Monday 3 February 2020

Knee-jerk reaction, not strategy

The tone with which the UK Government seeks to deny the right to hold a further referendum on Scottish independence is becoming increasingly strident; the rhetoric suggests that the current government will never allow one to be held.  Telling the people of Scotland that their votes count for nothing, and that it doesn’t matter how many times they vote for a party committed to holding such a referendum, their votes will simply be ignored anyway doesn’t immediately strike me as the best way of countering the demand and convincing Scots that they are valued partners.  Reminding them regularly that sovereignty lies with the Queen-in-Parliament rather than with the people looks almost like a deliberate attempt to push ever greater numbers into the independence camp. 
There was even a subliminal message in the fact that it was the Foreign Secretary who took the lead on the issue yesterday, although the implicit suggestion that Scotland is now part of the Foreign Office’s brief was, I am sure, entirely unintentional.  I suspect that it hadn’t even occurred to them.  But it did give him an opportunity to add some new reasons for refusing to allow a referendum, in that it might, apparently, encourage similar trends in Italy, France and Spain.  Ah yes, this is the new ‘independent’ British foreign policy at work, now that we don’t need to worry about those Europeans.  At the heart of their stated reasons for refusal, however, remains the way in which they have taken the expression of a personal opinion by Alex Salmond (who thought that the 2014 referendum would be a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity), and turned into a pledge hugely more important and solemn than any suggestions about dying in ditches.
It is the application of double standards on a grand scale: firm pledges by Boris Johnson were just electioneering rhetoric which can be ignored, whilst mere expressions of opinion by the then-leader of the SNP are inviolable commitments; and winning 56% of the seats in the UK on 44% of the vote gives the UK Government an absolute mandate to do whatever it likes, but winning 81% of the seats in Scotland on 45% of the vote gives the SNP no mandate for anything at all except to shut up and do as they are told.  The first is just logically and morally bankrupt, but the second is, of course, constitutionally and legally true.  It is in the nature of devolution that power remains at the centre unless and until the centre decides to share it – and even that sharing can subsequently be revoked at any time.  Power devolved is always and inevitably power retained.
Theoretically, the position in Scotland and Catalonia is very different; in Catalonia, independence is constitutionally illegal, whereas in Scotland (and Wales) there is a legal path to achieving it.  In practice, however, the UK’s constitution leaves the right to choose more theoretical than actual if the English Government (which is what we effectively have) decides to block it.  Many in Scotland have urged the government there to pass legislation to hold a ‘consultative’ referendum on the issue.  Whether that would be legal or not is currently unknown, but we can be certain that it would end up with the Supreme Court having to decide, and even if the courts decided that it was legal, Westminster could easily and quickly change the law to make it illegal before it was actually held.  That leaves the First Minister and her party between a rock and a hard place – undoubtedly the best way to gain recognition for Scottish independence is though a legally organised referendum where opinions are freely expressed through the ballot box.  But such a referendum is entirely in the gift of the English PM, regardless of how many times the Scots vote for a party or parties committed to holding such a vote.
Johnson and his party seem to be pinning their hopes on next year’s Scottish elections.  If they can only spend enough money on propaganda, bypass or weaken the Scottish parliament and implement their own policies directly, and then prevent the SNP from winning a majority next year, perhaps the issue can be made to go away.  It’s not an impossible scenario, but it strikes me as more likely that undermining Scottish institutions will strengthen rather than weaken the support for independence.  And the images of the elected First Minister being repeatedly prevented from holding a referendum for which the Scottish electorate has now voted several times also seems to me to be more likely to strengthen than weaken support. I’m reasonably sure that isn’t Johnson’s intention, but I doubt that he’s thought it through.  He doesn’t seem to do ‘strategy’ – just knee-jerk reaction.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

English government will also be counting on the Alex Salmond trial to aid their 'SNP'bad policy.