It’s at times like this that I wish I still did drugs. Brexit has turned into a cross between the Neverending Story and the Walking Dead, only with gammons instead of dragons, and precious little magic. In recognition of the fact that Theresa May is an undead political leader, the EU have given her until Halloween to sort out Brexit. Then when she comes back begging for another extension because she’s done bugger all at least she won’t have to dress up. She can just come as herself, that’s plenty scary enough for anyone. The rest of the UK can dress up as a cliff edge.
Just three weeks ago, Theresa May stood before the House of Commons and announced that she could not, as Prime Minister, delay the UK’s exit from the EU beyond 30 June. Well now she’s done exactly that. Will she resign? Will she buggery. She’s lied about everything else. She’s lied so often and so frequently that she’s now lost all concept of what truth might be. She lied about not having a snap general election. She lied about reaching out to the other parties in order to find some consensus. She lied about no deal being better than a bad deal. She lied about not pulling her deal in Parliament the first time it was due to be put to a vote. Theresa May infamously doesn’t answer questions, she’s notably only for her abilities to evade, dissemble, and deflect, but you can be pretty certain that on those rare occasions that she does make a statement that appears to contain some solidity to it, that it’s going to be a lie.
We’re not going to crash out of the EU on Friday. Despite the on-going permachaos of the British body politic, this is a good thing. The EU leaders have decided to give the UK until 31 October to come up with something, anything, that might put a stop to this endless faffery. It gives Jeremy Corbyn six more months in which to keep avoiding coming to any decisions. It gives the Commons six more months to fail to agree on anything. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. But most importantly of all, for Theresa May it gives her another opportunity to fail to resign as the rest of her cabinet openly vie to succeed her. Then we can look forward to a new Tory leader who is even more obdurate than Theresa is, and who will do his or her damnedest to trash anything that passes for a deal, and embark upon a new round of hostilities with the EU. Those drugs are looking pretty attractive right now.
It’s at times like this that you wonder if half the British political establishment is on drugs. That’s the only possible explanation for the hagiography in the Telegraph asking why we don’t have more MPs like Mark Francois and touting him as a potential leader of the Conservative party. And there was you thinking that we’d already reached the summit of Mount Ludicrous. Oh no. There’s the vast angry splutteration of Mark, bobbing above your head like an irate balloon animal. Mark is the bastard offspring of Middle England and Middle Earth. He’s what you’d get if an Orc served in the TA for a couple of years and took to wearing a blazer. Those scientists who took the photie of the black hole 54 million light years away needed to use a virtual telescope the size of the entire Earth in order to do so, but even they couldn’t locate Mark’s intellect.
There’s no obvious way out of this mess. The Conservatives don’t want a general election. The reason they’ve been trying to avoid having to hold the European elections is because they’ll get thrashed by the voters. Labour, even given the total chaos and dysfunction of the worst Conservative government in living memory, still can’t achieve a meaningful lead over them in the polls. They’re none too keen on a general election either, despite the ritual claims that they want one. Jeremy Corbyn wants Brexit to happen as much as Mark Francois does. He just doesn’t want to take the blame for it, then he can still pose as the saviour of his largely remain supporting party. Neither Corbyn nor May wants another referendum. This crisis is largely a crisis of political leadership. At a time when the UK needs leadership which can reach out, build consensus, make compromises, heal wounds, we get the two most tribal idiots in British political history, products of a broken system which regards tribal idiocy as a strength.
Until now the strategy of the SNP has been to wait for some clarity on Brexit before moving ahead with a Scottish independence referendum. That was a sensible strategy when there was still some modicum of possibility that there were sensible people in charge in British politics. It’s clear now that all that the British political system has to offer is unending chaos, permanent dysfunction, and everlasting confusion. If you’re waiting for clarity on Brexit, you’re going to be waiting forever. The Brexit issue will continue to dominate British politics for the foreseeable future, even if some deal is reached, even if the UK does crash out with no deal at all. Arguments about the UK’s relationship with Europe are still going to dominate British politics. If we do leave, under whatever circumstances, there will be plenty of people offering the possibility of a return to the EU. The arguments are only going to go on.
All we know for sure is that there will be no certainty about anything for at least another six months. We can be certain that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will squander the time they’ve been granted and will use it to continue their dance of pointlessness. But we can also be pretty sure that there will be no political stability in the UK for decades to come.
Confusion and political chaos is the new normal for the UK. That’s the reality for the SNP. Waiting for clarity implies that there is some clarity to be found, that a deeply dysfunctional and broken British political system is capable of producing it. It clearly isn’t. That can only mean that it’s up to the Scottish Government to create some clarity of its own instead of waiting passively as a victim of events. We have a window of opportunity, a chance, to achieve Scottish independence before leaving the EU. We must not squander this opportunity by waiting for the clueless to find a clue.
The Scottish Government needs to state now that it wants a Scottish referendum, on Scottish terms, and at a timetable that suits Scotland. It must renew its call for a Section 30 order, while simultaneously testing the legal waters for a referendum without such an order. It must also make sure that the British government understands that a refusal to cooperate with a referendum will mean that the next set of elections in Scotland, whether that’s a UK General Election or the next Scottish Parliament elections, will become an effective referendum on independence. That will be an election fought against the backdrop of a dysfunctional UK which refuses to allow Scotland to ask itself about its own future. That’s going to make it impossible for opponents of independence to pretend that Scotland really is a partner in a union. The British Government must be made to understand that one way or another, Scotland will have a legal vote on its own future – and that the permission of the British Government is not required.
It’s time to stop waiting, and start doing. Clarity only comes to those who light their own candle in the darkness.
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