All is not well with the British government’s campaign to fend off Scottish independence. After just two weeks, Oliver Lewis, formerly of the Vote Leave Campaign, has resigned from his post as the chief of Boris Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson’s much heralded “Union Unit”. They called it that because the more accurate title, “The Suppressing Scottish democracy Unit ” would have proven too hard a sell for the May elections, even for the BBC, no matter how many photies of Ruth Davidson grinning with a gutted fish they tried to tart their election leaflets up with. This is Not least because after banging on about fisheries for months, the Scottish Tories are now very keen not to remind anyone at all about fishing.
The Union Unit is the government office which was supposed to stick it to those pesky nats and formulate a convincing and plausible case for this so-called union and make the people of Scotland realise that after all, we’d be much better off if we consented to Brexit and to being governed by the afore-mentioned de Pfeffel Johnson and his miserable band of corporate cronyists.
This was always going to be a tough gig. All the way through the 2014 we waited in vain for the constantly promised positive case for the union, and that was at a time when the UK wasn’t actually the pariah of Europe and led by a man who rivals Donald Trump in his propensity for lying , and who is, moeover, so out of touch with Scottish public opinion and culture that he makes Andrew Bowie MP seem like an expert on fish suppers. Unfortunately however the union unit has been anything but united. It has been spending more time and energy fighting with itself than the habitues of Scottish Twitter.
Lewis took over the position from the former Scottish Conservative MP Luke Graham, who was reportedly sacked following a “brutal row” within Downing Street about his role, amidst rumours that his working relationships with other advisors and officials had broken down. One One Scottish Tory, speaking anonymously to the press was reported as saying: “Luke was the only one who gets Scotland in there, it’s a big shame he’s gone and speaks to their total lack of a strategy on how to deal with the SNP.”
Whatever his shortcomings, Luke Graham was at least a Scottish MP and had some first hand experience of Scottish politics. The same could not be said of his replacement Oliver Lewis, whose sole expertise in matters Caledonian appeared to be that he’d once seen Scotland on the BBC weather map. But then, as the former chief of the Vote Leave campaign, Lewis does have abundant experience of selling the public a self-harming proposition based upon nothing more than British nationalistic bull-shittery and flag waving, so in that crucial sense he’s a perfect fit for a lead role in persuading the people of Scotland that it’s in their interests to remain a subordinate part of Johnson’s Brexit dystopia.
Of course, not everyone shares the view that Johnson is hopelessly ignorant of Scottish concerns. According to the UK Government’s Governor General, Alister Jack, Johnson is an “absolute asset ” to the cause of the Union and to the Conservative party in Scotland. There are however many people in Scotland, even outwith the Conservative party, who could have agreed with Jack’s assessment that Johnson was an “absolute asset” provided he had left off the last two letters.
As it turned out, Oliver Lewis lasted just two weeks in his new post before he too walked out amidst reports of arguments and recriminations within Downing Street’s disunion unit. According to the Times, Lewis was accused of briefing against Michael Gove and reportedly received a “bollocking” from an angry Prime Minister. For a department which is supposed to be devoted to persuading Scotland that we’re better together they can’t even manage to persuade one another that they’re better together with each other. Still, at least Oliver now has a better insight into how the great majority in Scotland is feeling. We all think that Michael Gove is insufferable too.
Speaking on Channel 4 News over the weekend, Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson said that the departure of Oliver Lewis showed that Johnson hasn’t made up his mind about how to deal with the growing support in Scotland for independence and for another independence referendum. It proves that there is no strategy and there is no plan. Opponents of independence are flailing around blindly. It shows that far from having resolved to keep saying no to another independence referendum in perpetuity, Johnson simply has no idea how he’s going to respond to a victory for the pro-independence parties in the Holyrood election in May. He’s hoping that the independence movement and demand for independence will just go away, and to be fair he’s getting some support for that hope from the self-destructive in-fighting which is consuming certain sections of the independence movement and the SNP on social media. Right now the biggest threat to independence doesn’t come from the Tories, it comes from some loud voices within the independence movement.
But here’s the thing. Irrespective of your views on the various issues which are currently dividing the movement and the SNP, there is no looming deadline for resolving them. There is however a looming deadline for winning this crucial Holyrood election. It’s only a matter of weeks away now. If the SNP does not do well in this election, no one is going to say that it’s because the indy movement wasn’t happy with the lack of a plan B, no one is going to say that it’s because Nicola Sturgeon isn’t assertive enough in pursuing independence. No one is going to point to the Salmond-Sturgeon affair.
The only narrative in the media will be that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum, and that will become the new political reality in Scotland. It’s fine if, like some on social media, you say that you’re not going to vote SNP in May but you will vote for independence when there is a referendum, but the simple fact of the matter is that if you don’t vote SNP in May then you’re making it less likely that there is going to be another referendum. That’s the political reality. No one is telling you to wheesht for indy, you can still pursue your issues with the SNP after May’s election. Then we can argue about a Plan B from a position of strength. This is not a question of wheesht for indy. It’s a question of getting real. Let’s win this election first. That’s the overriding priority.
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