Seduced?

The National concludes an article on the latest frantic manoeuvrings in the grotesque Brexit farce with the words, “There was scepticism over how it would work.” In this instance, it was referring to a draft bill that “could see Brexit reversed”.

The bill would give the Prime Minister and Parliament six weeks to reach a consensus on a way ahead.

If they can’t agree, then May would be forced to either extend or revoke Article 50 unilaterally.

You can see why there are doubts about the viability of this scheme. But those eight words at the end of a piece in The National could apply to Brexit itself as well as pretty much everything Brexit-related. And particularly to all the measures being suggested as ways to resolve the situation created – or, at least, given force – by the 2016 EU referendum. There is cause for serious scepticism about how any such effort would work. They are products of denial about just how totally irreparable the situation is. Quite simply, Brexit can’t be fixed.

When David Cameron opened the can clearly labelled with a warning that the contents were potentially lethal he released a host of highly venomous worms. Those nasties are not going back in the can. To egregiously mix my metaphors, the genie of narrow, insular, xenophobic, supremacist British Nationalism isn’t for returning to its bottle. The Leave vote carried by England’s voters (with a little help from Wales) gave licence to the basest, meanest, shallowest and most mindless political dogmatism. No matter how it plays out, Brexit will poison British politics for decades to come.

Not even stopping Brexit will prevent this. In fact, revoking Article 50 would only serve to concentrate and strengthen the poison. Not that this should be seen as an argument against revoking Article 50. It is merely to point out that if this is done in the hope of resetting everything to some pre-Brexit state of relative political stability, then that is a woefully forlorn hope. Polls suggest that anti-EU sentiments are as prevalent now in England as they were in 2016. It’s as if the further the Brexit process descends into chaos the more support for it hardens. The more clear it becomes how much Brexit is going to hurt, the more a perversely macho and ominously militaristic ‘Empire / Dunkirk / Blitz / 19666 World Cup’ spirit is invoked. Desolation? Devastation? Ruination? Is that all you’ve got? Bring it on! We can take it! ‘Cos we’re British, innit!

The Mad Brexiteers are going to be just as angry at being denied the masochistic rapture of a catastrophic Brexit as others are at being subjected to its cruelty. That anger may dissipate over time. But it will do a lot of damage while it is a significant factor in British politics.

Brexit can’t be fixed. Not even by stopping it. Anybody working on the assumption that there is a way of resolving the Brexit situation is operating on a false premise. There is no resolution. No prevention. Only damage limitation.

But it is not only the ‘usual suspect’ who are hooked on the notion that Brexit can be fixed – either by changing it or by stopping it. The otherwise very sensible SNP also seems to have been entranced by the notion. Go the increasing annoyance of many in the party and the wider independence movement, Nicola Sturgeon et al seem to be prioritising relieving the UK of Brexit over relieving Scotland of the Union.

So intent is the SNP on saving England from its own folly that one of the most influential and, dare I say, revered figures in the party has recently set out a quite astounding proposal. speaking at an event in support of a ‘people’s vote’, Joanna Cherry MP said,

I believe that, ultimately, what may be required is a temporary cross-party UK Government to seek an extension of article 50, to hold a second EU referendum and then revoke art 50, before holding a General Election.

This is being talked about by many commentators, including influential commentators in Scotland such as Dr Kirsty Hughes of the Scottish Centre for European Relations and Lesley Riddoch the pro-independence journalist…

I confess, I had not heard this suggestion before. Or it might be more accurate to say that it hadn’t previously caught my attention. I may have seen some mention of the idea, but dismissed it for the nonsense it so evidently is. Not that this has prevented others enthusing about it. Lindsay Bruce, for example. penned an article for Wings Over Scotland in which he even suggests that this coalition might attract some “disgruntled Tories”. Think about that for a moment. The SNP subsumed into a UK coalition government dominated by British Nationalists and including Tories. Try selling that one on the doorsteps in Glasgow and Dundee!

Claims are made for the efficacy of this ‘unity government’ which rival in hyperbole even 1960s TV washing powder commercials. The amazing things it can do include, not only fixing Brexit, but getting Scotland a new independence referendum and a host of new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the meantime. It will, proponents assert, give Scotland a stronger voice in the British parliament and make everybody think the SNP is wonderful and persuade thousands of ‘undecideds’ that they should opt for independence. Truly, the Cillit Bang of coalitions.

