I didn’t notice a formal request from the First Minister to the British Prime Minister for a Section 30 order. But the British government has apparently rejected it anyway. Which will come as something of a relief to Nicola Sturgeon. Or at least it should. Nobody of consequence has ever accused the woman of stupidity. Obduracy, maybe. A tendency to tunnel-vision, perhaps. Control freakery, certainly. But not stupidity. So she surely must recognise the risk of getting what she says she wishes for. You’d think so, anyway. Wouldn’t you?
Imagine for a moment that Nicola Sturgeon’s address to conference-like thing had included a passage such as the following.
I have today written to the Prime Minister proposing early discussions between our governments to agree an Order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would enable a referendum to be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament.
If this looks slightly familiar it’s because it paraphrases the letter Sturgeon sent to Theresa May the last time – nearly four and a half years ago – she took a notion to be shooed away like a bothersome child and generously let all of Scotland share her humiliation (picture below).
Doubtless this announcement would have elicited virtual adulation and a virtual standing ovation from the virtual delegates. Picture the scene had it been an actual conference rather than one for the Zoomers.
Let me know if I’m making excessive demands of your imagination, but I’d like you to deploy it once more and suppose that Boris Johnson had responded with all the alacrity exhibited by his spokesbladder here in the disappointingly real world. And I want you to imagine that he agreed. Suppose he said something like,
Aye! Nae bother, hen! ‘S a’ wan tae me, darlin’! Here! Tak wan fur later an’ a’!
Sorry! I’m not very good at posh English accents. And I wouldn’t want to be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’. But you get my drift. Nicola says pretty-please. Boris comes right back with a yes. Which one of them is looking terrified now? Which one has had the smug troweled onto their face?
Shallow thinkers and knee-jerkers will declare this a triumph and a total vindication of the Sturgeon doctrine. But is Sturgeon herself shallow-minded enough to think she has won something significant? Has she won anything at all?
Since this is my blog and my game of pretend and if you don’t like it I won’t let you play, let’s stretch the fantasy a bit more. Let’s suppose Boris didn’t just say yes to a Section 30. What if he added that Nicola should get on with it. What if he said Covid is no excuse for continuing to deny the people of Scotland the opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination? Cue more mindless cheering from the Sturgeon/SNP loyalists? Probably! No thinking required!
In fact, this would put Nicola Sturgeon in a tricky predicament. I expect she would maintain her customary poise and composure. Outwardly she’d display a business-like demeanour with just a hint of chuffed-as-fuck-wi’-masel’. But if she has any political awareness whatever, the elegant swan the public sees will be attached to the hardest-working webbed feet in Christendom.
Before explaining why Nicola Sturgeon should be extremely worried in the scenario described I should note that it is a very improbable scenario. Even if Boris Johnson or whatever monkey he’s hired to do his clever for him realised how clever it would be to grant the Scottish First Minister’s petition, both Boris and his clever-monkey would certainly be clever enough to recognise that the constituency to which Boris addresses his electoral appeal would not be clever enough to recognise the cleverness. They would see only him giving in to that jumped-up Jockess bitch. And great would be their displeasure.
It’s not going to happen. In fact, we can now say that it hasn’t happened. It’s all pretend. But, like I said, it’s my pretend and my blog to STFU and read on!
Let’s look at two of the problems that would fall on Sturgeon like a skip-load of tartan shoes should Boris say yes to her Section 30 request and tell to get on with it. The ‘get on with it’ bit totally blows her Covid caveat out of the water. That’s her get-out-of-jail-almost-free card should she find it inconvenient to honour her not-quite-a-promise of a referendum. (I almost wrote ‘new referendum’ but remembered in time that this is not what she is proposing. As far as can be discerned her plan-like thing is to blow the dust of a decade off the first referendum and, as The Beach Boys sang, Do It Again). Musical interlude.
Sturgeon could, of course, turn around and call Boris a reckless, irresponsible fool for demanding she go ahead with an independence referendum in the teeth of a public health crisis. You’re pretty much always on safe ground calling Boris Johnson a buffoon. Only buffoons object. But this is bound to lead to a clamour of demands that she explain why the referendum is so uniquely impacted by Covid-19. That would be embarrassing. If Boris is saying there is no reason Covid-19 should prevent a referendum going ahead and Nicola is saying there is, then it’s bound to occur to even the brain-deadest of brain-dead British media copy-monkeys to ask her what the reasons are. And if you think the British media would be self-conscious about simultaneously saying it is madness to talk about a referendum when there’s a pandemic and it’s cowardly of Sturgeon to use the pandemic as an excuse for not taking up noble Boris’s gracious offer, then you have never read The Daily Express. So well done you!
But the awkwardness occasioned by whipping away Sturgeon’s Covid-19 safety-net is just the icing on the cake. The cake is control. Or at the very least, powerful influence. In granting a Section 30 request the British Prime Minister may impose whatever conditions they wish. Not excluding those which squirm into their head in moments of greatest British Nationalist fervour. The British Prime Minister has at their disposal the power afforded them by the Union. The short version of which states that the ruling elite of England-as-Britain shall hereby henceforth and in perpetuity be empowered and authorised to do WTF it wants with and to Scotland.
Thus are honourably rebellious Scots crushed. Not by the broadsword and boot-heel of the British military but by the traitorous concessions and craven compromises of Scotland’s own political elite. Was it not ever thus?
By the simple expedient of attaching a rag-bag of conditions to the Section 30 order, the British Prime Minister can make a free and fair referendum impossible or unwinnable. Or, from the British Nationalist point of view, unlosable. By fiddling with the franchise or insisting on a qualified majority or setting a time limit which leaves only an unfavourable date for the vote or by manipulating the question or demanding a third option so as to split the independence vote or by some other devious means that I’m not devious enough to think of, the British state could sabotage the entire process. Should Sturgeon protest, she’d be accused of all sorts and nothing flattering.
The British could insist on an Edinburgh Agreement II then drag out the negotiations for months or years. Or scupper those negotiations by making demands that the Scottish Government cannot accept. Or that it cannot accept without incurring the wrath of Scotland’s electors.
For the moment it seems Boris is still saying no. Or rather, now is not the time. Nicola Sturgeon dodged the bullet of a highly conditional Section 30 order for now! If she persists in tweaking the tiger’s tail of fate then one of these times she’s gonna get bit! The big question is, does she even recognise the risk? Or is she so wedded to the British state’s ‘gold standard’ that she remains blind to the danger?
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