You can smell the fear. An opinion poll over the weekend gives Boris Johnson the support of over three quarters of members of the Conservative party. Unless something utterly unforeseen occurs, he’s going to become the next leader of the Tories and the next Prime Minister of the UK. Given that Boris Johnson is about as popular in Scotland as a bad case of piles combined with a high chili diet, and given that he’s determined to pursue a Brexit that Scotland has consistently rejected, the Scottish Conservatives are getting their panic in early. Better Together’s project fear has eaten itself and Ruth I’ll Speak Up For Scotland Within the Union Davidson is nowhere to be seen.
On Sunday, the Scotland Secretary David Mundell, who hasn’t resigned yet, penned an article for the Observer which was a not so thinly veiled warning to Johnson to be mindful of the consequences of a bad Brexit on the unity of the UK and to walk a careful line. Asking Boris Johnson to be mindful of the negative consequences of his actions and to walk a careful line is rather like expecting a seismic fault line to be mindful of the damage caused by earthquakes. Causing earthquakes is what it does as a natural consequence of the tectonic forces pressing against it. Likewise the chaos in the wake of Boris Johnson is a natural consequence of the tectonic force of his almighty ego.
Unusually for an piece that was published in the opinion section of the newspaper, the Observer wasn’t allowing comments on the Fluffmeister’s article so the Scottish (and wider UK) public were prevented from telling the mouthpiece of the British Government in Scotland what they think of his party. And that in microcosm is precisely what the problem is here. The Conservatives have created this problem for themselves precisely because they are determined to prevent the Scottish public from voicing their opinions on the Conservatives.
It’s quite likely that David Mundell, have I mentioned that he hasn’t resigned yet, feels that he needs to speak up now because Ross Thomson has his eye on the Secretary of State job as soon as the object of Ross’s fanboy stanning gets the Prime Ministerial gig. He might not be Secretary of State for Scotland for very much longer, and it won’t be because he’s displayed anything approaching a moral fibre and followed through on his threats to resign. If you wanted some moral fibre you’d be better off with a tin of baked beans. Admittedly the beans produce flatulence, but then that’s very difficult to distinguish from the pronouncements of the Scotland Secretary.
In any case, he who has not resigned yet is not going to solve anything with a passive aggressive article in the Observer that refuses to acknowledge that the blame for the current constitutional crisis lies very firmly with the Conservative party itself. According to David Mundell, the entire responsibility for the impending end of the UK is all down to that dastardly SNP. Essentially his argument, such as it was, boiled down to saying that if only the SNP didn’t exist then there wouldn’t be a problem.
If the Conservatives were serious about prioritising the unity of the UK then perhaps, just perhaps, they might have thought about that when Theresa May decided that the only people who needed to be consulted about the form that Brexit took were the European Research Group and the DUP. Now, having brought about an unsustainable situation where the cracks in the UK are wider and contain more seismic energy even than Boris Johnson’s ego, the likes of David Mundell are desperately trying to prevent the coming Scottish earthquake with a papering of articles in the press and an unhealthy denial of democracy.
You don’t solve a political problem by claiming that if it wasn’t for the fact that your party has an opposition then you wouldn’t have a problem. You don’t solve a political problem by ignoring your own responsibility for creating it. And you certainly don’t solve a political problem by doubling down on the democratic deficit which has produced that problem in the first place.
But that’s exactly what the Tories are trying to do. Trapped between the Scottish independence movement and Brexit they have no room left for manoeuvre. All that they can offer now is the political equivalent of the monoglot British tourist abroad who wasn’t understood the first time round, and now has decided to try saying the exact same thing ONLY MUCH MORE LOUDLY while waving a Union fleg. The way to solve the issues created by the democratic deficit and the UK government’s unilateral seizing control of devolved powers is for the UK government to seize more of them. It’s for more union flegs. It’s to continue to deny Scotland a say. It’s to undermine the Scottish Parliament.
Coming as it does after commitments from both the Conservative leadership contenders that they will rebuff the demand from the Scottish Parliament for a Section 30 order, this is dangerous ground. The Conservatives are revealing themselves in their true authoritarian and anti-democratic colours. But this is not Spain, and despite the best efforts of the Tories and the Brexit party which is their bastard offspring, this is not yet an authoritarian one party state. Their refusal to countenance the legitimate demand of Scotland to decide for itself what form its relationship with the rest of the UK and with Europe should take is a symptom of the panic within the Conservatives, the growing awareness that the UK is coming to an end and that it’s the Conservatives themselves who have broken it.
We’re not at the end of the Section 30 order road yet. Scotland isn’t the only problem facing Boris Johnson. His far bigger problem is Brexit and the looming deadline of 31 October. That particular problem means that it is unlikely that his government will remain in office for very long. He will take power and enter Downing Street with a majority of just three, and that’s for only as long as he can continue to ensure he has the support of the DUP. Given the vehement opposition from a handful of Conservative MPs to facilitating a no deal Brexit, the chances are extremely high that there will be a UK General Election sooner rather than later.
When that election comes it will be vital that Scotland tells the Conservative party exactly what we think of it. Then we won’t have to wait for David Mundell or whoever succeeds him to resign, because we’ll have voted them out of office. Then we won’t have to listen to them pretend that since the SNP lost seats in 2017 that there is no mandate for a referendum. The SNP will have a mandate that no Westminster government which pretends to be democratic can ignore. A British government which prioritises Brexit might be willing to see the loss of Scotland since that would strengthen the pro-Brexit forces within Westminster. And we already know that Conservative voters in the rest of the UK won’t be too unhappy to see Scotland go.
However if following a snap General Election in which Scotland overwhelmingly rejects the Conservatives and gives its support to the SNP, the British Government still refuses a Section 30 order, then we will be in very different political territory. In that case, the next Scottish elections need to be fought on giving Holyrood a mandate, not to keep asking Westminster for a Section 30 order, but for independence itself. This isn’t Spain with its constitutional bar on independence. This isn’t an authoritarian state.
It is up to us, the people of Scotland, to ensure that we will not allow the Conservatives to silence us or to deny us a say in determining the future of our country. They’re not going to make it easy for us. But in the end, we are the people and we are more. In the 1950s the Tories dominated Scottish politics, now they are estranged in a land that is strange to them. David Mundell and his pals will only have themselves to blame for their downfall.
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