But the claims made for this coalition idea are all empty assertions not supported by any facts, evidence or reasoned argument. Simply saying “the SNP will be better placed to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard” doesn’t make it true.

In reality, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that being subsumed in a coalition UK government dominated by British Nationalists would strengthen the SNP Westminster group’s position in any way. Even at an intuitive level, this seems exceedingly unlikely. Just putting the reality of the situation into words reveals how counter-intuitive is the notion that it makes the group better able to represent Scotland’s interests.

Fantasy politics and wishful thinking aside, being subsumed in a coalition UK government certainly doesn’t strengthen the SNP group and would almost certainly constrain it in ways that don’t apply to opposition parties. For all the unthinking enthusiasm greeting this notion in some quarters, I have yet to see any mention of a single thing that the SNP could do in such a coalition that it cannot do now. Nothing! Not a solitary thing.

We are assured that the SNP would be able to demand all sorts of concession in return for allowing itself to be subsumed in a British Nationalist coalition. But scrutinise this assurance for even a few seconds and it evaporates. Ask the important and relevant questions. Why would the SNP be offered any meaningful concessions? Why would they be offered any concessions at all? If such a coalition came about it would be politically impossible for the SNP to refuse to join it. Especially after having shown enthusiasm for the idea. British Labour, who would dominate the coalition, need only decline to offer any concessions and dare the SNP to put the coalition in jeopardy.

And even supposing concessions were offered, could the British Nationalists be trusted to honour their commitments? History suggests otherwise. History suggests you’d have to be a complete idiot to put your faith in any promises made to Scotland by any British party or politician. How easily some people forget.

Oh! But the coalition could stop Brexit! Or it could reopen the negotiations that the EU has stated emphatically will not be reopened! Really? This British Nationalist coalition will be dominated by British Labour. Do they look like they might be ready to revoke Article 50? How many of their MPs would rebel against such a move? And even if the EU could somehow be persuaded to reopen negotiations despite having stated repeatedly and with increasing insistence that they will not do so, does British Labour look any more capable of negotiating a ‘deal’ than their fellow British Nationalists in the Tory party? I don’t think so!

You can be absolutely certain that no SNP MP would be allowed anywhere near those negotiations. It is a flagrant denial of political reality to suppose that British Labour would want to strengthen the SNP in any way. They want to destroy the SNP. Anybody who hasn’t realised that by now must have their head up their arse. British Labour’s only reason for inviting the SNP into a coalition would be to control or constrain them. To limit their options. To weaken them. And they would only associate the SNP with the Brexit negotiations in order to blame them when things went wrong.

That’s real-world politics!

But let’s suppose there were concessions offered, despite British Labour having neither a need nor an incentive to do so. would they be meaningful at all? We’ve already seen how massively dubious is the notion that this coalition could or would stop Brexit. What about the ‘powers’ that might be promised to the Scottish Parliament?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge – if we’re being realistic – that all indications are that the British state is intent on reducing the powers of the Scottish Parliament – if not on abolishing it completely. This subject has thoroughly enough dealt with elsewhere, so there’s no need to rehash it now. We may simply note that the EU power-grab is a very real thing. As is the shadow administration being set up by David Mundell. Anybody who thinks that’s an end to the stripping of powers from Holyrood is deluded.

But this may not prevent the promising of further powers. So, if we have any sense, we must ask why the British establishment would promise new powers when its purpose is to undermine the Scottish Parliament. There are two reasons.

Devolution has always been more about withholding powers from the Scottish Parliament than granting them. Crucially, what is granted can be withdrawn. Real power is never given. Real power is taken. Power that is given is not real power. But in light of the licence given to it by the No vote in 2014, the British establishment went further. Rather than being a tool by which the power of the Scottish Parliament could be controlled, devolution was forged into a weapon to be wielded against the hated SNP. The manner in which limited powers over such as tax and welfare were framed was intended to set numerous political and fiscal traps for the SNP administration. This too is a topic which has been dealt with at length elsewhere. The only reason there is not more evidence of these political and fiscal traps is that the SNP administration showed itself to be remarkably adept at avoiding them.

