I wasn’t able to blog yesterday, as I was off in Dunfermline doing an event about Scottish languages as part of the Outwith Festival. But nothing much happened in Parliament yesterday anyway. Nothing much except Lyin’ Bastert Johnson losing his very first vote in the Commons by a much larger margin than had been expected as MPs voted to wrest control of Commons business away from the Government in order to debate a bill to force the PM to request an extension to Article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit. The Government lost its working majority when one Conservative backbencher strode across the floor of the House and became a Lib Dem, and then LBJ’s own whip’s office removed the Conservative whip from the 21 Conservative MPs who had voted against him, meaning that he now leads a government which doesn’t even come close to having a majority, not even with the support of the DUP. The Government’s majority is now -43. That’s minus 43. So no, nothing much happened at all. Just another day in the meltdown that passes for British politics.
Yesterday should have been an abject lesson for LBJ about what happens when you are a serial liar. He lied to the country and to his own party when he said that he wasn’t looking at prorogation, then he went ahead and did it anyway. Interviewed on Sky News this morning, one of the former Tory MPs who had been booted out of the party for rebelling by a man who has rebelled constantly mused that trust had broken down. The 21 Conservative MPs who voted against the Government yesterday just don’t believe a word that their own Prime Minister says any more. They don’t believe him when he says that he’s trying to get a Brexit deal. They don’t believe him when he says that he doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit. They don’t believe him when he says that his negotiating position is being undermined by MPs who are trying to prevent a no-deal. They don’t believe him when he says that the purpose of the prorogation is so he can introduce a new programme of legislation and not in order to prevent the Commons taking action against a no-deal Brexit. He’s brought all this upon himself.
The 21 Conservative MPs who had the whip removed yesterday, meaning that they are no longer effectively members of the Parliamentary Conservative party, weren’t just a random bunch of malcontents. They weren’t like the awkward squad of hardline Brextremists who have rebelled on numerous occasions. These were former cabinet ministers, including two former chancellors. These were Conservatives who have held some of the highest posts in government. One of them was a leadership contender just a few weeks ago. Most of them have never voted against their own party before. This is a drastic remoulding of the Conservative party into a right wing populist English nationalist party. Those Scottish Tory MPs who are acquiescing in this dangerous and damaging process should hang their heads in shame. Or they should if any of them possessed the gene for shame, which they clearly don’t.
Having taken control of Parliamentary business, the next step is for MPs to debate later today – and fingers crossed pass – a bill which forces the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50 until January 31 2020. What was worrying was that LBJ’s choice of words when he was confronted with this possibility left it open as to whether he’d delay seeking royal consent to any bill passed by Parliament to seek an extension to Brexit. If he did, the tattered remnants of the UK constitution would explode. Because no one trusts him as it is.
LBJ has said that if his government loses today’s vote, then he’s going to seek an early General Election. Under normal circumstances the opposition parties would be falling over themselves to make that happen. But these are not normal circumstances. MPs do not trust him – there’s that trust word again – to use the Royal Prerogative yet again after Parliament has voted for a General Election by more normal means to delay that election until after Brexit has happened, or to hold it too late for the next government to be able to prevent it.
That’s why Labour, the SNP, and the other opposition parties have united to say that they won’t vote for a General Election until a no-deal Brexit is firmly off the table. That would force LBJ into the humiliating position of being legally compelled to go to Brussels to ask for an extension to Article 50, unable to get a General Election, trapped on the flypaper of lies that he himself has created.
The opposition parties want a General Election. The SNP is particularly keen on an election, as all the polls in Scotland show that they are quite likely to end up with 50 seats and to all but wipe out the Tories and Labour in Scotland. That’s going to make it very difficult for the anti-independence parties to argue that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum, especially if the SNP leadership takes the advice that just about the entire Yes movement has been screaming at them and puts independence and Scotland’s right to choose front and foremost in its manifesto.
However what the opposition parties don’t want is a General Election on Johnson’s terms. It’s all a question of trust, and a man who even lies about what his name is can’t be trusted. The opposition is determined to ensure that he doesn’t get his way. There will certainly be a General Election soon, no government which faces an combined opposition with 43 seats more than the government and its allies can possibly survive. The only question is the circumstances, and whether the opposition parties and the rebel Tory MPs can succeed in taking a no-deal Brexit off the table while that election takes place. We’ll find out later this evening.
But while all this is going on, just remember that this farce is only happening in the first place because the UK has no written constitution, and because British democracy is seriously threatened by politicians who lack all scruples and who cannot be trusted. The only way that Scotland can guarantee its democracy is through independence. We ought to have learned by the events of the past couple of years that Westminster isn’t going to do it for us. The question of democracy and constitutional safeguards is going to be front and foremost in the independence referendum to come. Westminster’s failures have made that a priority. It’s a question of trust.
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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