An “independence debate”? Perish the thought! There is, of course, no way that Boris Johnson’s operators will put him in a situation where he can be even more humiliated than he was today. The vignette at the door of Bute House as Johnson arrived for his meeting with Nicola Sturgeon offered a fascinating insight into the power dynamic between the pair. And the new British Prime Minister did not come out of it well. On the steps of her official residence, the First Minister gave a master-class in stamping authority. The body language in that brief video clip will be studied and commented on for years to come.
Boris Johnson desperately needed to be the boss in that situation. Especially after the competitive Jock-bashing he and his rivals engaged in throughout the Tory leadership contest. He failed abysmally. Bossing the situation meant being last through the door so as to appear to be the dominant personality; the one in control and shepherding inferiors into a domain made to look his own by the fact that he was ushering visitors into it. When Sturgeon outmanoeuvred Johnson to deprive him of his moment, that had to hurt. Watch the footage and you can see how desperate Johnson was to further signal his alpha status by delivering a pat on the back – or three – as he symbolically pushed the First Minister through her own door. The body language was unmistakable. Boris was bossed in such balletic fashion there is an almost irresistible urge to leap to ones feet shouting, “Brava, Nicola!”
But if this episode hurt Johnson it must have all but crippled his minders. You can almost hear them out of shot hissing, “We rehearsed this!” as they bite their knuckles in fits of tearful frustration. The perils of working for a malignant child-clown bred to believe that deference is his due. Lesson learned. Johnson’s minders will be reluctant to allow their man to be in the same postcode as Nicola Sturgeon, never mind throwing him into the debating arena with someone who has already bested him with such effortless ease and exquisite elegance.
This debate is not going to happen. Not unless Johnson is crazy in ways that nobody has hitherto supposed. And it’s just as well. Because it would be an embarrassingly pointless exercise.
Get past the theatre of Sturgeon’s challenge to Johnson and ask what this “Scottish independence debate” would be about. What would they be debating? What would the proposition? And why? Why would the First Minister of Scotland be debating with the British Prime Minister on a matter in which the latter has absolutely no say? Johnson isn’t resident in Scotland. He cannot, to the best of my knowledge, qualify to vote in the coming referendum. It literally has bugger all to do with him.
Maybe they could debate whether there should even be a referendum. Or what the question on the ballot should be. But, again, this has nothing whatever to do with Johnson. Scotland’s right of self-determination cannot legitimately be denied, and the referendum itself must be held entirely and exclusively under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament.
The British Prime Minister has no more authority in relation to Scotland’s exercise of its right of self-determination than the head of any other foreign government. More to the point, Scotland’s First Minister should not be treating him as if he did have some kind of authority.
Let’s be generous and assume that Nicola Sturgeon was only joking when she challenged Boris Johnson to a Scottish independence debate. Let’s be grateful that such a gruesome spectacle is vanishingly unlikely ever to be thrust upon us. Let’s just watch that Bute House clip on a loop instead. Delightful!
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