The threat to which The Sunday National refers has been looming for years (Tory leadership race ‘poses Thatcher threat to Scotland amid lurch to the right’). Arguably, it has been looming for decades. But it can be said with certainty that it is over the last decade that the threat of far right-wing British governments has become blindingly obvious. Indeed, it may be said that the past ten years have seen this move from threat to inevitability and now the reality.
British Labour long since ceased to be any kind of bulwark against this rightward trend. British Nationalists, on the other hand, exploited it. Brexit is the result. British Nationalism and far-right politics are now intimately bound up with one another so that it is no longer possible to discern which is the wave and which the ‘surfer’.
Here in Scotland, we saw the uselessness of British Labour and turned to the SNP. This helped only in that we got some costly amelioration of British state impositions. Costly and only effective in the short term as every dyke that the Scottish Government is inevitably overwhelmed by the British government’s actions.
The most important thing the SNP offered us was the promise of a way out. As the last ten years have seen the threat posed by right-wing British Nationalism become ever more imminent and urgent, however, the promise held out by the SNP has degenerated into hope, faith and complacency.
Where does this leave us? More to the point, where does it take us/
It leaves us pretty much where we were in 2012. If anything, it leaves us somewhat worse off than then. In 2012 we had the certainty of a referendum which we had good reason to believe would lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Ten years on we have only the tenuous prospect of a referendum that we know for a fact can’t lead to independence. A referendum which if it goes ahead, will see us stake Scotland’s cause against absolutely nothing. A referendum which we must win not because we gain anything from winning but because we lose everything by losing. A referendum in which a Yes vote cannot be implemented while a No vote will be deemed decisive and legally binding.
It doesn’t matter that the proposed referendum is merely “consultative and non-self-executing”. As people are inexplicably fond of pointing out, the Brexit referendum was ‘advisory’ and yet the result was implemented. What these people fail to realise is that it was implemented because the British government had the power to implement it. The Scottish Government has no power to implement a Yes vote in the mock referendum proposed by Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister makes no claim to such power. But the British state has the power to implement a No vote as if it was a determinative referendum just as it implemented the Leave vote in the ‘advisory’ EU referendum.
That’s where we are. There may be a referendum in 2023. There may not. Either way, it makes no difference. Except that the Yes movement will have to put its all into a campaign which even if it is won will only take us back where we started but if it is lost will set Scotland’s cause back at least 20 years. Perhaps 50!
Where this takes us is to the next UK general election – which must happen no later than Friday 24 January 2025. So, autumn 2024 at the latest. Unless a low turnout suits the British political elite. In this case, we will be looking at an election campaign fought in the middle of winter. A low turnout may well favour established power in the UK. The reason becomes clear when we consider what kind of election it is almost certain to be.
The rightward tendency of the British government has been given added impetus by the Tory leadership battle. The leadership contest serves as a preview of the next UK general election. Some time ago I stated that the British Conservative Party would fight the next UK general election on an explicitly far-right British Nationalist platform. Think of the Leave campaign on steroids. But the main target of this campaign will not be the EU. It will be Scotland. Of course, the EU will still be dragged into it. British Nationalist hatred of the EU hasn’t been assuaged by Brexit. Far from it! But it is the ‘Scottish problem’ that will feature more strongly.
As we know, where British Tories go, British Labour follows. The two main British parties will be vying with each other to see which of them can offer the most Draconian ‘solution to the Scottish problem. The election will be presented as a fight to save the Union and thereby ‘make Britain great again’. They will compete to find which might most effectively crush Scotland’s cause and lock us into a ‘reformed’ political union from which there can be no escape. With the LibDems jumping up and down in the background squeaking “Us too!”.
A low turnout tends to favour the extremes of politics as they always vote. As less committed individuals opt out of voting – for example, because it’s cold outside – the extremists inevitably become a larger proportion of the popular vote.
Nicola Sturgeon proposes to try and make the next UK general election a plebiscite on independence. The British will deny that it is an independence referendum. Unless the SNP does less well than it might. The bar is always set higher for the SNP and Scotland’s cause. The SNP will have to win more seats and an increased share of the popular vote for a claim of victory to have any credibility. Anything less equates to a defeat. Like the mock referendum, the UK general election will only be recognised as a plebiscite on independence by the British if they can plausibly claim that the SNP lost. Onlythe SNP! Other pro-independence parties will be buried by the British media.
The same British media will be out in force supporting the British nationalist effort being conducted by the three main British parties, as well as most of the minor ones. This British Nationalist campaign will be monstrous. It will be relentless. It will be vicious. Standing against this juggernaut of a British Nationalist campaign will be an SNP which has alienated the larger part of the Yes movement, including many of its own members. What’s left will be disheartened by the discovery that the so-called independence referendum of 2023 either didn’t happen or turned out to be the soggiest of damp squibs. If the referendum does happen, the Yes movement will be exhausted having fought a campaign it knows it can’t afford to lose but which it finds is meaningless if they win.
This depleted force will be pitched against what will effectively be the biggest anti-independence campaign ever. A campaign which will use much the same strategy as won the No vote in 2014. Meanwhile, the SNP will deploy the same tactics as lost the vote for Yes in 2014. Much to the delight of the British Nationalists.
A catastrophe for Scotland’s cause is staring us in the face compared to which Margaret Thatcher will look benign and beneficent. So you’ll just have to forgive me if I get a bit irked at those peddling complacent drivel about independence being inevitable or telling us we should have total faith in the one individual most responsible for bringing us to the brink of this catastrophe.
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