When it comes to countering the growing clamour for another independence referendum the Tory Government of the performance artiste whose stage name is Boris Johnson has gone full Basil Fawlty. Arguably the Johnson administration went full Fawlty quite some time ago what with its arrogance, nastiness, snobbish incompetence,pathetic over-estimation of its own abilities and its racism against European citizens. To these existing Basilisms we can now add: Don’t mention independence!
Like Basil’s efforts not to mention the war in front of German guests, Conservative efforts not to mention another independence referendum are doomed to failure, because it’s all that the Scottish Conservatives have got to talk about. If you stripped the Scottish Conservative manifesto for May’s Holyrood elections of all mentions of the Scottish Tory opposition to another independence referendum you’d be left with four blank glossy pages in red white and blue and a photo of Douglas Ross looking irate. To be honest, irate is how Douglas always looks, not helped by the fact he always wears a shirt whose collar is slightly too small for him, which merely enhances the impression that his head is about to explode.
Opposition to another independence referendum is quite literally the only policy that the Scottish Tories have got. If they can’t talk about that they’d be left with nothing but trawling through old Twitter posts looking for something to feel victimised by in order to pose as the defenders of the moral integrity of pantomimes in Aberdeen.
According to a report in The Times, which is well connected to the Conservative hierarchy, Downing Street is worried that by mentioning independence the Tories are simply playing into the hands of Thatessempee by reminding the electorate of Scotland that the Conservatives are anti-democratic hypocritical authoritarians. Which, you know, they are. The Times said that its sources in Downing Street claim that ministers have been warned not to talk about the constitutional question amid fears it makes the UK Government appear “needy” and only helps the Yes side.
The paper also reports that Downing Street is worried that a second referendum would be very hard for Better Together MK II to win because independence would be presented, correctly, as the quickest way for Scotland to get back into the European Union.
By talking about their opposition to another independence referendum, the Conservatives just reinforce the entirely accurate perception that they are hell bent on ignoring the outcome of democratic elections in Scotland and are fatally undermining the Union that they profess to love so much by destroying the traditional foundations of Scottish Unionism, the belief that the UK is a voluntary union of nations, and replacing it with the conception of a UK founded on compulsion, a new conception which Scotland has never been consulted on, much less given its consent to.
It is reported that Conservative ministers have been told not to talk about independence at all and instead to talk only about those policies of the Conservative government which are beneficial to Scotland. So that would be … eh … and … eh and possibly … um.
Perhaps they could talk about how Brexit has been so beneficial for the Scottish fishing industry or about all those trade deals with the USA and other major economies that the Conservative government has struck on Scotland’s behalf. Oh no, wait.
Or maybe they could tell us how it is some sort of Union benefit to strip £20 a week from the poorest families in the UK just as food and energy prices are soaring due in no small part to the needlessly hard line Brexit that the Conservatives foisted on us all for purely narrow party political reasons.
Or how about they tell us how under the Conservatives the future of devolution has been secured and how the Johnson government has kept the vow that the Conservatives signed up to in 2014 promising that the no British government would ever tamper with the powers of the Scottish Parliament without the express consent of Holyrood.
Oh … no, wait . And oh no, wait, again.
Nope, sorry, I’m drawing a blank here.
This diktat to Conservative ministers not to talk about their party’s opposition to another independence referendum is not a sign of strength, it’s a sign of great weakness.Tory ministers are being told not to talk about another referendum because the Conservatives have no convincing and plausible democratic reason for defying the very clear and explicit instruction given to Holyrood by the electorate of Scotland at the elections in May that there must be another independence referendum within the term of this Scottish Parliament. They know that they are being anti-democratic and they know that by being so they are undermining any case they’d like to make to keep Scotland in the UK. After all, how can Scotland meaningfully be called a democracy within a UK in which a British government enjoying only minority support in Scotland believes it has the absolute right to overrule the democratic will of the people of Scotland as expressed through the ballot box. Every time a Conservative minister mentions their opposition to another referendum that affront to democracy is underscored.
So rather than deal with this the Tories would prefer to do a Ruth Davidson and vanish whenever they have difficult questions to answer in the hope that an obliging Scottish press will come along shortly with an SNPbad story that will give Douglas Ross an excuse to present his irate face to the cameras.
Likewise a British government doesn’t instruct its ministers not to talk about a Scottish independence referendum if it is confident that it has a convincing case to put before the people that is going to win it that referendum. It’s not merely that Brexit has turned on their heads many of Better Together’s arguments from 2014 – it’s opposition to independence which represents narrow, divisive and reactionary nationalism. It is also that the Conservatives have told so many lies have been responsible for so much deceit, over both Brexit and the promises that they made to Scotland in 2014 in order to secure a No vote, that any Better Together MK II campaign will have zero credibility and few will believe anything that it says. Who is going to believe a promise from Gove or Johnson that Scotland will be respected?
This omertà diktat not to mention independence is a sign of Downing Street’s desperation. It’s the political equivalent of sticking your head under your union flag duvet in the hope that the subject of independence will go away. Johnson’s problem is that it’s not going to. We’re his worst nightmare.
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