There are dead cats with more bounce than this government. Are you feeling strong and stable? How are those broad shoulders of the United Kingdom working out for you, the ones that are now wearing an orange sash? Are you better together with the lodge? After spending the election campaign screaming that Jeremy Corbyn was a friend of Irish political parties with links to terrorism, Theresa May is inviting an Irish political party with links to terrorism into government. The government of the UK is waiting to hear the demands of sectarian fundamentalists who used to wear balaclavas and paramilitary uniforms.
According to an Irish newspaper, the DUP has a list of 45 demands to put to Theresa May in return for supporting her government. These include, in no particular order: no surrender, making it mandatory that prayers in the House of Commons end with a commitment to FTP, abolishing gay pride marches unless the semi-nude male dancers adorn themselves in the boa their father woa, tying up all budgie swings on the Sabbath, forbidding anyone to wear the colour green, banning all references to the world being more than 6,000 years old and making it clear that humans did indeed walk with dinosaurs because after all the DUP do that every July, introducing a bill to make it clear that New Rangers is exactly the same club as Old Rangers except for tax purposes and it’s all the fault of Craig Whyte anyway, and making it clear that the David Bowie song Ashes to Ashes isn’t about Arlene Foster’s grasp of good financial management.
For all the jokes and the howls of derision, it’s not a joke that we’re now living in a country where extremist fundamentalists are being asked to prop up the government. It’s unlikely that the DUP will ask for changes to LGBTQ rights or abortion rights in the rest of the UK, but they’ll certainly insist that they continue to have a veto on those things in Northern Ireland. However by allying herself with a party which thinks it’s acceptable to remain stuck in the homophobic and sexist attitudes of the 1960s, Theresa May has once again put the needs of herself and her party before the rest of the country. She’s the woman who warned that the Tories were perceived as the nasty party, and now she’s getting into bed with the nastiest party of all. I wonder if we’ll now have lots of articles in the Scottish Unionist press denouncing the Ulsterisation of our politics.
Theresa May wants us to believe that she’s most capable person to negotiate a deal with the EU, but she can’t even capably negotiate a deal with the DUP. Her office issued a statement claiming that a deal had already been reached before having to retract it amidst confusion and embarrassment. All that has done is to strengthen the ashen hand of Arlene Foster.
It’s bad enough that women’s rights and LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland are going to be consigned to the deep freeze, but what’s even worse is that by allying herself with the DUP Theresa May is effectively destroying the Northern Irish Peace Process. The terms of the agreement make it very clear that the British government cannot and must not take sides in the Irish debate. By agreeing to a list of DUP demands, one of which is likely to be a commitment from Westminster to oppose an Irish reunification referendum, the British government has done just that.
A few weeks ago just before Theresa May made her ill-fated call for another general election the British economy was starting to struggle as the consequences of Brexit began to bite, inflation was starting to rise as the collapse in the value of the pound began to work its way through, and Brexit negotiations were looming. Now Brexit negotiations are almost on top of us and there’s no plan or indeed clue from the British government about how it’s going to handle the negotiations, there’s even greater uncertainty about the economy, and Theresa May is spending most of her time and energy cosying up to apologists for sectarian paramilitary groups on the one side and fending off Conservative leadership challenges on the other. There is now a very real and horrifying possibility that within a few weeks or months we could be facing the prospect of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
Theresa May had hoped that she’d have been returned to power with a stupendous majority allowing her to go into negotiations with the EU posing as the unchallenged leader of Britain with the great mass of the country firmly behind her. That’s not happening. Instead she’s going into negotiations as a zombie Prime Minister, politically dead but still walking. There’s already talk of another general election. This is the Prime Minister who sailed into office after the disaster of Cameron, supposedly a safe pair of hands. She’s proven as safe as a wet toddler playing with a fuse box in the middle of the M8.
Given all this uncertainty, the calls that the SNP must immediately take an independence referendum off the table are premature. Quite the reverse, it is now more vital than ever that the people of Scotland get an opportunity to vote on whatever is likely to emerge from the dust of the collapsing and chaotic British state. If anything, the biggest lesson that we’ve learned from the past few weeks is that in times of uncertainty political realities can change radically in an extremely short space of time. We’re now in a period of immense political and economic uncertainty, we have no idea what the shape of the British government will be next week, never mind in two year’s time. We have no idea what is going to happen with Brexit. We have no idea what’s going to happen with jobs or the economy.
In these uncertain circumstances it would be an act of epic self-harm for the Scottish Government to say that Scotland will not have another independence referendum for a generation. It’s not like doing so would placate the Scottish Tories anyway. It’s not like doing so would stop them banging on about their opposition to another referendum. All we know with certainty is that we have no certainty and we don’t know what’s coming down the British line. This crisis may settle down, but it may very well be immediately replaced with another. No one knows, although we do know that the British state has a propensity to lurch from one crisis to another and so far we’ve seen nothing to reassure us that the pattern has changed.
That’s why it’s more important than ever that Scotland retains the right to decide for itself what its own relationship with Europe and the rest of the UK is going to be. But in the meantime, it’s more vital than ever that the independence movement is not discouraged and is not bowed. We must not confuse a short term reverse in a period of chaos with a long term goal. We need to organise, educate, and must not allow the confusion and uncertainty of the British state to infect our movement. And we need to remember that independence will not be handed to us on a plate, we need to work for it. This chaotic election is a reminder that we have work to do. Let’s get to work.
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