What does this have to do with powers which might be offered to the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of luring the SNP into a coalition? Quite simply, with the EU power-grab the British state now controls procurement and standards. It has always controlled the budget. Budget! Procurement! Standards! Control these, and you control everything. Whatever powers may be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, policy can always be ‘guided’ in whatever direction the British state desires through its control of the key powers.

Powers promised as part of any coalition deal would be completely meaningless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be offered.

It is, when you stop to think about it, blindingly obvious that the SNP has nothing to gain from allowing itself to be subsumed in a British coalition. And that’s before we consider the damage that would be done in terms of support for the party. The independence cause has nothing to gain from this daft coalition idea. The new referendum that might be promised and then might be allowed to actually happen is already ours. It is not in the gift of Westminster.

A Section 30 concession could be an even worse trap than those devolved tax and welfare powers. Going down the Section 30 route means accepting that the referendum could only go ahead on the basis of an agreement between the two governments. Edinburgh Agreement 2! The British government need only seek to impose unacceptable conditions – such as a qualified majority – and there’s no agreement and therefore no ‘legal’ referendum. The independence cause is advanced not one millimetre.

More importantly, Scotland gains nothing from the SNP being subsumed in this putative British Nationalist-dominated coalition. The party that is supposed to be Scotland’s voice in Westminster would be all but entirely silenced. If you think the British media ignores the SNP now wait until they are in a coalition with Jeremy Corbyn as its official spokesperson.

Of course, this multi-party coalition is too unlikely to be taken seriously. But it must be of some concern that senior figures in the SNP and the Yes movement are even talking about such a thing. It suggests to me that they have lost sight of the goal. They have been fatally distracted by Brexit. And, perhaps, fatally attracted to the convoluted games of British political. Too intent on proving how good they are at playing those games.

This is deeply regrettable. The idea that there is a path to independence through the arcane workings of Westminster is sheer folly. No matter how adept SNP MPs may be at navigating the maze. Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not be restored by becoming part of apparatus of the British state. The very thing we seek to break with.

If Joanna Cherry is offering an insight to the way SNP MPs are thinking; if they truly have been seduced by British politics to the extent that she implies, then it is clearly well past time we brought them home.


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Play the game!

Lesley Riddoch’s theory seems to be that if the SNP plays nice with the British parties then maybe they’ll let us join in their game of British politics. And if we play very nice they may even reward us with the baubles and beads of high office. And if we play very, very nice, they could even see their way to letting us exercise our democratic right of self-determination.

And, if we are really quite exceptionally nice for long enough then perhaps, when we choose to restore Scotland’s independence, they won’t throw a petulant tantrum and get all “standoffish, combative, self-harming, dogmatic and partisan”.

Now, I appreciate that Lesley presents this as a very tentative theory. She swaddles it with caveats, provisos, conditions, qualifiers and disclaimers. But it seems to me that what she describes involves a massive investment of trust and compromise by the SNP with absolutely no firm assurance of any return at all. And whatever dividend there may be amounts to nothing more than what we already own or are clearly entitled to.

It all sounds lovely. Everybody getting along; working together; treating each other with respect. All collegiate and cooperative. All harmony and light.

It’s just not British! And that’s the problem. Lesley’s notional “unity government” faces two rather significant obstacles – the nature of the British political elite; and the nature of the Union.

The British political elite doesn’t do respect for Scotland’s elected representatives. It does EVEL. The Union doesn’t make provision for popular sovereignty and the kind of democracy Scotland aspires to. It imposes the sovereignty of parliament and executive as proxy for a monarch and tolerates only such democracy as poses no threat to established power.

The British establishment deals with challenges to its power in one of two ways. The challenger is either crushed out of existence, or it is absorbed into the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. What Lesley describes sounds horribly like the SNP letting itself be enveloped in the coils of the snake.

I can think of no more grotesque contradiction than an SNP MP at the head of the UK Government in Scotland. That’s not playing nice. That’s being played.


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A third force?

Leaving aside for a moment the whole Brexit fiasco – doubtless to everyone’s great relief – it is worth noting that there is something rather interesting happening here as what in another time would have been referred to as the ‘minor parties’ at Westminster challenge, not only the government, but also the official opposition.

