Nicola Sturgeon is being somewhat disingenuous when she speaks of the “SNP plan”. Ian Blackford has been roped in by Jo Swinson; apparently without consulting his colleagues. The “plan” to which the First Minister refers is a Liberal Democrat plan. If it’s their plan, then we have to assume that they intend it to work to their advantage. Quite why Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford suppose that the SNP and/or Scotland stand to gain from serving as Jo Swinson’s side-kick remains to be explained.
When any politician – Nicola Sturgeon most emphatically not excluded – says ‘there’s no other way’ then we may assume two things. Firstly, that there almost certainly is another way. Secondly, that they don’t want anybody scrutinising the way they are saying is the only way. They say ‘there’s no alternative’ when they’ve made a bad choice. Or when they’ve made a choice for bad reasons and want to pretend that it was out of their hands. So, it pays us to look at how this choice is justified.
Only a few days ago, Ian Blackford was describing the idea of a December election as “barking mad”. What changed his mind? How did this go, in the space of a couple of days, from being a totally daft idea to the only sensible course of action? Mr Blackford alone can answer that question. Until he does, we can only deduce his reasoning from his actions. And it looks very much as if he was ‘got at’ by the LibDems in some way. Somehow, they have persuaded him that partnering them in this little ploy was going to give him something that he wants.
According to Nicola Sturgeon, the putative gain from forcing a general election on 9 December is twofold – stopping Johnson pushing through his ‘deal’; and preventing a no-deal Brexit at the end of whatever extension might be granted by the EU. But, as Angus MacNeil correctly points out, this is a bit of a non sequitur. The claimed outcome does not necessarily follow from the action taken or proposed.
We first of all have to wonder about that action. Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford have written to EU Council president Donald Tusk. I’m sure Mr Tusk will respond as politely as he may. But why should he have any regard for a letter from two of the opposition parties in the British parliament? Not even from the official opposition, but from the leaders of two ‘lesser’ parties. The EU deals with the elected governments of member states. They do not deal with political parties. Not even the governing party. Only with the government.
There is no reason whatever to suppose the Swinson-Blackford letter will carry any weight at all. Even if Mr Tusk was minded to be influenced by it, the decision on an Article 50 extension is made by the governments of the member nations, not the president of the EU Council.
And what does the letter ask for? Only what was all but certainly going to be granted anyway. So, what is the point of the exercise? If/when the extension is agreed, will Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford claim credit? If so, they will be roundly and deservedly mocked. That’s not much of a gain.
Whether they can deliver on the 9 December election is also highly dubious. But let’s suppose they can. What might this achieve? The likely outcome of an immediate election – to the extent that anything can be described as ‘likely’ amid the current political chaos – is a UK Parliament dominated by British Nationalist Brexiteers to an even greater extent than at present. If, as is often assumed, these forces want a no-deal Brexit, then a UK general election makes that outcome more likely, not less.
If there is no decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers, then the next most likely outcome is a less-than-decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers. If they are forced to compromise then there is only Boris Johnson’s ‘deal’ to fall back on. There is no chance of another new ‘deal’. The EU went above and beyond what was required of them when they reopened negotiations. There is no possibility that they will do so again. So, if an election means there is to be a ‘deal’ it has to be the one that the Scottish Government has said is unacceptable.
No doubt the LibDems are hoping that an election will put them in a position to demand a new EU referendum. This doesn’t look likely, the way the polls stand. But a ‘people’s vote’ would almost certainly require another extension. The patience of the EU member states is not infinite. It would not be at all surprising if one or two governments broke ranks and vetoed any further extension.
Even if there was a new EU referendum, what are the chances it would resolve anything? Practically non-existent. We’d all end up pretty much back where we are now.
There is another justification (rationalisation?) for Ian Blackford’s action offered by an SNP spokesperson – getting rid of Boris Johnson. Is that likely to be the outcome of a general election? Even if Johnson were to be removed, would whoever replaces him be any better? What does Scotland stand to gain from a change of British Prime Minister?
Because it’s not Boris Johnson that’s the problem. Nor is it Brexit – with or without a deal. The problem is the Union. The problem is the grotesque constitutional anomaly which means Scotland will invariably have imposed on it British Prime Ministers and British governments and British policies that the people of Scotland did not vote for or explicitly rejected through the ballot box.
It will doubtless be argued that, in a UK general election, the SNP are likely to enjoy a landslide victory in Scotland on a scale similar to that of 2015. But what advantage did the SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats bring to Scotland? Obviously, it is better than the alternative. At least we can assume that SNP MPs will actually represent and defend Scotland’s interests. But how effective can they ever be? Even if the SNP group held the balance of power in numerical terms, the British parties would never allow them to use that power in any meaningful way.
Ian Blackford is getting the SNP group at Westminster embroiled in the British political game in an effort to at least look effective. But no good ever comes of getting into bed with the treacherous Liberal Democrats, or partnering with someone as brazenly self-serving as Jo Swinson. Blackford may imagine he’s formed an alliance. Swinson sees it as her using the SNP.
Angus MacNeil is right. As far as Scotland is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from a UK general election. There is nothing to be gained from Scotland’s presence in the parliament of England-as-Britain. Nor will there ever be.
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