Well that was pointless. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s speech in Downing Street was just like Theresa May’s much hyped announcements that turned out to be content free nothingness. Boris is an affectation, a character he plays. He’s called Al by his family and friends. But he’s no friend of mine. Actually he’s no friend of anyone except his ego. The USA once had a president with the surname Johnson. Lyndon Baines Johnson, known to one and all as LBJ. He was a truly awful individual too. We have our very own LBJ in the UK now too, only it stands for Lying Bastard Johnson. So that’s what we should call him.
If you had delayed having your dinner in order to hear what he was going to say, at least you can console yourself with the fact that he delivered a load of mince. Lying Bastard Johnson marched out from Number 10, he told us absolutely nothing that we didn’t know already. He asserted that he was not going to let anything get in the way of the UK leaving the EU on 31 October. He insisted that there was no way that he was going to ask the EU for another extension to Article 50. He said that we didn’t want a General Election, and then he marched back in again without taking any questions.
Yet even in that short speech he still managed to cram in a few lies. He doesn’t have a plan to get a deal. The chances of the UK getting a better Brexit deal from the EU are not increasing. They remain exactly the same as they were yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Those who are campaigning against no-deal are not damaging his negotiating position. He doesn’t have a negotiating position other than making unrealistic demands and expecting lashings of everlasting cherry cake. And the EU certainly doesn’t have a clearer idea of what the UK wants. And he was lying when he said that the rest of us don’t want a General Election. We do LBJ, we do. The best part, the most cogent part, the most honest part, of the speech was the sound of protesters outside chanting, “Stop the coup.” Not that you would see the crowds of demonstrators on the BBC News.
What he didn’t say was what he was going to do if, as seems increasingly likely, he loses the vote in the Commons tomorrow. If there is legislation passed forcing him to ask for an extension to Article 50, he can’t disobey it otherwise he’s breaking the law. That would certainly end up in the courts, and it most likely wouldn’t end well for him. So it remains highly likely that there’s going to be an early General Election. What LBJ’s speech was all about today was establishing his narrative for that election. He wants to frame it as a vote between him standing up for “the people”, versus those nasty politicians who are bent on thwarting the popular will. If you define “popular” as being what you read in the Daily Express, that is. He wants to establish that it wasn’t his choice for an election, but he had no option. That’s what he was setting up today. He definitely wants an election. He just wants someone else to take the blame for it. That was his biggest lie of all. He’s not Lying Bastard Johnson for nothing.
Everything now hinges on what happens in the Commons tomorrow. If the Government is defeated, there will almost certainly be an early General Election.
That election will play out very differently in Scotland from the rest of the UK. The Tories in Scotland are facing potential annihilation. Labour is also likely to lose most of the handful of seats they managed to recover in 2017. But the SNP needs to ensure it avoids repeating the mistakes it made in that year’s General Election. After pushing for an independence referendum in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the party leadership seemed to get cold feet. The General Election was fought in order to provide a “strong voice for Scotland”, a meaningless content free slogan. Every single party seeking election in Scotland could make the exact same claim. Meanwhile the Conservatives were screaming No to another indyref at every opportunity.
The Tory candidate in my own constituency put out an election leaflet containing his five promises to the people of the East End of Glasgow. Four of them boiled down to “we don’t want another independence referendum”, and the fifth was a commitment to get a pedestrian crossing at a local train station. Similar leaflets went out in every other constituency across Scotland. The result was that the Tories were able to capitalise on the anti-independence vote, while the SNP didn’t motivate independence supporters to get out and vote for them.
The Tories are not going to be able to repeat the same trick this time. There is no more Ruth Davidson’s Vote Ruth Davidson For More Ruth Davidson party. No one is going to believe that any of the spineless 13 are going to stand up against LBJ to protect Scotland from a damaging no deal Brexit.
The SNP can’t avoid making this election about independence. The Tories might be a spent force, but the overwhelmingly anti-independence media in Scotland will not allow them to avoid the issue. The SNP must own the issue of independence. They must put the demand for another independence referendum front and foremost in their campaign. They must make this election an election which provides a mandate for Scotland having a right to choose its own path. They need to energise, motivate, and enthuse independence supporters to come out and vote for them. The only way that’s going to happen is by putting the issue of independence at the sharp end of their campaign.
A resurgent SNP which makes substantial gains in an early General Election, which has fought the campaign solidly on the basis of gaining a mandate for another independence referendum, will have a cast iron case for demanding a Section 30 order from the British Government. The other parties will find it far more difficult to argue that there is no demand in Scotland for another referendum if the SNP has just destroyed them at the ballot box in Scotland. Jo Swinson won’t be able to claim that there’s no mandate for a referendum because the SNP lost seats. Especially not if the SNP succeeds in taking hers.
There are many within the independence movement who want an immediate move towards independence, or who would prefer this coming election to be one fought on the basis of gaining a mandate for independence itself. I share the frustration, but we’re not there yet. Such a strategy is only going to appeal to those who are already convinced of the case for independence. However before other strategies can be embarked upon, we have to demonstrate to soft no voters and undecideds that absolutely everything possible has been done to extract a Section 30 order from the British Government. We have to demonstrate that it’s Westminster which is behaving undemocratically and in an authoritarian manner. And we need undecided voters and soft no’s to realise that all hope for stopping Brexit has died. No alternative strategy is going to succeed unless we take those voters with us.
If Scotland returns 45 or more SNP MPs, while the rest of the UK gives LBJ a majority, that condition will be fulfilled. There will be an irrefutable mandate for another independence referendum, hopes of preventing Brexit will have evaporated. If Westminster still refuses to agree to another independence referendum under such circumstances, that will be the time for considering alternative strategies. One way or another, Scotland is going to have its say, and there’s no lie that LBJ can tell which will prevent us.
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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