Will Westminster change?

That’s not me asking. It’s Kenny MacAskill in his latest column for Wings Over Scotland. And, as you may have anticipated, it is a rhetorical question, immediately answered in the negative –

Will Westminster change? Of course, it won’t, it never has, and it never will.

MacAskill is fast becoming the voice of a growing ‘tendency’ within the SNP that has turned to questioning the SNP leadership because all the questions that might be asked of the British state and its apparatus are now rhetorical. They have all been answered. There is no longer any reason to afford the British government the benefit of the doubt because there no longer is any doubt about the malign intentions of the British state. The idea that we should wait and see in the hope that Westminster will change now looks like the thinking of another time. Like propounding geocentrism in the age of space travel.

Despite this, I might answer Kenny MacAskill’s question differently. Instead of dismissing out of hand the possibility that Westminster could change, I would say maybe it could. I would warn against hoping it might. Because from Scotland’s perspective at least Westminster and all it represents can only change for the worse.

To the extent that it is possible to discern any strategic thinking on the constitution issue within the close and closed circle around Nicola Sturgeon, the strategy appears to be to play for time in the hope that Westminster will change. Or, rather, that Boris Johnson will change his mind about granting a Section 30 order. The theory become hope becoming fervent prayer is that somehow something will put some kind of pressure on Johnson such as will force him to relent. Will Boris Johnson change?

In answering that question we might be tempted to treat it as rhetorical. We might think the answer so obvious as to make the question risibly redundant. But, as with the question about Westminster, I would advise a more open-minded approach. I would answer that Boris Johnson might very well change. But that this will not be good news for Scotland. I would insist that Boris Johnson doing a U-turn on the granting of a Section 30 order would not be the great victory that the SNP leadership would surely proclaim it to be.

I do not make the mistake of underestimating Boris Johnson. To be more precise, I fully recognise that there are forces behind Boris Johnson that we would be very foolish to underestimate. While Boris is being portrayed as a bumbling clown I am painfully aware that he is a clown who wins. I have no regard whatever for the man. I have to take cognisance of the fact that he has an impressive record when it comes to getting what he wants. Or what he has been put in office to deliver. Johnson suck! But Johnson succeeds!

Nobody succeeds in politics without options. Nobody enjoys sustained success in the political arena unless they have the means to recover from mistakes, adjust to missteps and cover up misdeeds. The must have, in the parlance of our time, a ‘Plan B’. They must have options. Betimes, these options may not look much like plans. Betimes the successful politician’s survival will seem more attributable to sorcery and the power of prayer than to foresight and long-term planning. But it doesn’t matter where the options come from or what constitutes them so long as they are availabe.

The ultimate option, of course, is brute power. When that option is available then the politician can be as reckless and haphazard as Johnson appears to be confident that there is always the power of the British state and it’s prodigious apparatus to fall back on.

Granting a Section 30 order is one of Boris Johnson’s options. It is one of the things he can fall back on instead of – or as a precautionary precursor to – resort to brute power. If/when he agrees to a Section 30 order it will be because it suits his purposes to do so. (Please take it as read that when I refer to Boris Johnson I am referring less to the man than to the forces he fronts for.)

If/when Boris Johnson grants a Section 30 order, every alarm bell, klaxon and siren in Scotland should be triggered simultaneously. Although you probably wouldn’t be able to hear even that cacophony over the racket of the SNP leadership’s crowing about how they’d forced Boris to back down. How they’d humiliated him. How they’d fatally wounded him and his regime. And it will all be total crap!

Like Westminster, the forces behind Boris Johnson don’t change. They are the forces of an English/British ruling elite which has remained fundamentally unchanged for more centuries than are covered by the period of the Union. They are the forces of what we now call British Nationalism. Cold, heartless, malignant forces. Forces whose sole function is the preservation and expansion of power in the hands of that ruling elite.

It may be a mistake to personalise these forces in this way. It is almost certainly wrong to attribute to what is more in the nature of a machine the emotions, attitudes and motivations of a human being. But if we are concerned with effects rather than causes, with the outcomes of actions rather than what motivates them, then Scotland must regard the British state as cold, heartless and malignant. We must recognise that those forces will do whatever it takes to ‘live’. Whatever it takes! That does not change. That is the ultimate option that Boris Johnson has at his disposal. That is what he has to fall back on. And that is why we should be worried if he should appear to stumble.

