Waiting and postponing

It really doesn’t matter when the First Minister ‘demands’ a Section 30 order, the ‘demand’ will be treated with amused contempt by the British Prime Minister. If the polls are any guide – and that’s a big ‘if’ in the circumstances – it will be Boris Johnson who gets to ignore the ‘demand’. If the Tories don’t get the majority the polls suggest, it is still likely to be Boris Johnson as leader of the largest party backed by some ragtag assortment of Brexit-supporting MPs.

If it’s not Boris Johnson, it may well be Jeremy Corbyn. Which makes precisely no difference other than that Corbyn may be a little more likely to respond rather than disregard. The effect will be the same, because the response will be “Now is not the time!”.

It would seem that the First Minister’s strategy is to wait until after the election and issue her ‘demand’ with a strong mandate from the people of Scotland. She must – and all but certainly shall – be given that mandate. But quite why she might suppose it would help remains a mystery. The whole point of the Union is that England-as-Britain can override Scotland’s democratic will.

The people of Scotland can never be more than second-class citizens in the British state. Our votes only count if they are matched by votes in England. And even then only if our choice is approved by the British government. The euphemism for this is ‘managed democracy’. It’s certainly ‘managed’.

If Nicola Sturgeon’s letter ‘demanding’ a Section 30 order is received by Boris Johnson, it will be ignored, or dismissed in the same way that Theresa May dismissed the earlier ‘request’. If it is dealt with by Jeremy Corbyn, a decision will be deferred to a later date. In either case, the ‘demand’ is pending. In either case, nothing more happens. Having put the decision in the hands of the British Prime Minister, the First Minister can do little but wait. Which may well be the whole point.

Claims that the demand will be “irresistible” and that continued refusal of a Section 30 order is “unsustainable” are no more than fine words. Idle rhetoric. The reality is that there is absolutely no power behind the ‘demand’ that the British state recognises. Absolutely nothing which makes ignoring or rejecting the ‘demand’ “unsustainable”.

The First Minister has no leverage. She has democratic legitimacy and the moral high ground and, probably, a massive mandate from the people of Scotland. But she has nothing that makes the slightest impression on the British political elite.

Some talk of pressure from the EU and the international community. That would be like the pressure being applied to Spain, I suppose. The harsh reality is that nobody cares. Nobody wants to get involved. The EU, in particular, will not interfere in the internal affairs of a member state. The only major player on the international scene who might have something to say is Donald Trump. For ideological, economic and personal reasons, he will be totally aligned with the British Nationalists. Few things would give Trump more more pleasure than seeing Scotland’s First Minister humiliated.

Issuing a ‘demand’ to the British Prime Minister will be a nice bit of political theatre. But it will be no more than that. The British Prime Minister has only to keep the matter pending, and Nicola Sturgeon will be powerless to do anything. That was amply demonstrated when Theresa May left her earlier request hanging.

So what’s the point? My guess is that Nicola Sturgeon has calculated the Section 30 theatrics will keep the troops onside while she runs down the clock to the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. It has long been apparent that this is her preference. She leads a party that wins elections and loses referendums. It stands to reason that she’d rather fight an election than a referendum.

Curiously, the thing the First Minister must dread is that her ‘demand’ elicits a positive response. It’s not remotely likely, but if the Section 30 order was granted, this would cause her some serious problems. Going down the Section 30 route allows her to avoid a referendum while putting the blame on the British Prime Minister. Neat!

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