Even Boris Johnson’s legendary capacity for survival is now being put to the test. Assuming government ministers have access to better runes than the rest of us are reading, Boris’s days are numbered. At least, we better hope so. Because if he can survive high-level resignations then it is difficult to see what might oust him. And it’s terrifying to think what he might do if he feels secure enough to get away with anything.
Not that it will make very much difference. Should he stay he’ll only get worse and should he go he’ll only be replaced by worse. This may be hard to imagine, but if Boris Johnson’s capacity for survival is legendary then what should we call the British political system’s capacity for elevating to high office some truly appalling people. (Aye, Priti Patel! I’m looking at you!)
If Boris’s staying or going makes little difference in terms of general governance then it makes even less difference in terms of the central issue in Scotland’s politics – the constitution. The same hard truth will loom over the matter of restoring Scotland’s independence. Any measure which if implemented would tend to place the Union in jeopardy and thus threaten the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state will be deemed illegal by the British state. That truth doesn’t pass with the passing into horrible history of a particular British Prime Minister. Nobody gets to be British Prime Minister unless they are bound by the same stricture. No British MInister can or shall allow any measure which might jeopardise the British state and thereby the structures of power, privilege and patronage which greatly advantage the few by disadvantaging the many. Preservation of their ‘precious’ Union is printed in the DNA of every British politician who rises through a system which filters out all the qualities the many might hope for in their political rulers. And any attributes which might give the few the slightest cause for unease.
Pete Wishart MP, the SNP Shadow Leader of the House in the House of Commons, chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and dribbling willy of this parish will be among those sorry to see Boris go. Or so we must assume. In common with many others of his willy-dribbling ilk (Aye, Alyn Smith! I’m looking at you!), Wishart maintains that Boris is “probably the biggest single recruiting sergeant” that Scotland’s independence movement has ever had. So doubtless he will be severely distressed by Boris’s current travails. But he shouldn’t worry too much. If the historical trend which led to the British political system shitting Boris on us continues then there is a larger and more malodorous turd already working its way through Britannia’s colon. If Pete the Postponer’s ‘recruiting sergeant’ theory is even marginally more valid than his ‘optimal moment’ notion then Scotland’s cause is in for a massive boost as it acquires a new and improved ‘recruiting sergeant’.
Of course, there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea of Boris Johnson driving folk to rally around the independence cause. The average of the first ten polls after Johnson became British Prime Minister was 44%. The average of the most recent ten polls is 43%. Boris’s performance as a recruiting sergeant for Yes appears to be as woeful as his performance as British Prime Minister. Or his performance as a journalist. Or his performance as a zip-wire clown. Scrub that last one! As a zip-wire clown, Boris is unsurpassed. Perhaps that is where his future lies.
(Pete Wishart apologists – they do exist! – will point to the wee surge in Yes support indicated by the polls through 2020 and 2021. More astute and less biased analysts will identify the obvious alternative explanation for this prolonged blip. And note that it didn’t last while Boris did.)
Who cares? Well, I do! I care a great deal that Scotland’s independence movement has come to be permeated by myths such as the ‘recruiting sergeant’ nonsense. And permeated it certainly is. Of late, a disturbingly large portion of my commentary has been devoted to debunking not the obvious and long-since refuted lies of British Nationalist propaganda, but the fantastical drivel emanating from various parts of what used to be the Yes movement. The ‘recruiting sergeant’ thing may be trivial – if dishonesty in politics can ever be trivial – but it is symptomatic. There’s a lot of that sort of thing going about. For example, there was ALBA Party’s ‘supermajority’ guff. More recently, there’s the illusions and delusions surrounding the proposed ‘independence’ referendum. I make no apologies for finding this tendency to the fantastical very worrying.
If ever there was a time when Scotland’s cause needed a jolt of hard-headed political realism and pragmatism it is now. There is a strong sense that we are approaching a critical tipping point in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. A sense that the cause has an opportunity to make a great leap forward. But an even stronger sense that it could just as easily turn out as a crippling setback. Independence activists are getting excited about the possibility of taking the opposition’s king. But looking at the board as a whole I see the British state with all its pieces perfectly positioned to defend their queen – the Union. I look at Nicola Sturgeon’s game strategy and see nothing that might break through those defences. I look at the onlookers cheering Nicola’s every move and wonder what game they are seeing.
Boris may be on his way out. But while we are all watching what may be the final moments of his tragi-farcical premiership as if his going was significant, the realities of Scotland’s predicament remain. Boris going changes nothing.
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