There seems to be a general assumption that the string of ‘ifs’ which leads to a hung parliament means an enlarged SNP group would be ‘kingmakers’. Or, as Nicola Sturgeon puts it in what looks rather like an attempt to lower expectations, a “strong, progressive influence”. If she is trying to stop people getting too carried away, she may have good reason.
If it is supposed that the SNP group of MPs will wield significant power over British Labour in a hung parliament, we must ask what is the nature of that power. It is not enough simply to look at the numbers and say that, because SNP cooperation is needed to get over the line separating government from opposition, the SNP will be in a position to make major demands. Nicola sturgeon has even gone so far as to list those demands. That list, as reported by this newspaper on 25 November, includes,
- Stop Brexit
- End austerity
- Abandon Universal Credit
- Axe the two-child benefit cap
- Grant a Section 30 order
I doubt that many outside the ranks of irredeemable and irremediable Tory loyalists would take exception to anything in Sturgeons catalogue of demands. But are they attainable? Are they deliverable? How might British Labour respond were they to be handed this list in the course of post-election haggling among the parties at Westminster?
Having witnessed the strenuous, contorting effort they’ve made to avoid having a clear position on Brexit, does anybody believe British Labour is even capable of adopting a firm stance on the issue? Going from wherever they might be as you read this to an unwavering commitment either way doesn’t look at all like a journey Jeremy Corbyn is ready to undertake. This is the ‘leader’ who says he would remain neutral in any new EU referendum.
If the Tories can claim to be ending austerity, so can a British Labour administration. Whether this will be noticeable on the ground is a very different matter.
British governments tend not to do anything bold if they have a ready excuse for not doing so. Abandoning Universal Credit may well be that kind of bold action. It would be too expensive! It would cause even more disruption and suffering! Better to fix it than forsake it!
Axing the two-child benefit might be a concession British Labour could offer. But only so they could accuse the SNP of rejecting the chance to end an iniquitous Tory policy when it turned out to be the only concession and not enough to win their support.
The Section 30 order has been dealt with at length elsewhere. No British government is going to facilitate any process which puts their precious Union in jeopardy. For all British Labour’s efforts to differentiate themselves from the Tories’ hard-line anti-democratic position, they have no more intention of cooperating in the Section 30 process than any of the other British parties. They are certainly not going to grant permission for a new independence referendum until and unless they can be sure of being able to sabotage the process at some later stage.
On that final – and some would say most crucial – demand, British Labour would be likely to try and string the SNP along as much as possible. Hence the deliberate vague and open-ended ‘undertakings’ on the matter. They can put off even responding to the Section 30 request for as long as they wish.
It’s not looking too promising for Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands. So, how might she react to these demands being rejected – either outright or by implication? What can she threaten Jeremy Corbyn with in order to compel his compliance?
There are, in principle, three ‘big sticks’ Sturgeon might be able to wave. She could threaten to enable a Tory government. She could threaten to bring down a British Labour government. Or she might be in a position to threaten to force another election. Another election would be no more likely to resolve things than the last one or this one. But the SNP would be vilified for forcing the people of the world’s greatest democracy to go out and vote. Don’t they know that’s not how democracy is supposed to work!
Enabling a Tory government and bringing down a British Labour government may seem like the same thing. That’s because they are. They just happen at different times. The threat to enable a Tory government would be wielded during initial efforts to reach an arrangement. The threat to bring it down would hang over a British Labour government for as long as it lasted. However, Nicola Sturgeon has decisively ruled out the SNP ever allowing the Tories back into power should they be ousted. So that threat is not available. Whether or not one approves, it is an option binned.
What we are left with is the SNP making demands backed up with the threat that, unless these demands are met, they might bring down the British Labour government at some point in the future. One would hope that this point remained undefined. To commit to taking action at a particular time or under specified conditions would severely limit room for movement.
