Fine words

Ian Blackford portentously declares that the next UK general election will be “one of the most important in Scotland’s history”. If we are to take him at his word, we must know what makes it so. What is it about this election that makes it so significant for Scotland? How might the election impact Scotland? In what way will the outcome of the election determine Scotland’s future?

What are Ian Blackford’s – and, we must assume, the SNP’s – priorities in this election? What do he and they hope to get out of it?

Of course, as Mr Blackford speaks, there is no election. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next UK general election isn’t due until 5 May 2022. Few people, however, expect the current regime to last that long. The smart money isn’t betting on anything right now. But there is talk of opposition scheming to bring down the government and force an election in December. Spare a thought for the canvassers and leafleters who will have winter weather to contend with.

What you may have noted is that this date is beyond the most recent Brexit deadline. So it’s not at all clear what the point might be in “putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the election campaign, as Ian Blackford states is the SNP’s intention. Whatever else might be achieved, there is no way for an election to turn back the clock or alter the past. By December, Brexit will be a fait accompli. Scotland will have been wrenched from the EU against the will of the Scottish voters. By December, the deluge of Mad Brexiteer triumphalism provoked by a no-deal Brexit may just be starting to abate. The harsh realities of Brexit may even be beginning to bite despite the British government’s efforts to bury them under a pile of money and propaganda.

Is Ian Blackford suggesting that the SNP will be asking people to vote for them as a protest against Brexit and/or the contempt shown for Scotland’s democratic will by the British establishment? It’s a strategy of a sort, I suppose. But ‘Vote SNP as a futile gesture’ is hardly the most compelling campaign slogan ever devised.

Maybe the SNP is hoping for a further extension in the further hope that there may yet be hope of stopping Brexit. Some hope! It is true that the British parliament has passed legislation which will force the British Prime Minister to request another Article 50 extension if, by October 19, he hasn’t managed to persuade MPs to vote for either the ‘deal’ that they’ve already repeatedly rejected or a ‘new deal’ which currently exists only in Boris Johnson’s roiling imagination. Commentators are busy speculating about the possibility that the malignant child-clown might simply ignore this legal requirement.

There is little reason to suppose Boris Johnson might be prevented from breaking the law by a personal moral code evidently even less substantial than the ‘new deal’ which hasn’t actually been proposed and which the EU isn’t actually prepared to negotiate even if it actually had been proposed. But Boris probably won’t have to risk whatever penalty he might incur by defying the law and refusing to ask for more time. There’s a very good chance that the EU will not grant this request; especially if there are no fresh proposals – not involving wishful thinking and magic – which might break the deadlock. Johnson need only deploy the dithering and bluster which are his political stock in trade and the UK leaves the EU at 23:00 on 31 October by default.

The hope of stopping Brexit is looking rather forlorn. Opposition after the fact is a decidedly hollow basis for an election campaign. Indeed, the SNP might be well-advised to avoid any mention of Brexit, lest they remind voters of just how ineffectual their opposition has been. What else might they say about Brexit other than that they failed to prevent it being imposed on Scotland. Perhaps the campaign slogan might be ‘At least we tried!’.

Fortunately, Ian Blackford isn’t suggesting a campaign which relies entirely on a combination of credit for effort and post hoc protest. Alongside that “opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the SNP campaign will be a demand that Scotland’s people be given “our right to choose our own future with independence”. Which immediately prompted me to wonder why we are asking for this right if it is already ours. If it’s a right it requires no permission. If it’s ours we have no need to seek that permission. Already this second prong of the SNP’s election campaign strategy is starting to look as wobbly as the first.

What Ian Blackford is referring to is, needless to say, the Section 30 order that our First Minister has declared essential for a ‘legal’ independence referendum. On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.

But let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Section 30 process is undoubtedly toxic. Let us consider only the demand for a Section 30 order as a plank in the SNP’s platform come the next UK general election. Various questions may be asked of such a demand. Is it reasonable? How you answer that will depend on whether you recognise the toxic nature of the Section 30 process. And whether the question relates to the reasonableness of the requesting or the granting. A better question might ask if it is reasonable to be required to ask for permission to exercise a right which you already have the right to exercise. However, we’ve already covered that ground.