We can take a guess at how Boris Johnson would use the granting of a Section 30 order to his advantage. It will be a rather well-educated guess. A guess with a degree from the University of Experience. Our guess may not prove accurate in every detail. But it doesn’t have to. Because, remember, Boris has options. Supposing he grants a Section 30 order – a development some foolishly discount – it will be because he knows that being inside the process will allow him to sabotage the process. Something which would be extremely easy to do. Think it through!

Characteristically, Boris will make two completely contradictory and mutually exclusive arguments as regards the process launched by the granting of a Section 30 order. He will argue that the process must be identical to that which led to the 2014 referendum. Unless it suits his purposes to argue that because circumstances have changed, the process must be different in whatever ways he defines. We got that on our first day at the University of Experience. The SNP and Yes activists and The National and Wings Over Scotland will scream hypocrisy! duplicity! irrationality! – but it won’t matter to Boris. Because he has options. He has power. He has effective control of the process which Nicola Sturgeon assures us will lead to a free and fair referendum on a matter that the forces behind Boris consider settled in their favour.

We can guess that Boris Johnson will insist on Edinburgh Agreement v2.0. We can guess what conditions Boris Johnson will attach to that agreement. Insistence on the Westminster election franchise; insistence on a qualified majority; insistence on a ballot question of his choosing – insistence on anything that will scupper negotiations and kill the Edinburgh Agreement ‘stone dead’. Insistence on anything that no Scottish Government could possibly sign up to. Except maybe an SNP government.

Suppose Nicola Sturgeon were to cave and accept any and all conditions that Boris might devise for the purpose of deterring her from appending her signature to the agreement. No worries! Boris has options. Boris takes the line that absent Edinburgh Agreement v2.0 there can be no referendum. Nicola Sturgeon cannot sensibly dispute this as she has accepted the Section 30 process and that process puts all the power in the hands of the British Prime Minister. Section 30 effectively says that the British Prime Minister can do whatever the fuck he likes with the Scotland Act; with the devolution settlement and with Scotland. And Nicola Sturgeon has hailed that as the “gold standard” of democracy. Please don’t ask why.

The Section 30 process means that Nicola Sturgeon is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. If she signs on Boris’s terms she will be burned in effigy on the streets of every town and village in Scotland. And the referendum will be unwinnable by the Yes side. If she refuses to sign, either the referendum doesn’t happen at all – see ‘burning effigies’ above – or it goes ahead in a way that Nicola Sturgeon herself has implicitly declared “illegal and unconstitutional”. Which would ‘justify’ Boris’s resort to brute power. How that might be made manifest is something I prefer to leave to your imagination. It’ll probably be worse than you think.

Westminster may change. But if it does it will be the worse for Scotland. Remember English votes for English laws (that will then be imposed on Scotland)?

Boris Johnson may change. But if he does it will be the worse for Scotland. If it wasn’t the Internal Market Bill allowing England-as-Britain to impose on Scotland laws that cannot be voted on by Scotland’s democratically elected representatives (not that it would make any difference), it would be some other and perhaps more devious and draconian piece of legislation.

Nicola Sturgeon may not change. If she doesn’t it will be the worse for Scotland. She may remain wedded (welded?) to the Section 30 process for reasons it would surely be interesting to explore at another time. She may adhere to the Section 30 dogma despite the fact that, like Boris, she has options. Options which maybe aren’t guaranteed to make things better for Scotland, but which certainly couldn’t make our predicament any worse.

I urge Kenny MacAskill to keep up the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to adopt a new approach to the constitutional issue and to embrace a Manifesto for Independence. I urge – I beg and implore – everybody in the Yes movement to add their voices to his.

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12 thoughts on “Will Westminster change?

  1. There is a train of thought that England as Britain is no longer the immutable force it has been for centuries but is now doomed under its own hand. England out of the EU has no value to Scotland but must hold on to Scotland like grim death because it is all it has left to hold on to.

    Her power is waning rapidly and will never be regained no matter how much the Brexiteers may long for their sunny uplands.

    Scotland will separate from England I am certain of that.

    My question is whether we are capable of doing it at this time with our current leadership.

    Given that there is no time to change the leadership, we must see – in the next two weeks – what the Scottish Government of this generation is really made of. I am also certain that the only people who can really stop Scotland’s independence in the very near future are the people of Scotland and their government if they fail to act quickly, decisively, and correctly.