How serious, from British Labour’s perspective, is this threat? Not very. In fact, it’s barely a threat at all. Nothing that isn’t happening right now, or is immediately imminent, can be considered a threat. Especially when pretty much the entire political environment is consists of threats of one kind or another. Once they were in power, it would be very easy for British Labour to call the SNP’s bluff. Bringing down a British Labour government, with the corollary of letting the Tories back in, would seem to be a draught of political hemlock for the SNP.
Would they do it? More to the point, can Nicola Sturgeon make Jeremy Corbyn believe that the SNP would be so bold as to effectively usher the Tories back into government. It is feasible. There is a line that Sturgeon could take which might see the SNP through the ‘scandal’ of ‘sabotaging’ a ‘progressive’ British Labour administration. It could be maintained that it is actually British Labour’s fault. They could be portrayed as the ones who have behaved in such a way as to make it impossible for the SNP to continue propping them up.
If this line was used in conjunction with saying it made no difference to Scotland which party was in power at Westminster, it could at least take the edge of the inevitable storm of vilification from the British media. But it would be massively risky. Does Nicola have the bottle? Can she convince Corbyn she does? Personally, I doubt it.
The SNP’s influence over a minority British Labour administration would be minimal. Because the only thing they can threaten them with would almost certainly do the SNP more harm.
It all comes down to one simple fact – Scotland’s interests cannot be served within the UK. Our MPs cannot wield meaningful power, or influence, in the parliament of England-as-Britain because the system is set up to ensure that Scotland (and all the periphery of England-as-Britain) will always be subordinate. That is what the Union is for.
If we send 45 or 50 or more SNP MPs to Westminster expecting them to be a major force, we are likely to be disappointed. But we absolutely must elect as many SNP MPs as possible because only thus can we keep alive the possibility of escaping the Union and bringing all of our government home.
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4 thoughts on “Demands and threats”
How then would you propose achieving Indy, assuming it has clear popular support but is opposed by WM? Does the SNP leadership have some cunning plan up their sleeves, the EU wouldn’t interfere however much they might wish to?
I have no information about any “cunning plan”. I am sure of one thing, however, and that is that the Section 30 process cannot work without the willing and honest cooperation of the British government. Since the chances of that being forthcoming are about the same as me being chosen to play James Bond, I see no sense whatever in pinning our hopes to Section 30. It is, as I have so frequently explained, not Scotland’s salvation. (https://www.iscot.scot/article/news/section-30-is-not-scotlands-salvation/)
Scotland’s independence will not be restored through Westminster. The British ruling elites will never willingly or graciously part with Scotland. Our independence must be asserted by our own elected representatives in our own Scottish Parliament in defiance of the British state’s rules rather than in compliance with them.
The specifics of how this is done are a matter for debate. Better we should be having that debate instead of pointlessly discussing how to get a Section 30 order and then prevent the process being sabotaged. An example would be the Scottish Parliament declaring its exclusive in matters relating to Scotland’s constitutional arrangements. The British government would undoubtedly challenge this. But if we are not ready and able to meet and defeat such challenges then we are not fit to be an independent nation.
The currently fashionable ‘thinking’ that there is some way of avoiding these challenges on the road to independence is fantastical. We must prepare for defiance and confrontation and not compliance and appeasement.
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I keep saying, I hope you don’t mind, Mr Bell, but I do hope you don’t mind. I still read your blog as often as I can. The scenarios you have laid out are precisely why I believe that a second indyref is almost impossible, even if it could be won, and I have looked at the last four pre independence referendums, all hailed as exemplars of democracy, gold standards, but, when you actually study them, are anything but. They were Quebec (twice and lost twice); Catalunya; and New Caledonia (how’s that for irony?). Then, of course, our own 2014 indyref. All were lost because either the countries from which they wished to secede/to leave used every underhanded tactic in the book or because the indigenous people (and I make use of the UN’s own word judiciously) were outvoted by those whose origins were not in the part wishing to secede/leave.
