It was the best of elections. It was the worst of elections. It was certainly a good election for the SNP. But it was always going to be a good election for the SNP. It was only a question of how good. Despite the efforts of a party leadership which often behaved as if winning wasn’t their first priority and candidates who too often looked like the very concept of campaigning was unfamiliar and not well understood, the SNP did better than even the starry-eyed fantasists among the faithful had expected. I don’t recall any poll or pundit predicting 45% of the vote or 47 seats. (48 if we include Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, spectacularly won by Neale Hanvey who was only an SNP candidate on paper having succumbed to the party’s passion for suspending and expelling members to appease whoever wants to be appeased. We’ll come back to that.)
But it was also a good election for Boris Johnson and the Mad Brexiteers. Not in Scotland, of course. Although perhaps not as bad as they might have feared. At UK level, which is all ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists supposedly care about, the Tories’ Christmas came early. Bad Santa brought them a majority which effectively means the lunatics now own the asylum.
In other news, British Labour is a joke and the Liberal Democrats are a dirty joke. It seems I was wrong about Corbyn. I had thought him merely ineffectual. It turns out that he is actually quite effective – at losing! I considered it unlikely that he would make much of an impact. Certainly much less of a transformative impact than was believed by those who saw him as some kind of socialist Messiah. In fact, he has presided over a decline in British Labour’s electoral fortunes that pretty much eliminates them as a significant force in UK politics and all but certainly gifts power to the Tories for the next decade at least.
In other words, he has done precisely the opposite of what he was supposed to do. At a minimum, it had been hoped that he would keep British Labour in contention and progressive politics in England-as-Britain alive, even if on life-support. Instead, he has officiated at the funeral of both and left the field to a rampantly triumphalist Boris Johnson. Nice one, Jeremy!
The Liberal Democrats differed from British Labour only in that nobody – other than the dementedly deluded Jo Swinson – expected them to do anything politically useful. And nobody who’d seen or heard Swinson either expected them to do well in the election or, indeed, wanted them to do anything other than embarrassingly badly. They duly obliged. If pressed, I might concede that the blame for British Labour’s woeful performance can’t be laid entirely at Jeremy Corbyn’s door. But there is absolutely no doubt who shoulders the blame for the Liberal Democrats’ humiliation. Making her leader was the political equivalent of necking a pint of hemlock. It’s just one more thing about British politics which is totally inexplicable.
And that’s about all there is to say about the election outcome at UK level. It long since ceased to be appropriate to consider the UK as a single political entity even for the purposes of a Westminster election. A reality which even the BBC may be forced to accept sometime in the first half of the 21st century. Just the other day, a lady who exuded matronly Britishness remarked to me that, much as it saddened her heart to acknowledge it, Scotland really is a different country now. “Different and better?”, I ventured. To which she responded with a rueful half-smile and one-shouldered shrug which intimated that, while she may have been even more reluctant to acknowledge this, she was not prepared to attempt to refute it.
Scotland and England-as-Britain have diverged in ways and to an extent evident from everything except the way we are governed. Two separate nations with increasingly distinctive and incompatible political cultures, but with one forced to accept the political choices of the other. That is a situation which is not only untenable but infeasible. Which distinguishes it from an ongoing refusal of a Section 30 order request, which has famously been described as untenable but which is perfectly feasible. It is certainly true that such refusal cannot be justified or defended. But it is also the case that it doesn’t have to be justified or defended. It can simply be done.
It is within the powers of the British Prime Minister to refuse a Section 30 order request and there is absolutely nothing in the law that requires him or her to explain or justify their action. It is at least possible, if not probable, that not even the courts have the authority to demand an explanation or justification. And if the courts don’t have that authority, then they certainly don’t have the authority to overrule the British Prime Minister and order the granting of said Section 30 order. At the core of this issue is the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It is exceedingly difficult to see how any court – and certainly any court furth of Scotland – could effectively strike down that principle and set itself above the British parliament.
