The Tory leadership contest has, entirely predictably, become a reflexion of the Brexit process. It’s delusional. When the UK was given the six months extension to Article 50, the EU warned the British Government to use the time wisely. The British Government promptly went on holiday. From common sense. Although it’s not unreasonable to point out that you can’t really go on holiday from common sense if you never lived there in the first place.
According to reports in the press, the other EU states are exasperated with the British Government. They’re not the only ones. Now they know what it feels like to be Scottish. The EU is losing patience, and more EU governments are coming round to the hardline position of the French President Emmanuel Macron, who argued against giving the UK a long extension because it would just be wasted. Now those who had argued in favour of giving the UK much longer can see that Macron was right as the UK uses the extension on a Tory leadership contest in which candidates vie with one another to present solutions to Brexit that the EU has already rejected and insist that they’ll renegotiate a Brexit that the EU has repeatedly said is not up for renegotiation.
The consensus in Europe is now that the chances of a no deal Brexit are extremely high, especially since the next Tory leader is highly likely to be a Brextremist who would prefer to go for a no deal Brexit, no matter how destructive it is, rather than see the Conservative party wiped out at the next election. Party before people. Career before country. It’s the Conservative way.
An assortment of no-hopers launched their leadership campaigns. First off the blocks, or rather bollocks, Mark Harper showed how serious he was by taking off his jaiket, signalling that he’s prepared for a square go with the EU behind the bikesheds after school. But it was clear from the press questioning afterwards that no one really expects him to get anywhere, because no one asked him what drugs he’s taken. This may not be unrelated to the fact that Mark’s entire campaign is an example of how you don’t need Class A drugs in order to be delusional. Mark is posing as the moderate in this campaign. Moderate. When he was immigration minister he was the guy responsible for the grass up your neighbour vans telling migrants to go home, using a slogan previously associated with the National Front. Then it transpired that his own cleaner didn’t have her papers in order, and so Mark got her deported. Moderate.
Esther McVey has spent her life being loathsome and being loathed by everyone who knows her, and feels that if it’s worked for her then it can work for the UK as a whole. Her launch was notable mostly for the way in which she was snubbed by Lorraine Kelly live on breakfast telly. The artiste known as Lorraine Kelly for tax purposes is unfailingly pleasant, polite, nice, and chatty, so this was the real Lorraine Kelly. So there was that, and the way the launch was hijacked by a cut rate Mark Francois impersonator who felt that Esther wasn’t extreme enough on Brexit, even though Esther embraces a no deal Brexit.
Dominic Raab got out of the driving seat of his white van, managing, not entirely successfully, to contain his rage. Dominic is basically the school bully who thinks Empathy is a small Balkan country to the north of Greece and he wants nothing to do with those foreigners. There are steroid junkies who have more zenlike calm than Dominic, who is the human incarnation of a supervolcano on the verge of erupting. You know it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen soon, you just don’t know exactly when. Dominic thinks that the only reason that the EU hasn’t capitulated until now is because no one has demanded an arm wrestling contest.
Michael Gove launched his campaign with a whopper of a lie, claiming that his father had had to close down the family fish business in Aberdeen because of the evil EU. His father is on record as saying that he had sold the business as a going concern, because of a variety of factors few of which had anything to do with the EU.
Michael was hoping that no one would notice. He was also hoping that no one would notice that he didn’t actually have a strategy or a plan for Brexit, other than hoping that something might turn up. And in this calculation he was perfectly correct, but that was only because of the crack in his campaign. No one in the press pack noticed, but that was only because they were far more interested in not letting him off the hook for his hypocrisy on drugs.
It’s one thing to admit to have taken drugs. It’s quite another to have written an article in the Times while you yourself were taking drugs demanding strict laws and zero tolerance for drug users, laws which working class and poorer drug users are disproportionately criminalised by. It’s another level of hypocrisy entirely to introduce regulations when you’re the education secretary that prevents anyone becoming a teacher if they themselves have behaved as you have done.
Michael got a bit sniffy and tried to deflect by piping a wee crack at Boris Johnson, expressing the wish that Boris wouldn’t pull out. In some alternate universe all the fathers of the Conservative leadership candidates pulled out, that’s why it’s not in the mess that this one is.
Front runner Boris Johnson is avoiding scrutiny, on the basis that if you say nothing at all then you can’t say anything that’s going to cause your campaign to self-destruct. He is campaigning for the Tory leadership in the same way that he campaigned for Brexit. This is the tried and trusted Brexit strategy of saying things which are calculated to appeal to his target audience without caring whether or not he’s able to deliver on them. His tax proposals are designed to appeal to those Tory members who fetishise low tax rates, mainly because they personally will benefit from them.
Boris has been criticised for saying that his tax cut plans will be funded by an increase in National Insurance payments, which means two things. Firstly it means that the poorer paid will be footing the cost of tax cuts for the rich. Secondly it means that Scotland will be paying for tax cuts for better off English tax payers. This is because income tax rates are devolved, but National Insurance is not. Johnson’s tax cuts won’t apply in Scotland, but the increased NI payments will.
Is this a calculated insult to Scotland? Coming as it does from Boris Johnson it could simply be carelessness, lack of understanding, and lack of consideration of how the devolved settlement works. He certainly has a long previous history of not bothering about details. It would be bad enough if Boris Johnson was deliberately setting out to troll Scotland, but it’s quite plausible that he just doesn’t care enough to bother understanding the devolution settlement or Scottish sensibilities. That’s arguably worse. The attitude from Westminster towards Scotland is now and always was Scotland Schmotland.
But the alternative is also plausible, that this is a deliberate attempt to punish Scotland in order to appeal to those Conservative party members who will make the final decision. When it was pointed out to the Johnson campaign that this tax cut would effectively see Scotland pay for English tax cuts, the response was that Scotland should follow suit and cut taxes too. The Johnson campaign is happy to see it used as a means to put pressure on the Scottish Government to adopt English Conservative tax policies. That doesn’t bode well for the devolution settlement.
Making Scotland pay for English tax cuts would play well to a certain type of English Conservative who has been fed a constant diet for decades about subsidy junkie Scots. According to most recent estimates, the Scottish Conservatives have only about 9000 members at most, out of a total of around 160,000 predominantly elderly, predominantly male, predominantly white, predominantly middle class, predominantly Brexiter, members. The overwhelming majority of party members are in England, and they make up an even higher percentage of Conservative party members than England makes up of the UK population as a whole. The next prime minister is going to be chosen by the kind of older right wing man who divides his time between the Freemasons and a Surrey golf club, is happy with a no deal Brexit, and who thinks that the Daily Mail is suspiciously liberal. And they tell us that the EU is undemocratic.
The Conservative leadership contest illustrates the delusion and dilirium that characterise the end of days for the UK. For years now, the Conservatives and the Labour party have claimed that Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK, leading to resentment in England that Scotland enjoys free prescriptions, no university tuition fees, and other goodies thanks to the supposed largesse of English taxpayers. A populist Conservative leader making an appeal to English nationalism won’t hesitate to financially penalise Scotland and pitch it as “fairness”. The Barnett Formula is likely not to survive under the next Conservative leader, and neither is the UK. The delusional Tory party is devouring itself, and will devour the entire UK as it goes down. At least Scotland will have a chance to escape. It will be one of the ironies of history that Scottish independence will in part come about because of a lie told by British nationalists to keep it within the UK.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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