Another question that might be asked of a demand made as part of an election campaign is whether it is realistic. Is it possible for the demand to be met? How likely is it to be met? Is there any point to it?

The answer to these questions depends on the outcome of the election. Whether the demand is realistic or attainable or meaningful is all down to the make-up of the House of Commons in the wake of the election. Rather helpfully, Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland has done the arithmetic for us. He has modelled various scenarios ranging from the highly probable to ludicrously fantastical. In none of these scenarios does the SNP Westminster group end up in a position to secure that Section 30 order. Even winning 51 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers.

None of Stu Campbell’s scenarios had the SNP win all the seats. But I suspect the end result would be the same. Whatever the weight of public support for independence it will always be outweighed in the British parliament by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MPs. The obvious conclusion being that it is utterly pointless to suppose Scotland’s independence might be restored via Westminster. It will only be restored by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament in a way that breaks the British state’s rules but with the support of the Scottish people.

In summarising, let’s look at what Ian Blackford said,

The SNP will be putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future with independence at the heart of the contest… 

Scots urged to register to vote ahead of ‘crucial’ General Election

In the next UK general election, it looks like the SNP will be campaigning to stop something that’s already happened and to get something we already have by demanding something they can’t get and which they shouldn’t be asking for because asking for it does harm and getting it does even more harm.

You may count me among those who are not at all impressed. Not for the first time, Ian Blackford offers fine words which leave the parsnips quite devoid of butter.



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I don’t get it!

I don’t get it. Nicola Sturgeon says, “No Westminster government, of any party, has the right to stand in the way of the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future.” If that is the case, then why is she intent on asking their permission? Why would you beg consent if consent isn’t required? If the British state has no right to stand in our way, why is Nicola Sturgeon behaving as if they do?

The people of Scotland are sovereign! There is no ‘but’ at the end of that statement. There cannot be. In one breath she says that the people of Scotland have a sovereign right to determine their own future. In the next she says that this supposedly sovereign right is subject to the approval of the British political elite. Both things cannot be true. Sovereignty cannot be conditional.

I don’t get it. Nicola Sturgeon says that another election win will “reinforce” this sovereign right that is, apparently, only sovereign in a certain ‘political’ sense. It’s only a ‘sort of’ sovereignty. Why would that sovereignty need to be reinforced unless it was in doubt? Nicola Sturgeon may entertain such misgivings, but I sure as hell don’t!

I don’t get it. Why would anybody imagine an election victory for the SNP would demolish the British establishment’s opposition to a new referendum? It never did before. The SNP has enjoyed almost unprecedented electoral success over the past few years and British antipathy to the idea of Scotland exercising its sovereign right of self-determination has only become more fervent. Opposition to a new referendum hasn’t been weakened by SNP election wins, it has grown more desperately resolute.

To summarise; Nicola Sturgeon wants us to do something she insists we have to do despite the fact that the sovereignty she claims means that we absolutely do not have to do it, in the hope that doing this thing will have an effect that it never did before.

I just don’t get it!



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Bring it on?

As talk of a General Election mounts, I say ‘bring it on’…but it must be before Oct 31. MPs must not allow Johnson to game the date as a ploy to push through a no deal Brexit.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) September 2, 2019

A nice soundbite from Nicola Sturgeon. Although the “bring it on” thing is getting a bit tired and threadbare, she carries it off. Perhaps well enough that people will cheer at the words without considering the content. They may applaud here steely determination and her grit and all that, but never think about the implications of a UK general election being brought on.

Our First Minister – and therefore, presumably the SNP group of MPs – seem bent on trying to force a snap election. She, and they, overstate their power to do this, of course; but that’s just politics. SNP MPs have no real power at Westminster. If they did, it’s unlikely they’d be tolerated at all in the parliament of England-as-Britain. The SNP is just part of an effort to block Brexit and/or prevent a no-deal Brexit and/or force a UK general election that is being mounted by a disparate, disjointed and disordered mob of MPs lacking any leadership or coherent plan or even agreed objective.

Nonetheless, this being British politics, such a random rabble may be effective. It may do something. Although whether what comes out of their effort in any way resembles what they intended or hoped for, is almost entirely a matter of luck.