  2. Boris is visibly changing , his body language screams” BORED!Notice his head down , eyes glued to his mobile phone , thumbs busy texting whenever any SNP MP speaks . The novelty of being PM has worn off , he has no appetite for mastering briefs or listening to opposition points . Boris is certainly capable of change of a reactionary nature , whenever his own interests and those of his chums is threatened . But such openness to shifting ground gives no for optimism for movement for the better .Those , like Keith Brown , who still hold fast to the Section 30 gold standard , are surely deluded by their touching faith , a triumphing of hope over experience .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve always thought that De Pfeffel wanted to be PM for a single reason – the one he’s been telling us about in 3 words non-stop for about 15 months which is to GET BREXIT DONE!

      We all know he needs to get the Internal Market bill passed so that he and the powers behind him will be able to to asset strip the UK and sell off the likes of the health service to the highest private bidder.

      He”ll be off in the first half of next year at the end of the formal ‘transition period’ to full BREXIT – or possibly earlier if the EU pull up the drawbridge in advance due to the UK reneging on their commitments – citing health issues and the need to spend more time with his young family (and previous families).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Boris Johnson did not expect Leave to win. He wanted the status and media profile that came with fronting the campaign. He most certainly did not want the responsibility of implementing Brexit. He does showmanship, not leadership.

        Johnson was persuaded to take the PM job by the forces which have that job in their gift. Probably with flattery. He was chosen because, not having a clue himself, he would be easily manipulated.

        The most despicable thing about Johnson is that he knows what he’s doing is wrong. He knows the harm that’s being done. Or at least he knows that harm is being done. He knows. But he lacks the strength of character to stop. He is playing a part. And not at all convincingly.

        But of course it’s not me he has to convince.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I beg to differ from what is fast becoming too much of a required statement of faith among the enthusiastic wing of the independence movement. Peter Bell argues, along with many others, that relying on a Section 30 procedure will get nowhere and that there must be some new, bolder initiative. What this initiative should be is not spelled out here (others offer their ideas elsewhere), but the idea always seems to be: either force the UK Government to accept a referendum (eg through the courts) or go ahead anyway in some way without a Section 30.
    What is seldom addressed is the need to win the referendum if and when it comes. The current 54-55% of people estimated as being in favour of independence is a fragile majority. Those who have recently been won across are, by definition, those who have been unsure and cautious. Many of them will be put off by what they will see as extra-constitutional manouevres. These are not the excitable and excited Yessers who tend to inhabit blogspaces like this one: they are older, middle-class people who have moved towards Yes because of disgust with the current UK Government and the way it has handled Brexit and the Covid crisis. By 3 years’ time – the earliest we can anticipate a referendum – these will be old news and people will tend to revert to their old familiar positions. (Of course, things might well get worse, but we cannot rely on them doing so in a way which will serve the Yes side.)
    The referendum could easily be lost, even with a franchise and question of the SG’s choice, and even if it were next year.
    There is however an ultimate weapon, which is this: a long and steady rise in support for independence. In the end, the decision is political – not legal or procedural. Politically, the UK Government will not be able to sustain resistance if Yes support increases to 60%, 65% or even more. Moreover, when support is at these levels, even the wavering Yes/No voters will start to concede that the legitimacy of a referendum cannot be denied, which will tend to accentuate the trend.
    Getting to these levels of support requires far more focus on what independence is for. Being able to invest according to our own priorities, using Scottish money. A Scottish banking system. A Scottish defence policy. A Scottish green economic policy, not fettered by a Westminster still dominated (despite the huge contradictions exposed by Covid) by neoliberal dogma and by the City of London. Universal Basic Income. And much, much more. This is where the SG/SNP is at present far too timid – it seems to take it for granted that the advantages of independence are obvious to all.
    The current obsession among the independence movement with tactics and timing is understandable but dangerously distracting. The ultimate battle is not with Westminster, but within the Scottish electorate itself.


      1. Sorry, Peter Bell, but I don’t think your use of the word “lie” is appropriate. Fair enough to accuse me of mis-reading or misunderstanding, but let’s stay civil.
        I’ve re-read your post: I can only suppose that the initiative you insist is there is to “embrace a Manifesto for Independence”. If so, I think it is still subject to the same overall criticism: that it’s all about tactics, not about how to win a greater and more secure majority of the Scottish electorate for independence.


  4. I’ve just seen the FM at Holyrood repeating her denunciation of the Internal Market bill and reasserting her statement that only way we can preserve the Scottish parliament is by turning it into a ‘normal independent parliament’. She added that she thinks this, ‘will happen sooner rather than later.’

    What can she mean by that?

    Has she actually got a cunning plan? Is it more cunning than a Cummings plan which in itself is more cunning than…you know the rest?

    We live in interesting times!

    Liked by 1 person

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