Remember 2014? All we heard from the chorus of British politicians and the media was “What’s your plan B?” That was just about the currency of an independent Scotland, because the British government was saying that it wasn’t going to enter into a formal currency union with Scotland. It was relentless, and it successfully scared many people into the false belief that the day after a Yes vote in an independence referendum, Scotland wouldn’t have any money at all. An elderly neighbour of mine sincerely believed that a Yes vote would mean that as of 19 September 2014 she wouldn’t be able to spend the money in her purse at the local supermarket. All she had heard was, “Scotland won’t be able to use the pound!”
There was of course no reason why Scotland couldn’t continue to use the pound unilaterally, which is what Ireland did in 1922 until it established its own currency some years later, a currency which it kept pegged to sterling at a one to one rate. That didn’t stop the scare stories. It’s a familiar tactic from the British state. Double down on the fright wigs at the expense of any positive thought or contribution. Boris Johnson even wears a literal fright wig. The dependence on scare tactics may not be unrelated to the fact that the British government is made up of individuals who’ve never had a positive thought in their lives. Threats, bullying, and intimidation are amongst those British values that the BBC doesn’t like to celebrate.
Theresa May was in Scotland on Tuesday, but there’s a distinct lack of a similar chorus of “Where’s your plan B?” from that same British press. That’s not to say that they didn’t cover it. They did cover it. In between the story about the cricket player being prosecuted for an alleged assault and the story about Boris Johnson’s latest dickwaddery there was a very brief mention, a blink and you’d miss it sort of deal. Balance, rigour. Nicola was far too polite to point out to Theresa that if there is a plan B it’s in outer space, orbiting Uranus.
Nicola Sturgeon is demanding that Theresa May says what she’s got in mind in the event that the EU reject’s the Chequer’s plan which was so painfully thrashed out between Tory cabinet members when they weren’t thrashing one another. She has pointed out to the Prime Minister that talking up the prospect of a no-deal Brexit makes it all the more likely to come to pass. Theresa didn’t take the advice well. But then if Theresa took advice well then the UK wouldn’t be in the mess that it’s currently in.
It’s not an unreasonable demand that Theresa let’s us know what alternatives she has in mind, seeing as how the EU has already given its preliminary assessment of Theresa’s plan, and it is something along the lines of Et maintenant tu te fous vraiment de nous, which is a French expression which can be approximately translated as “You’re really just taking the piss now.” Only a lot ruder.
This isn’t a currency union we’re talking about here. The UK can’t unilaterally decide that’s it’s going to press on regardless of what the EU says and there will be no practical difference to ordinary punters. Failure to reach a deal will have consequences, but instead of trying to work on a deal that’s going to be acceptable and which will avoid the seriously negative consequences to ordinary people, the British government prefers to run about like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles, holding a gun to its own head.
Theresa May is trying to persuade people in Scotland that Brexit can bring about a brighter future for Scotland. There’s as much chance of her succeeding with that argument as there is of Ruth Davidson taking time out of her busy schedule of book promotion to answer questions about the dark money scandal. Theresa was so lacking in confidence in her own arguments that she wouldn’t even take questions from the Scottish press, which isn’t exactly known for giving Conservatives a hard time. As the Brexit process has lurched onwards, Scottish opposition to it has only grown. The only way Brexit will make Scotland brighter will be as more and more people burn the Tory election leaflets paid for by dark money that fall through our letterboxes.
Nicola Sturgeon has warned Theresa May that using scare tactics as a negotiating tool isn’t a good idea. Supporters of Scottish independence know that well. Opponents of independence might have won the 2014 referendum on the basis of a scare campaign, but they did so at the price of mightily pissing off a substantial part of the Scottish population. So much so that within hours of the result being declared, the independence movement was reinvigorated and renewed as thousands of very angry people resolved that they were going to do their utmost to ensure that there would be a second referendum. If the Better Together campaign had instead fought on the basis of a positive vision of the UK, and more importantly had delivered on it afterwards, then Scotland wouldn’t currently be looking at a rematch. Moreover a rematch which is going to be contested on very different ground, with very different arguments, and with a very different result. Westminster’s scare stories of big scary monsters with big scary teeth have only bitten Westminster on the bum.
The lesson here is that if you conduct your politics using fear, intimidation, and threats as the main tools in your political armoury, you don’t merely look like a tool, but the whole project is highly likely to end up in tears. Your tears. Base your politics on fear, and you will sooner or later be held to account for it, because people are far less likely to forgive being threatened than they are to forgive a positive promise or commitment that was only partially delivered.
Goodwill is a precious commodity, when you squander it it’s gone for good. The British government hasn’t just squandered the goodwill of the people of Scotland, it’s trashed it, squashed it, and thrown it on the rubbish heap along with any prospect of a sensible Brexit strategy. When you base your politics on scare tactics, it’s because you’re afraid of the people, and sooner or later, but more likely sooner, the people will let you know what they think of you.
There won’t be any updates to the blog until the weekend as I am off to Islay first thing tomorrow for a few days to speak at the Islay Show as part of The National Roadshow event. If you’re in Islay, it would be great to see you there! We are also launching my new Gaelic map of Islay and Jura at the Islay Show.
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