2007 - 2021

The Principle of Consent

Theresa May’s extraordinary manifesto launch, in which she appeared as equal parts Shiva, Inspector Gadget, and badly regurgitated Thatcher, has been poured over by faithful stenographers and scribes for signs of ‘vision’. They may be disappointed. The story of the Conservative’s un-costed manifesto has three distinct elements: the first is it’s almost lupine aggression against the most vulnerable in society; the second its poorly disguised and botched attempt at ‘populism’; and the third its incredible redefinition and attack of democratic principles and constitutional settlement.

Bad Wolf

For a party that is propped-up by pensioners – and who won the 2014 indyref by conning that same group, the news that not just the triple-lock would be abolished but that upwards of 10 million pensioners would lose winter fuel payments, must surely be a sign of supreme confidence. Of course these age-demographics are always a one-dimensional slice at things. There’s pensioners and there’s pensioners. Nobody can be under any illusions this is an attack on the poor. John McDonnell said the Conservatives’ plan to means-test winter fuel payments was “absolutely sick and sneaky. They know that a third of people who qualify for pensioner credits don’t claim. They also know that we’ve got 1.7 million pensioners living in poverty. They also know a million of them are in fuel poverty. As soon as you start means-testing, large numbers don’t claim even though they need it, because it is so complicated.” The other elements are now well-known:

  • Scrapping the £9 per hour wage promise
  • Creating a ‘death tax’ to pay for social care
  • Free school lunches for the first three years will be scrapped for all but children from the lowest-income families
  • An unprecedented proposed charge of two-thousand pounds to companies employing foreign workers

The government will continue to exert pressure on non-EU migration by increasing earnings thresholds for family migration, introducing tougher visa rules for people coming to study, by doubling the immigration skills charge to £2,000 a year for each skilled worker recruited, and by increasing the NHS charges they pay.

But other elements are not being focused on. In future elections voters must produce ID. As Jonathan Shafi has pointed out: “This works to the disadvantage of raising voter turnout and acts as a suppressant. Look to the US for examples. Should the Tories win, the British State is likely to become more repressive and less democratic as the crisis develops. This measure comes alongside boundary reforms that benefit them plus the usual swathe of surveillance, oppressive policing and increasing pressure to fall behind British nationalism.” The Independent reports that: “The law would stop an estimated 3.5 million people, or 7.5 per cent of the electorate, from voting, according to the Electoral Commission. ”

There’s also an attack on internet freedom. As if the Investigatory Powers Bill ws not draconian enough, the “government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.”

Who cares? It’s all detail in the white noise as the banshee shrieks: ‘Strong and stable” and the media smear Corbyn and anyone guilty of political thought crime beyond the prescribed and accepted norms.

Populist Posturing

It’s hard to discern the groups for the commentariat declaring that this is a ‘tack to the left’ or a ‘populist voice’ beyond the empty rhetoric from the PM mouthed from behind the podium to hand-picked audiences. As Paul Mason has pointed out, there’s nothing left:

Our Precious

But beyond the putrid social policy outpourings of the Conservative party are an explicit attempt to block the democratic will of the elected Scottish Parliament. Operating in naked class interest is nothing new, but this is.  Under a section headed “Our precious Union,” the UK party’s programme for power (with the sacred words ‘Conservative and Union’ embossed on every page)  says: “The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union but some would disrupt our attempts to get the best deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom with calls for a divisive referendum that the people of Scotland do not want. We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen.” This effectively rules out a referendum until 2022 and overrides the Scottish Parliament. It is democracy trumped by vagueness. The Tories are going for gold. What on earth is “public consent”. Is it 55 out of 59 MPs? Apparently not a mandate. Is it a democratic vote in the (proportionately) elected Holyrood parliament? Apparently not. This is a proto-colonial approach to rule.

This is becoming the accepted norm in political debate, partly because (as the UK Constitutional Law Association has noted) Laura Kuenssberg and Sarah Smith say so. “On the 9th of March, writing for the BBC, Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of the BBC said “it’s up to the Westminster government to permit another [Scottish] referendum.” Six days earlier, Sarah Smith, the Scotland editor of the BBC said:

“The Prime Minister knows she could easily prevent another referendum by simply refusing to allow it.  The Scottish government has to ask the UK government to devolve the power to hold another vote before it can go ahead. That’s how it worked in 2014 and how it would have to work again.”

