Fine words

Ian Blackford portentously declares that the next UK general election will be “one of the most important in Scotland’s history”. If we are to take him at his word, we must know what makes it so. What is it about this election that makes it so significant for Scotland? How might the election impact Scotland? In what way will the outcome of the election determine Scotland’s future?

What are Ian Blackford’s – and, we must assume, the SNP’s – priorities in this election? What do he and they hope to get out of it?

Of course, as Mr Blackford speaks, there is no election. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next UK general election isn’t due until 5 May 2022. Few people, however, expect the current regime to last that long. The smart money isn’t betting on anything right now. But there is talk of opposition scheming to bring down the government and force an election in December. Spare a thought for the canvassers and leafleters who will have winter weather to contend with.

What you may have noted is that this date is beyond the most recent Brexit deadline. So it’s not at all clear what the point might be in “putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the election campaign, as Ian Blackford states is the SNP’s intention. Whatever else might be achieved, there is no way for an election to turn back the clock or alter the past. By December, Brexit will be a fait accompli. Scotland will have been wrenched from the EU against the will of the Scottish voters. By December, the deluge of Mad Brexiteer triumphalism provoked by a no-deal Brexit may just be starting to abate. The harsh realities of Brexit may even be beginning to bite despite the British government’s efforts to bury them under a pile of money and propaganda.

Is Ian Blackford suggesting that the SNP will be asking people to vote for them as a protest against Brexit and/or the contempt shown for Scotland’s democratic will by the British establishment? It’s a strategy of a sort, I suppose. But ‘Vote SNP as a futile gesture’ is hardly the most compelling campaign slogan ever devised.

Maybe the SNP is hoping for a further extension in the further hope that there may yet be hope of stopping Brexit. Some hope! It is true that the British parliament has passed legislation which will force the British Prime Minister to request another Article 50 extension if, by October 19, he hasn’t managed to persuade MPs to vote for either the ‘deal’ that they’ve already repeatedly rejected or a ‘new deal’ which currently exists only in Boris Johnson’s roiling imagination. Commentators are busy speculating about the possibility that the malignant child-clown might simply ignore this legal requirement.

There is little reason to suppose Boris Johnson might be prevented from breaking the law by a personal moral code evidently even less substantial than the ‘new deal’ which hasn’t actually been proposed and which the EU isn’t actually prepared to negotiate even if it actually had been proposed. But Boris probably won’t have to risk whatever penalty he might incur by defying the law and refusing to ask for more time. There’s a very good chance that the EU will not grant this request; especially if there are no fresh proposals – not involving wishful thinking and magic – which might break the deadlock. Johnson need only deploy the dithering and bluster which are his political stock in trade and the UK leaves the EU at 23:00 on 31 October by default.

The hope of stopping Brexit is looking rather forlorn. Opposition after the fact is a decidedly hollow basis for an election campaign. Indeed, the SNP might be well-advised to avoid any mention of Brexit, lest they remind voters of just how ineffectual their opposition has been. What else might they say about Brexit other than that they failed to prevent it being imposed on Scotland. Perhaps the campaign slogan might be ‘At least we tried!’.

Fortunately, Ian Blackford isn’t suggesting a campaign which relies entirely on a combination of credit for effort and post hoc protest. Alongside that “opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the SNP campaign will be a demand that Scotland’s people be given “our right to choose our own future with independence”. Which immediately prompted me to wonder why we are asking for this right if it is already ours. If it’s a right it requires no permission. If it’s ours we have no need to seek that permission. Already this second prong of the SNP’s election campaign strategy is starting to look as wobbly as the first.

What Ian Blackford is referring to is, needless to say, the Section 30 order that our First Minister has declared essential for a ‘legal’ independence referendum. On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.

But let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Section 30 process is undoubtedly toxic. Let us consider only the demand for a Section 30 order as a plank in the SNP’s platform come the next UK general election. Various questions may be asked of such a demand. Is it reasonable? How you answer that will depend on whether you recognise the toxic nature of the Section 30 process. And whether the question relates to the reasonableness of the requesting or the granting. A better question might ask if it is reasonable to be required to ask for permission to exercise a right which you already have the right to exercise. However, we’ve already covered that ground.

Another question that might be asked of a demand made as part of an election campaign is whether it is realistic. Is it possible for the demand to be met? How likely is it to be met? Is there any point to it?

The answer to these questions depends on the outcome of the election. Whether the demand is realistic or attainable or meaningful is all down to the make-up of the House of Commons in the wake of the election. Rather helpfully, Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland has done the arithmetic for us. He has modelled various scenarios ranging from the highly probable to ludicrously fantastical. In none of these scenarios does the SNP Westminster group end up in a position to secure that Section 30 order. Even winning 51 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers.

None of Stu Campbell’s scenarios had the SNP win all the seats. But I suspect the end result would be the same. Whatever the weight of public support for independence it will always be outweighed in the British parliament by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MPs. The obvious conclusion being that it is utterly pointless to suppose Scotland’s independence might be restored via Westminster. It will only be restored by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament in a way that breaks the British state’s rules but with the support of the Scottish people.

