I spent most of last night in an impressively improvised TV Studio for Broadcasting Scotland in the same kind of incoherent shock as has been displayed by Theresa May ever since her tight wee circle of acolytes launched her manifesto, and the damn thing sank like a boat in a Buster Keaton movie. But come the dawn, and the Tories having lost their majority, and Jeremy Corbyn talking about forming a minority Labour government with a mischievous plausibility that will have most of his own parliamentary colleagues reaching for a fresh pot of paint to daub a frozen smile across their masks of despair…with the EU now in a position to absolutely dictate whatever form of Brexit they feel like, even with Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories and the DUP combining forces to put whoever is leading the Tories next week over the line…I have got a smile on my face that I don’t have to paint on.
This election, on both sides of the border, has worked out really well. In fact, even with the loss of some real talent from the SNP Parliamentary group, in terms of what comes next, I’m not sure how it could realistically be any better.
Think of it this way. 35 SNP MPs matter FAR more in THIS context, than 45 or so MPs would have mattered had the Tories achieved the thumping majority they were after, or than 56 mattered until yesterday. I don’t believe any more than Jeremy Corbyn really does that Labour can REALLY form the next government…His main cause for celebration today is that the Blairite hegemony in his own party is now decisively over. But even if they did try to form a government, they would absolutely now need the SNP to pass a budget, and to renew Trident…to name but two.
As it is, yes, of course, the Tories will form the next UK government, and this is not a good thing, but did anyone really expect them NOT to? The real news this morning is that the UKIP/Tory fusion Party which Theresa May had decided was the way to keep her safe from having to make deals with ANYONE, her own party very much included, is as dead as a door nail, even if TM tries to hang on as a deeply damaged PM.
But what about Scotland? Symbolically, if in no other way, this is a surely a huge comedown from the heady symbolism of the Tsunami two years ago?
Firstly, I’d argue that this is no bad thing in and of itself. Symbolism, after all, is only symbolism. If this election has taught us anything it is surely that real life continues anyway, and that the vast majority of the electorate, God Bless ‘Em, don’t give much of a toss for it. The Yes/No divide in Scottish politics is what produced that tsunami – the 45% for yes had somewhere obvious to go, and the Unionist vote, under the illusion in 2015 that Scottish politics could back to a status quo ante referendum led to them coming unstuck. What has happened, paradoxically, in the highly successful reorganization of the Unionist tactical vote that has STILL left the SNP with a healthy “majority” of Scottish seats is first of all, a predictable and salutary catching up…better reflecting our divisions and no longer allowing the 2015 result to allow some in the Yes movement to imagine that we’d sort of won in 2014 after all…and secondly, it’s a confirmation of the re-focusing of Scottish politics as an entirely distinct entity from politics South of the border, as having changed forever. Scottish politics now is ALL about the constitution, and in the long run, that’s exactly where the nationalists want it to be.
But what about the second referendum? So that Scotland gets to decide on what kind of Brexit deal we want? Well, first of all, the EU are in the driving seat on that one, and not the UKIP/Tory merger, and second, can we now admit that it was never a very good idea in the first place? Calling a referendum when you don’t know the result in advance may make for exciting television, but it’s no way to run a government. It may be that democratically there was no option but for Nicola Sturgeon to announce that there should be some specifically Scottish say on the shape of the Brexit to come, but still, we’re better off without it being any kind of immediate promise let alone prospect, in terms of running Scotland properly, if nothing else.
Calling a second referendum when you can’t predict the outcome was always a very dangerous strategy, and one doomed to a second defeat, on this timing, in my view. Now that, first of all, the Brexit process is itself completely up in the air, and we have even LESS idea what we might be voting on in that referendum in 2019, in terms of narrow politics, iit makes even less sense. So when Ruth Davidson triumphantly demands that Indyref 2 get off the table NOW, I think we should let the baby have her bottle and think that we’ve just dodged a very nasty bullet.
In another wonderful paradox of democracy, by making this election campaign in Scotland about NOTHING but the “threat” of Indyref Two…the Tories have won some seats, but in the longer term, even in the medium turn, have done the SNP an enormous favour. It may be that Nicola Sturgeon, after due consideration of the changed UK posture on the Brexit talks, can concede that “while the Brexit deal is so uncertain, there will be no referendum in the course of this parliament “…and breathe a sigh of well deserved relief. This is a chance to remove am electoral millstone from around the neck of the Scottish Government, who can now take part in the Brexit process with a MUCH better mix of Westminster parliamentary arithmetic and a secure Scottish government for years to come.
What’s more, with the Tories relying on MPs elected from Northern Ireland, there is absolutely no way that the “hard Tory Brexit” that justified that referendum can happen. The “fringe” nations, including Scotland are in a FAR better place to negotiate a soft, even differentiated Brexit, than they were yesterday. Time to blow the dust off that proposal that Theresa May so arrogantly dismissed a couple of months ago. If Indyref 2 is off the table, it’s because a differential Scottish Brexit is now back on.
Crystal balls probably belong in the trash, but by re-aligning Scottish politics so decisively along constitutional lines, and insisting as the “prize” of “SNP defeat” that the SNP drop a second referendum which I strongly suspect they never really wanted in the first place, and with pressure on the SNP in Holyrood coming from a Labour Party which entirely owes its revival to its own left wing, I don’t see, beyond the improbable “Coalition” that people may have considered in the wee small hours last night, that this could be any better.
Democracy, as well as being a ruthless bugger, as Theresa May and Alex Salmond have both found out, also has a fantastic sense of humour. That’s one of the reasons you’ve got to love it.