescue Scotland from the rolling juggernaut of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism that threatens everything we have achieved – and everything we aspire to?
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