In summarising, let’s look at what Ian Blackford said,

The SNP will be putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future with independence at the heart of the contest… 

Scots urged to register to vote ahead of ‘crucial’ General Election

In the next UK general election, it looks like the SNP will be campaigning to stop something that’s already happened and to get something we already have by demanding something they can’t get and which they shouldn’t be asking for because asking for it does harm and getting it does even more harm.

You may count me among those who are not at all impressed. Not for the first time, Ian Blackford offers fine words which leave the parsnips quite devoid of butter.



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17 thoughts on “Fine words

  1. “On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.”

    I am totally at one with you in this Peter. It looks as if the SNP will prevent us getting independence. They have ceased to be the SCOTTISH NATIONAL Party and have become a BRITISH NATIONAL Party. My disappointment is boundless!

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  2. I have mentioned the theoretical “Ship Of Theseus” many times.

    It’s a thought experiment that talks of a ship gradually having all it’s parts replaced over a number of years. Eventually the ship has no original parts left, just it’s name Theseus!

    The SNP are 3/4 of the way down this road. They are in the process of becoming a UK party. This was always the danger when they became a force at Westminster, and became comfortable being a devolved government at home. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they may stand MP’s in England in 10 years time. They might actually become like the Scottish Liberals of the late 19th century. A party demanding home rule or federalism.

    As trigger said to Del Boy: ” I have had this same brush for 10 years and have only replaced the handle 5 times, and the brush head 4 times”.

    Blackford is a UK MP ,he just doesn’t know it yet!

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    1. I simply don’t agree with any of this. The SNP is a political party. As such, it is what its members say it is. At the most basic level, those members are never going to agree to a change to the party’s constitution removing the commitment to independence. And if SNP elected representatives show any sign of reneging on that commitment, the members will simply stop endorsing them.

      I don’t know how familiar you are with the SNP. But I can assure you that, unlike the British parties, the SNP leadership treats the membership with respect, if not actual fear. When you are facing 2,500 delegates in an auditorium, you don’t want them turning against you. It would not be pleasant.

      What is happening is not the SNP metamorphosing into a British party. It is not a case of the party hierarchy backing off from independence. It is simply a case of some stunningly bad choices being made in the ongoing campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

      This is why I can be so severely critical of the SNP leadership while still urging people to get behind them. There is no contradiction in this. We need the SNP. That is a cold hard political fact. But the SNP needs us at their back pushing them in the right direction.

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  3. I can see Pete Wishart being booted out at the next general election. I’m disillusioned with him and the SNP so will probably vote Greens next time.

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  4. Just heard about the Court of Session ruling. I am so glad it was the Scottish judges who had the cojones to rule the proroguing of parliament unlawful in that it was not used in its proper constitutional sense. I certainly wasn’t hopeful, and it might still fall when it goes to the Supreme Court, but my faith in the Scottish jurists has not waned. I always felt that, given the impetus, they would come up trumps. Maybe, just maybe, we are starting to see a change in the heart of Scottish affairs, when people are not afraid to put their heads above the parapet. A unanimous decision, no less. Well done the Scottish judges for their courage.

    As for the S30 Order, I could not agree more. The SNP has backed itself into a corner, and we may yet pay a high price for failing to just go a year ago, two years ago, three years ago…

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    1. Amazing that our judiciary has survived more or less intact since 1707 and can deliver such a ruling based on Scots law pre 1707. When we become independent, we shall be a new country, but with live roots going back a lon way.

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      1. Protection for the judiciary and Scots Law was, and remains, one of the main and fundamental Articles of the Treaty of Union. Westminster has sought to undermine most of them, but undermining the fundamentals would lead to the collapse of the Union itself – that is, unless no one bothered to challenge such undermining. Some of the Articles have fallen into desuetude or been overridden for some other reason, which is fair enough, but a number have been deliberately usurped. If Westminster wants the Treaty to fall completely and be forgotten – even though it is still extant – undermining Scots Law is one way to do it. The Scottish judiciary might even be aware of that.

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  5. I just wanted to add that even if prorogation of parliament is averted, it will make no difference now. I just figure out the SNP agenda at all. Am I being exceptionally thick or is it not the case that nothing the SNP is willing to do/is doing will make an iota of difference? If they really, really, really did not want independence, this is the way to go. Every alternative has been derided and ruled out, both on the independence front and on the Brexit front. Okay, I can see that, maybe, Johnson and the right will come to a sticky end, but I wouldn’t go betting on it. The far likelier scenario is that the SNP will find itself utterly outmanoeuvred on every front with nowhere to go at the end of the day, and having to bear the blame for trying to de-Brexit Brexit and for not even attempting to challenge on independence in any meaningful and productive way either. What is going on?

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  6. “On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen.”

    A devastating sentence that sums it all up.

    But if the SNP leadership treats its membership with utmost respect, why was the MacNeil/McEleny proposal kicked into touch? Why weren’t the membership given the opportunity to consider it?