But suppose what transpires is what Nicola Sturgeon appears to want when she urges the Johnson regime to “bring it on”. Suppose there is a UK general election called for mid-October. So what? What does Nicola Sturgeon stand to gain from this? What does the SNP stand to gain? What does the anti-Brexit campaign stand to gain? Most importantly, what does the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status stand to gain?

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP almost certainly stand to gain more seats in the British House of Commons. So what? The Union is, and always has been, designed to prevent Scottish MPs being effective. The Union’s purpose, from its inception, has been to ensure that Scotland’s voice could never be meaningfully represented in British politics. Having 52 or 56 or even 59 MPs who actually speak for Scotland will make no difference.

The campaign to spoke the wheels of the Brexit juggernaut stands to gain… nothing! All the indications are that a UK general election will result in a British parliament even more committed to Brexit at any cost than the current one, If that is even imaginable. It will result is a British executive further empowered to wrench the UK out of the EU, trampling over democracy as it does so and dragging unwilling Scotland with it. This will be the outcome of a UK general election because this is what voters in England want. And they are the only voters who matter. A general election alters the make-up of the British parliament. But it doesn’t dilute the British Nationalism in that place. It only further concentrates it. The already vile mix would be made even more pungent and more potent by the addition of extremist followers of Nigel Farage.

The calling of a UK general election could warrant a further extension to the Article 50 process. Which might be regarded as a small victory for the ‘rebel rabble’ that the SNP is siding with. But only if all 27 real EU member states agreed to it and, even more crucially, only if the UK Government requested such an extension. Which simply isn’t going to happen.

It will be claimed that increasing the number of SNP MPs will strengthen Scotland’s cause. But will it? As already noted, the Union makes those MPs powerless regardless of their number. And they are now faced with a British executive which sees great virtue in emphasising and exploiting that powerlessness. A British regime which is eager to pander to British Nationalism’s anti-Scottish prejudices. A British political elite which will, therefore, relish every opportunity to demonstrate its contempt for Scotland’s elected representatives and democratic institutions.

Apart from which, a UK general election cannot possibly be both a proxy Brexit referendum and a proxy independence referendum. I trust that is obvious enough not to require further explanation.

Just as a UK general election will surely result in a British parliament and government which is even more determined to pursue Brexit at any cost, and which is empowered so to do, so it will result in a British administration even more committed to the ideology of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

It will be claimed that having a massive majority of Scotland’s MPs will give the SNP some sort of enhanced mandate to pursue a new referendum and independence. But what difference might it actually make? If the British state is prepared to discount the existing “triple-locked” mandate, what reason is there to suppose it will not also discount any mandate no matter how ‘enhanced’. Especially when there is a British government that sees considerable political advantage in slapping Scotland down.

Bear in mind that Nicola Sturgeon has committed herself, and thereby Scotland, to the Section 30 process. A process which affords the British government ample scope for ensuring that no referendum ever takes place. There is no numbers of SNP MPs which will be able to force or persuade the British ruling elite to ‘allow’ a new independence referendum. Or to agree to a referendum on terms that would make a Yes victory anything more than the remotest possibility.

So! Bring it on! Bring on a UK general election. Just realise that after it is over we will be exactly where we are now. Brexit will still happen. At 23:00 on 31 October 2019 Scotland will be wrenched out of the EU despite our democratic will and ignoring all our protests. The people of Scotland will be stripped of their European citizenship with all the disbenefits and hardships that this implies. We will have imposed on us all the economic horrors that have been talked about and all the constitutional abominations that have been largely left unremarked.

The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence will also be no further forward. Doubtless those in the Yes movement are correct who say more people will be encouraged to support independence because of what they see happening in England and to Scotland. But without the means to express their democratic will, it means nothing. It changes nothing. And Nicola Sturgeon has effectively ruled out providing the means by which the people of Scotland might exercise their inalienable right of self-determination by inexplicably granting to the British government the authority to deny our right of self-determination.

That means of exercising our right of self-determination can only be provided by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament with the support of the Scottish people. And it must inevitably and inescapably involve breaking the rules imposed by the British state. This is where we are now. And it is where we will still be after a UK general election.



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