This is not simply a question of parliamentary procedure or the interpretation of rules. This is a matter of law. If refusing a Section 30 order is not unlawful, then overruling the refusal can only be an overtly political act. It might have been possible for the Scottish Government to argue that the refusal of a Section 30 order is unlawful, citing a body of international laws and conventions. But not after the First Minister and other senior figures have declared that the Section 30 process is. not merely lawful, but the only process which is “legal and constitutional”.
The SNP cannot extract a Section 30 order from Boris Johnson and cannot proceed with a new independence referendum without one.
In the same way, although for different reasons, there is no way even 47 (or 48) SNP MPs can “stop Brexit”. They simply don’t have the power. Not, in this case, because they have inexplicably squandered what power they may have had, but because the nature of the Union is such that Scotland cannot ever have such power. The Union means that Scotland must always be subordinate. The Union means that Scotland’s interests can only ever be served, even partially and inadequately, if they happen to coincide with the interests of England-as-Britain. The divergence between the two nations makes such coincidental convergence of interests as close to impossible as makes no difference. Which makes the Union unworkable – at least so long as some semblance of democracy prevails.
But the fact remains that the combined force of an SNP administration in Scotland and a large SNP group of SNP MPs can do absolutely nothing to halt Brexit. Or to prevent Brexit being imposed on a clearly unwilling Scotland.
All of which is rather unfortunate given that securing a Section 30 order and stopping Brexit were two of the four promises that formed the basis of the SNP’s election campaign. The others being, “locking Boris out of Number 10” – now undeniably as daft an undertaking as it always was; and “putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands” – which brings us to the question that I have long been asking. The question that will surely now be asked by increasing numbers of people and with increasing impatience.
How does the SNP plan on honouring its promises to the people of Scotland?
In a letter published in The National on the eve of polling day, Selma Rahman put it rather well when she wrote that, after the election,
… most of all, I will need even just an inkling as to how pro-indy parties, led by the SNP, see the next months panning out: the outline of a strategy.
Selma is far from being alone in this. People are not stupid. For the most part, they are perfectly capable of figuring out that those election promises were empty rhetoric. They voted SNP despite those promises at least as much as because of them. They voted SNP because they are well aware that the consequences of doing otherwise are quite unthinkable. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Nicola Sturgeon is trusted in a way that is quite extraordinary for any politician. Trusted in a way which, at the extreme, shades into blind faith. But even those of us whose confidence in her personal commitment and political skill is firmly rooted in reason, there is a large element of giving her the benefit of the doubt; if only because there isn’t a lot of choice in the matter.
As dubious as we may be about Sturgeon’s ability to deliver on those promises, the alternative is to abandon hope altogether of Scotland’s independence ever being restored. Few of us are ready to give up on that hope. As Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.
The dream is not enough. Making that dream come true requires a plan of action. And we need to be assured that Nicola Sturgeon has such a plan. Don’t fob us off with trite platitudes and empty assurances. Give us more than glittering generalities and glib slogans. And don’t dare tell us we must have faith! We are a constituency of adults not a congregation of adherents! There can be no secret plan. There are no options that aren’t knowable by the opposition. All that stuff about not showing her hand is just the sort of infantile drivel that is making folk angry. It is too obviously what somebody would say if they didn’t have a plan to make it acceptable as an excuse for not answering questions about that plan.
Selma Rahman ended her letter with a warning.
Westminster better listen, cos you truly haven’t heard us roar, not yet.
She might well have directed that warning to Nicola Sturgeon. The people of Scotland have given her yet another mandate. Now, she must deliver. And it is for her to convince us that she has a plan to deliver. She has not heard us roar yet. But the election of Neale Hanvey in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath may be regarded as Scotland clearing its throat ready to let rip. There is a message there for the SNP leadership if they care to listen. It is a message about loyalty. The message is that, should it ever come to a choice between Scotland’s party and Scotland’s cause, not even Nicola Sturgeon will be able to save the SNP.
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