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  7. Peter I have been in the SNP for 30 years!

    You are correct that there are thousands of members in the SNP. However that wasn’t my point.

    The history of the SNP was never a party of government . It was a party of delivering independence. Devolution came along and changed that. It is now a party of government , who’s ambition is independence.

    So the original party is not what it was originally set up to be. It has evolved.

    In any evolution there comes a point where the origins of something are lost or forgotten.

    The SNP used to be a party of rebellion and protest. Now it is party of compliance. This is not necesserily a bad thing. But good governance can lead to a comfortable complacency. Where the party becomes part of the British establishment.

    Do you agree the current obsession with stopping Brexit is overiding the purpose of the SNP. Strange things happen at Westminster. Like prison it does a lot of damage to people’s soul.

    The SNP leaders could blow the best chance of independence by forgetting why they exist.

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    1. The idea of the SNP becoming part of the British establishment is beyond implausible. The SNP is anathema to the British establishment, which has two ways of dealing with such ‘problems’ – the challenger is either crushed or absorbed. The SNP is too big to be crushed and too unpalatable to be absorbed. Even if the SNP were amenable to being absorbed, the British system would spit them out.

      I don’t doubt that there is some truth in what you say about Westminster. But if it was damaging the souls of SNP MPs in the way you suggest then we’d see a lot more evidence of this. And it would be as significant as you suppose in any case. Because Westminster is no longer the principal locus of Scottish politics – Holyrood is.

      The current obsession with Brexit is a matter of poor political judgement, not a symptom of absorption into the British establishment. Influential people in the SNP latched onto it and committed themselves to the extent that they became unable to let go. But this doesn’t imply that they have forgotten why they exist. Consider why they latched on to Brexit in the first place. It was seen as a device to aid the independence cause. It was never an alternative to the fight for independence. It was always meant to be a weapon in that fight. This is not altered by the fact that the weapon has been wielded so clumsily that some in the SNP are being carried by it’s momentum. The weapon is wielding the bearer, so to speak.

      Note also that it is not only senior figures in the SNP who have been caught up in and swept along by the Brexit phenomenon. People in the wider Yes movement have shown the same tendency to put Brexit front and centre of their political and strategic thinking – often at the expense of the independence campaign. You surely wouldn’t suggest that they too are ‘going native’.

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      1. I honestly believe that the SNP hierarchy thought that Brexit would deliver a tidal of opposition that would carry us to independence almost overnight, and that is why I keep saying that they have not learned the lessons of the 2014 result – in particular, the demographics.

        The Herald comments and letters often show, inadvertently, I think, the prevailing mindset of many who have come to Scotland in the past 10 years or so, and that mindset appears to dovetail with prevailing, right-wing views in the south. On the face of it, they appear not to be different from the home-grown Unionists, but there is something else there that is alien to Scotland, and it is reflected in that huge rUK NO vote, coupled with the 2016 Leave vote (two-thirds of Leavers were NO voters – nearly a million, albeit a number will have been Scots-born British Nationalists).

        For reasons that are stupid to the point of imbecility about challenging that rUK NO vote, in particular, we have all colluded in our own imprisonment because we have neglected to challenge that colonial vote, against all tenets of the UN and against common sense, for that is what it was, and we have, by not doing so, allowed ourselves to be overridden on Brexit, too, with no way out but to try and destroy Brexit – which would result in our demonization south of the border.

        I do not suggest for a moment that there are not many rUK voters in Scotland who have given real thought to Scotland’s position on both the independence issue and on Brexit, and shown admirable understanding of, and comradeship to, the independence movement even though they may never vote SNP. I have said before that I heard a number of comments in 2014 which led me to believe then that we would be in trouble if we did not come to terms with the fact that many in England and many who have moved up here from England simply do not view independence as something that we either deserve or should have.

        Some may well feel that the Union is important and sacrosanct, but some appear to be wedded to the idea that Scotland is little more than a rather different, extreme northern part of a Greater England. Some articulate their abhorrence of the SNP in the letters pages of The Herald and The Scotsman in terms that are not only derogatory and politically unsound, but almost demented and definitely irrational. Anti Englishness is entirely unacceptable, as all racist dogma must be, but acknowledging that we have a problem is not anti Englishness.

        If we are to have independence, we must take all of our people with us – and that includes everyone who might not have been born in Scotland, but who has made his or her home here, whatever their origins. I simply do not believe that persuasion has worked or will work or that another indyref is advisable unless we are 99% certain that we can win it, because another failure will set us back years. However, it is not as if other routes, far less divisive and bitter, are not open to us, and, if the EU referendum was anything by which to judge, bitterness and recrimination are almost a dead cert, with no final decision made at all, just more questions than answers. No matter how we achieve independence, though, we need to acknowledge that we are a divided society, and that colonialism is in the minds of many rUK and Scots-born NO voters and British Nationalists is still alive and well – and kicking – from both ends of the imperialist spectrum.

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