In Quebec, the Anglophones, combined with the indigenous NO voters of the Province, already having far more autonomy than Scotland has even now, were able to affect the vote to the extent that NO won – twice – while Canada’s central government threatened economic extinction of Quebec, its richest province. We all know well what has happened in Catalunya, also an economic jewel for Spain, although the Catalan referendum was won by the Catalan population, against opposition from both Madrid Unionists, for want of a better word, and ethnic Spanish in the state, albeit it was deemed to be illegal. New Caledonia was, perhaps, the most straightforward example of the indigenous people being outvoted by colonials, mainly from France, a situation where colonization has been to the detriment of the self-determination of the indigenous population. I’d love to say that Scotland was different, but, actually, it was not. Like the Catalans, indigenous Scots voted YES by 5% in 2014, but, like Quebec, rUK and EU residents cancelled out our vote when they augmented the vote of the indigenous NO voters. The indigenous NO voters could not possibly have won otherwise. In the case of the EU residents, theirs was around 57% NO, while the rUK voters (English, NI and Welsh) was almost 75%, three-quarters of all rUK residents in Scotland who were eligible to vote, and it is likely that EU residents would vote YES next time, as, indeed, I believe would a slightly greater percentage of rUK voters.
We do ourselves no favours if we continue to play the ostrich, though: we might pull it off next time (if there is a next time in adherence to the restrictions laid down by the SNP itself), but, like Quebec, we might not. It is a risk, and, in the end, it might be one worth taking after all, if we get a S30 order from someone, anyone, and if they leave us alone to decide for ourselves. No, I don’t think so either. We have to ask why almost 75% of all rUK residents decided to vote NO. The most sensible reason must be that they see Scotland as just another part of the UK, or, as one bright spark told me in 2014, we are part of England. Seeing us as part of the UK doesn’t quite cut the mustard, though: why vote down our independence unless there was a personal element? I believe there was: it was that many had come to Scotland for a better life, for work, whatever, and they were not about to allow that to be threatened in any way, albeit they were happy to vote in elections for the SNP. I have much regret about, but no ill will against, those who voted NO last time, but, personally, I would never let them have the chance to do so again because theirs was a breach of the UN Charter.
Resiling the Treaty of Union on the grounds of England’s/rUK’s unconstitutional behaviour in relation to the Treaty terms upon which we entered this ‘Union’ depends on no majority in a pre independence referendum. We have the right to be heard in the international Court of Justice, if enough people demand it of our Scottish government, because the Treaty is an international one (albeit Crawford and Boyle argued that we were subsumed in 1707 – a blatant misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Treaty Articles and the workings around it, which have been blown out of the water by at least two very eminent Scottish jurists who have, between them, laid out our case for us). If need be, we should take our case to the Floor of the UN.
In addition, under the UN Charter, we have a right to determine our own future as we see fit without the interference of non-indigenous Scots. Non-indigenous Scots have every right to vote in elections, etc., but on this one issue of self-determination, they are in breach of the Charter if they vote NO. It must be remembered that this is an international Charter to which the UK is a signatory. These are the courts that we should be taking our case to, along with an absolute, unequivocal and mandatory pledge to hold a ratifying referendum after resiling the Treaty, in which all Scots, whatever their origins, are able to vote. This would be democratic and perfectly legal according to international law, and along with resiling the Treaty, would afford us international recognition and the right to negotiate with rUK, with reference to the Treaty Articles, not as a supplicant for crumbs from the rUK table. I think we would discover that most of those who haunt the comments sections of the Unionist press with anti Scottish and anti SNP rhetoric would opt to stay, too. Their hot air is only increasing global warming. Buttered, bread, side, knowing all spring to mind.
Sorry for being so long-winded, Mr Bell, and, again, I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. Your blog just struck me as so very pertinent.
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Thought-provoking as ever, Lorna.
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