From a Scottish perspective, much of what has been happening in politics over the past three decades can be viewed as an increasingly desperate effort on the part of the British establishment to get back to ‘business as usual’. The British media, even more than British politicians, has evinced an almost frantic desire to return to the simplicities and certainties of the old British two-party politics that prevailed until the upstart SNP came along and made things complicated.

And now Westminster has been infected. The efforts to stifle, suppress and sideline the SNP contingent in the British Parliament have been to no avail. They’ve tried everything from EVEL to drowning out SNP MP’s contributions in the chamber with a cacophony of babble and barnyard noises. They’ve denied the SNP group at Westminster the opportunity to debate issues that have profound implications for Scotland. They’ve all but entirely excluded the SNP administration in Edinburgh from Brexit (sorry!) negotiations. They’ve worked assiduously to keep SNP politicians off our TV screens.

Despite all this, those pestilential ‘Nats’ persist in conducting themselves as if a clear and incontrovertible mandate from the electorate entitled them to a significant participatory role in the British political system. What the hell is wrong with these people!? They act as if being the third largest group at Westminster could possibly compensate for their appalling Scottishness.

Why can’t they just accept that their party, like their piffling little country and its pretendy wee parliament, is entirely peripheral to the ‘real’ politics of the British state? Why can’t they settle for the privilege of being allowed to sit on the glorious green benches in the divinely ordained ‘Mother of Parliaments’? Why do they insist on interfering in important matters best left to the British political elite?

The fact that the ‘smaller parties’ are uniting to confront the two ‘main parties’ is a highly significant development. It may not yet be an all-out revolt against the old order, but it sows the seeds. If the British establishment’s customary tactics of divide-and-rule can be overcome once, then this opens the way for further challenges to established power.

British politics is not evolved to cope with a third force. It has historically survived by eliminating potential threats early in the game; either by crushing them or by assimilating them. While being large enough and effective enough to have an impact at its heart, the SNP is sufficiently alien to the British political system to be quite indigestible. It cannot simply be absorbed. And it has proved remarkably resistant to being crushed. It is thus placed to be the core around which other elements of the political and geographical periphery might coalesce to form a third force capable of challenging, not only the old Tory/Labour duopoly, but the very structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.


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Playing the game

scotlands_parliamentThe British establishment hates and fears the SNP because it is truly an alien force in their midst. It operates within the British political system, but is not part of the British political system. It has been inserted into the structures of power privilege and patronage which define the British state, but is is not beholden to those structures. It has been imposed upon established power by the people of Scotland, but refuses to accept that the latter are, as a consequence and condition, subordinate to the former.

By the British political elite’s own rules, the SNP formally represents the people of Scotland. It not only forms the administration at Holyrood, it also has the largest number of MPs, outnumbering all the British parties combined. In itself, this would not be a problem. It becomes a problem for the British establishment because the SNP doesn’t just insist on representing the people of Scotland, it insists on being accountable solely and exclusively to the people of Scotland.

From the British establishment’s point of view, this makes the SNP a serious menace. It cannot be controlled. It is not susceptible to the customary blandishments or vulnerable to the usual threats. At Westminster, the SNP group is taking the arcane rules and archaic procedures which are supposed to baffle and foil ‘rogue elements’ and turned those tools of suppression into weapons of mass disruption. The managers have no sanctions that aren’t likely to rebound on them. The manipulators can get no purchase. The ‘men in suits’ have no influence.

Conventional power always begets a countervailing power. The SNP represents an element of that countervailing power manifested in ways and places that the conventional power of the British establishment is totally unaccustomed to, unprepared for and bemused by. It’s just not supposed to be this way!

Some will seek to dismiss the SNP Westminster group’s behaviour, accusing them of ‘playing games’. But politics is a game. Or, at least, it is closely akin to a game in that it involves moves and counter-moves. The moves being made by Ian Blackford and his troops are not at all whimsical. The disruptive tactics are part of a larger strategy. There is a point to all of this which will become evident in due course.

In the meantime, British establishment figures will continue to protest. They will object indignantly that the SNP is not ‘playing the game’. The real reason for their discomfiture, however, is that the SNP is playing the game rather too well.


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