There’s Dungeon and Dragons, there’s Minecraft, there’s World of Warcraft, but Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s favourite game is The Stupid Blame Game. The EU has clearly had enough with the not so clever clever tactics of the British Prime Minister, driving Donald Tusk, the Polish politician who is the President of the EU Council, to use some very undiplomatic language in a tweet. He tweeted: “@BorisJohnson, what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?”
Interestingly, and here we go with yet more of the Latin, Donald Tusk finished his quote with the Latin tag quo vadis? Quo vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” and as such ought to resonate with our famously Classical snob of a Prime Minister. More importantly in this context the phrase was also the title of a very famous Polish novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who is one of the giants of Polish literature. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1906. Quo Vadis is his best known work, and the Polish original has been translated into dozens of languages. The novel was made into a TV miniseries in 1985, and turned into a movie no less than five times, most famously in 1951 with Holywood stars Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, an adaptation which was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
Set during the Roman Empire the story deals with a meeting between St Peter and the infamously crazed Emperor Nero. The novel’s title comes from the question put to Jesus by St Peter, who appeared to him in a vision as the saint attempted to flee from Rome. St Peter asked “Quo vadis, domine?” Where are you going Lord? To which Jesus replied, “If thou desertest my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time” and shamed St Peter into returning to Rome to accept martyrdom.
The question quo vadis doesn’t just ask where a person is going physically, it’s a question about their moral and ethical destination. In this context it is a question about the ethics and morals of the British Prime Minister. It’s saying that Johnson is putting himself and his own interests before those of the UK. It’s not so much a question as it is a statement calling him a coward and a hypocrite. Boris Johnson is fleeing from his responsibilities. This reference would be very clear to a Polish audience.
It’s not just Donald Tusk who seems to have reached the limits of their patience with the game playing of the British Government. Angela Merkel seems to have had enough too. Until now, the German Chancellor has been one of the strongest voices within the EU calling for patience with the UK, but today we learned that there was apparently a “frank exchange” between her and Johnson in a phone call. A “frank exchange” is diplomatic speak for an argument. According to reports the German Chancellor told the British Prime Minister that a Brexit deal was looking “esstentially impossible”. Which is pretty much what we’ve all known all along.
This is not a Prime Minister who wants a Brexit deal. He wants the UK to crash out without a deal, in order to shore up the Conservative party’s vote amongst leavers and prevent them from drifting off to Nigel Farage in the General Election that is coming soon. He just wants to ensure that it’s the EU which gets the blame for it. The entire economic and diplomatic future and reputation of the UK is to be sacrificed for the short term electoral interests of Boris Johnson and the Conservative party. Quo vadis, indeed.
What makes this all the more galling is that the British Government is risking all our futures in pursuit of a lie. Crashing out of the EU without a deal is not “getting it done”, it is not “getting it over with”. Crashing out of the EU without a deal means disruption and a frantic process of trying to negotiate some sort of deal with the EU from a position of extreme weakness. Crashing out with no deal guarantees that Brexit and the UK’s relationship with the EU will dominate and toxify British politics for many years to come.
This entire episode, these past three years, is a failure of the British state. For Scotland however, it also represents a historic failure for unionism. It’s the final proof that Scottish Unionism is incapable of success even on its own terms. Compare and contrast the achievements of Ireland during the Brexit process with that of Northern Irish Unionists. The only friends that Northern Ireland’s Unionists have got left are in the Conservative party – a party which we all know will sell them out the second that the Conservatives no longer need to rely on the DUP’s votes in the Commons. They have zero friends and zero influence in Europe. Ireland on the other hand, has the whole of Europe standing with it in solidarity. Ireland has ensured that its diplomatic ties to other EU states have been used to good effect. Within the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland have only a British Prime Minister who has become a byword for lies and deceit and who has no interest at all in standing up for our particular interests.
What has British diplomacy achieved for Scottish and Northern Irish unionism? How have the efforts of the British state ensured that the interests of Scotland have been recognised, protected, and defended during the Brexit process? The UK has achieved precisely the square root of hee haw in that respect. It has gained less than zero. British diplomacy has trashed the reputation of the entire UK and every constituent part of it. At every stage along the way the interests of Scotland have been marginalised, ignored, ridiculed, and dismissed by a Westminster which refuses to acknowledge that any consideration can stand in the path of rampant English nationalism.
In Northern Ireland only one faction in that divided polity has been listened to, that sole minority faction which supports Brexit, and even then only because the British Government is dependent upon the votes of the DUP. As soon as that consideration no longer applies and the arithmetic of the House of Commons changes, Northern Ireland’s Unionist interests will be as disposable as Scotland’s.
Brexit has taught Scotland that unionism is morally and politically bankrupt. Westminster is not willing to stand up for Scotland either domestically or internationally. The question now for Scotland’s unionists is – Quo vadis?
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