In an extract from his new book Winning The Second Independence Referendum – a manifesto for Scotland and the EU after Brexit Gordon Guthrie argues that the SNP must simply ‘remain firm whilst the UK shakes itself to pieces, a island of stability in a sea of change.’
It is my opinion that Scotland will become independent on the same day that the rUK leaves the European Union: around Xmas 2018.
But the ball is not in Scotland’s court – the dynamic that is ripping the UK apart remains English nationalism and the disintegration of the old continuing English constitution.
Popular support for independence will not be won by the Yessers converting the No voters – but by the English unionists chewing up and spitting out the Scottish ones. Those of us on the nationalist side must sit and wait patiently.
The success of an independent Scotland depends on this digestive process – the higher the support for independence the easier post-independence will be politically.
English politics remain deeply unstable. The Labour Party has largely collapsed and must split into at least two parties – maybe three if Scottish Labour goes its own way, maybe four if the Welsh follow.
Theresa May’s weak position as the Remainer Prime Minister of a Brexit government is shown by her ludicrous appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister, and her scurrying up to Scotland at the first opportunity to try and bind the Holyrood Government into the process of finding and agreeing what Brexit will mean.
By declaring that there will be no Article 50 until there is an agreed UK response she is holding a gun to her own head and threatening to pull the trigger – it is strategically unwise. Scotland cannot be coerced.
The majority of May’s MPs regard Brexit with distaste, the majority of her members are Article50ers. The Tory party remains in a cold civil war.
There is a still a huge chasm between the options – is Brexit an EEA, an EEA+ or an EEA-? Is it plain WTO or Canada+, who knows?
The logical, obvious and inevitable mechanism for Theresa May to cut this Gordian knot is the traditional way: pick one of the options, declare that as her negotiating aim and hold a general election to stamp her authority on her party and parliament. She would like the SNP to be signed up before. We must be patient, co-operative but intransigent on free movement and the single market. It will be said that free movement and the single market is a wrecking demand. Well let it be said.
“Every wriggle she makes weakens her. Boris in the Foreign Office, tack Brexit, visit to Scotland, tack Remain, each one strains her credibility, the binds loosen, the joints screech. For Scotland the European Union is a union of equals and the UK was not.”
The vacuum after the Brexit vote, the robust response of the Scottish government, and that endless week where Downing Street was in total disarray allowed Nicola Sturgeon to thrust Holyrood up nearly on the par with Westminster, to reposition the terms of Bute House-Downing Street discourse in the minds of Scottish voters.
This ratchet is not a new thing. One of the first acts of the incoming SNP administration was to rename the Scottish Executive the Scottish government – a fait accompli that blithely brushes aside the spirit of the Scotland Act, but one which the opposition would not dare overturn if they came to power.
The bonds of the union will be destroyed by the political reaction to this south of the border: Brexit makes Holyrood more intransigent and Westminster more intolerant of that. In some cases this will be a conscious thing – an English nationalism spitting back in contempt – but in most cases it will be simply the thrashing of a confined beast that has never previously had to think about the adjuncts of England very much.
“To be British in Scotland was never quite the same as to be British in England. Britishness and Scottishness were distinct, and for many, complementary. By contrast Englishness and Britishness were, and are, constantly conflated south of the border – a sort of Brenglish amalgam. After Brexit the gap between these two sub-species of British has widened – not yet as wide as that between British and Ulster British, but wider than before.”
Every step Theresa May will have to take to consolidate her position south of the border will be taken on Brenglish grounds, in response to Brenglish pressures.
It is entirely inconceivable that we can go through to 2020 via Brexit with a government elected on a totally different basis and a majority of 12. The political task Theresa May faces, that of defining and implementing an actual exit from the EU, is horrendous. There is no mechanism to resolve it within the Tory party – it must be done on the doorstep.
And if you thought the Brexit vote was ugly, wait til you see the coming election.
Labour will be trashed in the north of England by UKIP, and trashed in the south by the Tories – if there is even a single Labour Party by then. For the SNP is not the only one lying in waiting, the UKIP wolf is at the door, and it is scarcely Brenglish.
It is easy to write off UKIP on the grounds that they are nowhere in the polls, but nobody is talking about them. It is worth remembering that in the run up to the 2011 Holyrood elections Labour ran a continual lead in the headline voting-intention polls. Labour’s fundamentals were terrible and it duly lost.
“There is no scenario where the next general election is not fought on a platform of ‘this is actually what Brexit means’ and that battleground is a death trap for the Labour Party as it currently stands, and those that might follow it.”
It is not clear how we get to independence from here though. The Westminster government is committed on paper to vetoing another referendum, although that is a bit of paper tiger. The absence of a constitution, the ad-hoc nature of the British state, means that the Westminster government has an almost total lack of servants under its control north of the border, no police, no prison officers even, with the exception of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. I’m sure constitutional judges sitting in London may well come up with some declaration that a referendum is ultra vires but it is not clear how it could be stopped; short of martial law.
If there is a referendum it is likely to be short and quick, not a rerun of the 2014 marathon – possibly following the snap election that Mrs May will engineer. The Fixed Term Parliament Act is, of course, not-entrenched in the unwritten constitution, and like everything else can be finessed.
Or it may be that the SNP goes into the snap Westminster election on a manifesto for independence.
The unnerving thing is that the SNP must simply remain firm whilst the UK shakes itself to pieces, a island of stability in a sea of change. The game has long passed out of our control. There is in Scottish nationalism a strange strand of Scotland being continuity Britain, and in that spirit: steady the Buffs.
UK politics will remain turbulent for a good while yet, and the sources of that turbulence will remain that peculiarly Brenglish nationalism of the Brexiteers.