We all ought to see by now the future that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson envisages for the UK. We are to become a cut-price USA, with lower wages and worse weather, but with the same lack of environmental protection, workers’ rights, and social security and health provision that Donald Trump wants to impose upon America. The NHS will be up for sale as the UK seeks a trade deal, food and evironmental standards will be trashed, employment insecurity will spread and worsen.
The post-war settlement, the social protections, free healthcare, education, state pensions, and the widening of opportunities which the older generations associate with British values are now no longer simply under threat. It’s far worse than that. The order of execution has already been decided upon by a government which is hell bent upon avoiding democratic scrutiny. Brexit was never about restoring the sovereignty of the British parliament, it was always about ensuring that power and wealth in the UK remain concentrated in the hands of a small and unrepresentative group of people. Brexit is a movement which rails against elites, while being led by an Old Etonian who embodies privilege and who claimed that the £275,000 annual renumeration he receives from the Telegraph for writing his lies is mere chickenfeed.
Removing the UK from the EU means that the powerful will no longer be subject to the regulations and standards imposed by the EU, regulations and standards which benefit ordinary people and ensure that we enjoy employment and social protections. It means that they will be able to prioritise profiteering while not having to concern themselves with the welfare of those who create their wealth. Leaving the EU means that the UK will no longer be subject to European regulations and rules designed to prevent money laundering and tax avoidance, directives designed to tackle the culture of corporate tax avoidance so beloved by the City of London. Leaving the EU allows the UK to become a tax-haven economy perched on the edge of Europe, the Singapore-Upon-Thames which is the wet-dream of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Brextremists who have taken over the British government have a clear plan in mind for the future of the UK. It’s a commitment to sweeping tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, combined with deregulation to destroy workers’ rights and employment and environmental standards. There will be weak or non-existent compliance with international money laundering standards, as the UK seeks to attract Russian oligarchs and the proceeds of corruption in other countries. There will be an initial bribe in the form of extra money for the NHS, or the police, or education, and then later down the line the burgeoning deficit will be used as an excuse to slash spending on public services even more than they’ve been slashed already – a playbook already used by the US Republican party. That’s the future of the UK. It’s a future where a small number of people have the opportunity to become extremely rich, while the rest of us live in penury, working in precarious employment or subsisting on food banks until we finally drop.
It will be a future where the executive branch of government wields power unchecked by Parliament, the final transformation of the UK into an elected dictatorship. This week’s announcement from the UK government that Parliament will be prorogued confirms that British governments no longer see themselves as being subject to Parliamentary scrutiny or control. Even worse, there have been reports in the press that insiders in Number 10 are claiming that should the House of Commons succeed in passing a motion of no confidence when it returns to sit this coming week that the Prime Minister will simply ignore it and will stay in office until after Brexit happens.
The law says that following a successful motion of no confidence in the government, the Opposition has 14 days in which to cobble together an alternative administration, but if they fail then the Prime Minister must call a General Election. But it doesn’t say when that election needs to be held. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson could simply shut the door of Number 10 and remain in place until a no deal Brexit happens. The British constitition does not act as a bulwark against extremism, it enables those with dictatorial tendencies. All that has protected the UK so far is the willingness of those in power to abide by previous conventions, traditions, and customs. Yet when they are as ruthless and devious as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, there is nothing to stop them.
The Britain of the post war settlement is dead. The Britain which Scotland’s older generations grew up in and which a majority of them though they were voting for in 2014 is no more and has no future. I’ve said this before, but it’s a point well worth repeating, and re-asserting – especially to older voters – if you want to defend and protect those good things that were delivered by the British state as part of the post war settlement, the NHS, free education, a comprehensive social security system, a state pension that permits a dignified retirement, you can only do so by supporting Scottish independence. A vote to remain a part of the UK is a vote to condone their destruction.
Not even the leader of the Scottish Conservatives was able to continue supporting the direction that is being taken by this Conservative Prime Minister. So why should Scotland? Now even the Scottish Conservatives are discussing the possibility of declaring independence from the UK Conservatives and becoming a distinctly Scottish Conservative and Unionist party. They want indepenedence for themselves but not for Scotland.
Democracy is at risk in the UK. Scotland’s hard fought for devolution settlement within the UK is also under threat. Just as the parliamentary and constitutional norms upon which British democracy depends are being trashed by a Prime Minister who understands that there is nothing to compel him to respect those norms, the devolution settlement also depends upon norms and conventions which a Prime Minister is not legally bound to respect. We’ve already seen that in the way in which the Sewell Convention was ruled to be unenforceable. The Sewell Convention said that no UK Government would alter the powers of the Scottish Parliament without the consent of Holyrood. It was even written into the Scotland Act. But the British Government was able to ignore it and the UK Supreme Court agreed with them.
The government of this Brextremist Prime Minister, who shows no respect for conventions or parliamentary customs, will not hesitate to reduce the powers of a Scottish Parliament that dares to stand in his way. The devolution settlement, and the very fabric of democracy itself, hangs by a very frayed thread. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is poised with the scissors.
There’s only one way in which the people of Scotland can guarantee the strength and security of their democracy, only one way in which they can ensure that their governments prioritise the protection of the social contract which underpins decent standards for ordinary people and which keeps the rapacious wealthy in check. That’s not by giving another vote of confidence in those who are trashing the post-war settlement. The need for independence has never been more pressing. It has become a moral imperative.
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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