On Sunday there were two important political developments. As the long-awaited Sue Gray report comes closer to publication following the conclusion of a police investigation which saw the Prime Law-Breaker and the Chancellor both be fined for breaking lockdown laws, and over a hundred fixed penalty notices being issued to staff at Downing Street. Now the attention has turned to what smells like an attempt by Johnson to interfere with what is likely to be a damning report about the culture of contempt and entitlement which Johnson presided over in Downing Street.
Questions are being asked about a meeting Johnson held with Sue Gray. Downing Street had originally claimed that it was Sue Gray herself who had requested the meeting, something that the senior civil servant was forced to deny. Secretary of State for education Nadhim Zahawi was trotted out for the TV in order to explain that a man who got sacked twice for lying, lied to the queen, lied to Parliament, confected a series of lies about the EU,and cheated on two wives, would never lie about a meeting with Sue Gray. Zahawi hummed and hawed his way through the interview, unable to answer the simple question of who called the meeting despite this story first having broken on the previous Friday and Zahawi certainly knew that he was going to be asked about it when he agreed to go on Sky News. Yet again we see the contempt that this government has for accountability. They are not even pretending to answer a very simple question.
I want to say that his car crash interview was a new low for this government, but sadly we know that another new low will be along in a day or two, possibly the next time that Michael Gove decides to adopt a silly accent in order to give a flippant non-answer to a serious question that has many thousands of people deeply worried.
Meanwhile in Scotland, following her as not seen on the BBC trip to the USA during which she discussed Scottish independence with senior American officials, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon published a piece in The National on Sunday in which she announced that her government will shortly publish its new prospectus for independence and reiterated the reasons why ,despite the denials of the Conservatives and Labour, now is most definitely the time to debate Scottish independence. She stated that the matter of whether the people of Scotland want another independence referendum was decided in last year’s Holyrood elections when the people gave a large majority in Holyrood to parties which support another referendum and reaffirmed her government’s determination to ensure that the referendum will take place within the promised timetable.
The First Minister said that this reinvigorated debate will centre on deciding how to manage and develop the extraordinary assets of Scotland in order to build a better nation. Scotland, she noted, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with an almost incomparable the combination of natural resources, a highly-educated population and a competitive edge in some of the global sectors of the future.
She also noted that here is no longer a status quo.
The world has changed dramatically since 2014. The Conservatives have taken the UK out of the EU, the single market and the customs union, dragging an unwilling Scotland with them. They have used Brexit as an excuse to embark upon an assault on the devolution settlement, without seeking the consent of the Scottish people to do so, in direct breach of the promises that they made to Scotland in 2014 in order to secure a no vote in that year’s independence referendum. We have experienced the pandemic which proved that Scotland is perfectly capable of rising to the challenges of a global crisis, and to make a better fist of it than an increasingly corrupt Westminster.
In Scotland, the Conservatives and their allies continue to deny the outcome of last year’s Holyrood election. This was an election fought on the single dominating issue of a second independence referendum. The people of Scotland listened to the arguments, and returned a Scottish Parliament with the greatest pro-independence majority ever, yet having lost that election the Conservatives and Labour continue to refuse to accept that the people of Scotland voted the way they did and in a blatant denial of democracy they continue to threaten to block another referendum from taking place. This raises the important question of whether Scotland can enjoy democracy within a UK where British parties have no qualms about using the electoral power they derive from votes elsewhere in the UK in order to block the democratic choices of the people of Scotland.
We have also seen the rise of populism and authoritarianism around the world, with an emboldened nationalist right take measures to weaken and undermine democracy and to evade accountability, measures which the right wing Anglo-British nationalist government of Johnson has adopted with enthusiasm. We have seen a drastic curtailment of the right to protest, the independent Electoral Commission being brought under government control, obstacles being put in the way of exercising the right to vote, a law-breaking Prime Minister who lies with impunity yet is still defended by his party while corruption runs rampant and the Conservatives are fueled by dark money and donations from wealthy individuals who are rewarded with honours and peerages. But hey! Jubilee! flags! Gawdbless’er isn’t she maaaaaarvellous!
The Home Secretary now seeks to silence police chiefs from speaking out on matters she deems to be politically sensitive. Patel is also seeking reforms to the Official Secrets Act which could see journalists facing prison sentences of up to 14 years for publishing stories that embarrass the Government. The move would criminalise the leaking of papers to the press, even when it revealed that the Government was breaking the law or that there was a clear public interest in releasing the information.
We have also seen Putin’s invasion of Ukraine which has driven over six million Ukrainians into exile according to the UN, has wrought destruction on swathes of Ukraine and cost the lives of thousands. The war has destroyed the post cold war security consensus and reanimated fear of nuclear conflict as well as illustrating the dangers of relying on dictatorships to supply a large part of Europe’s energy needs.
The climate crisis continues to worsen, and together with the need to move away from the fossil fuels which fund dictators, it is increasingly imperative that Scotland develops its massive potential for renewal energies to the full. For all these reasons and more, a new prospectus for independence is needed, one which talks more about the democratic deficit of the UK. The political struggle of our time is no longer left versus right. It is democracy versus authoritarianism. The UK is becoming an authoritarian failed democracy. It’s a very far cry from the claims of Better Together in 2014 that Scotland relied upon the UK as a guarantor of democracy and good government.
The response of British nationalists was to attempt to get trending on social media a hashtag based upon unfounded homophobic rumours, about an alleged incident in their fantasy of the First Minister’s personal life, which supposedly took place quite some time ago and which even if it was true has nothing to do with whether the First Minister is any good at her job, and which in any case has even less to do with whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. Tell me that you are afraid to engage with the substantive issues without telling me that you are afraid to engage with the substantive issues. If irrelevant homophobic ad hominem whataboutery is what passes for a “positive case for the union” these days, then no wonder the Tories and their allies are so terrified of another independence referendum.
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