But as Ewan Smith and Alison Young point out, our constitution may be dangerously fluid, but it’s not quite at the point where they get to frame this reality. It’s at best a contested area. In fact as (Ewan) Smith and Young conclude: “…the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish government may have the power to call a referendum.” This is a reality regardless of – above and beyond – any General Election result. They conclude, and this is important:

“Like Northern Ireland, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom because a majority of its people consent to be. The same is also true for England and Wales. Even if the legal power to grant independence lies with Westminster, it does not follow that Westminster is best placed to establish what Scottish people think about the Union. By any account of subsidiarity, the exercise of consulting people should be made as close to the people as possible. If both governments cannot reach consensus on how to manage a future referendum, the power of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish government to consult Scottish people, as devolved by the Scotland Act, is undisturbed by the Edinburgh Agreement, and undiminished by its newfound importance.” (1)

While we get caught-up in the perceived (and real) accusations of media bias, it’s important not to lose sight of the more insidious ways in which the media are allowed to frame and re-calibrate the constitutional discussion in the heat of an election campaign.



(1) Ewan Smith, Lecturer, Hertford College, Oxford, Alison L. Young, Professor of Public Law, Hertford College, University of Oxford: E. Smith and A. Young, “That’s how it worked in 2014, and how it would have to work again” U.K. Const. L. Blog (15th Mar 2017) (available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/)


Comments (12)

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  1. Mike McCreadie says:

    Democracy only ever means what the people in power say it means. May interprets it differently to Corbyn and to Sturgeon and to PickAPolitician. Democracy is certainly not an all encompassing construct of society – it only ever plays a percentage-part in governmental decision making – once a person/party has been elected, in their mind they have been given the power to rule without interference. That’s just how they see it, the current crop anyway. That’s how “strong and stable” leaderships the world over are interpreting their democratic mandate. The people have put them in power to rule. It doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or Theresa or Hitler, once they’ve been given their mandate by the people they can do what they want. Anyone who disagrees is anti-democratic. Democracy was great while it lasted, but we’re all just humans at the end of the day, and some humans just want control really badly. Like, REALLY badly, whatever the cost. This isn’t the end of the world, but it IS the start of a big change in how we live our lives, and especially the access we have to each other.

  2. Patrick says:

    The people have put them in power to rule. It doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or Theresa or Hitler, once they’ve been given their mandate by the people they can do what they want.

    That happen when you have not a written Constitution it appear that in great Britain does not exist citizen only Servants of the monarch or perhaps serfs.

    This isn’t the end of the world, but it IS the start of a big change in how we live our lives, and especially the access we have to each other.

    Yes isn’t it, but the only solution is an Independent Scotland, there is nothing to talk or resigned to be slaves for ever.

    Theresa May redefines Conservatism as Tories move on from Thatcher she said:
    “We must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and
    the libertarian right and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognizes
    the good that government can do,” she says in the manifesto.

    What does it mean the manifesto for her? A New Constitution ! If so ,Well let me paraphrase a great of America, because I do not know what resources the villager has on account or her head.

    The vain villager believes that the whole world is his village, and as long as he remains mayor,
    or mortifies the rival who took his bride, or grows savings in the piggy bank,
    he already gives the universal order good, without To know of the giants who have seven leagues
    in their boots and can put the boot on him, or the fight of the comets in the Sky,
    that go by the air asleep gobbling up worlds. What remains of a village in Scotland must awaken.
    These times are not to lie down with the handkerchief on your head,
    but with the arms on your pillow, like the men of Juan de Castellanos:
    the weapons of judgment, which defeat the others. Trenches of ideas are worth more
    than stone trenches.

  3. bringiton says:

    We are going back in time with Theresa and the Tories to a place where the rule of law is decided by an elite for the benefit of the elite.
    Democracy and all it’s attendant supporting principles was just an aberration in feudal England after the sacrifices made in two major wars by ordinary people.
    That is all in the past and now England’s rulers can return to business as usual,where in the not too distant future,only those who support the establishment will have a say.

  4. Harry Molloy says:

    The SNP has mopped up every left wing vote with their anti-Tory rhetoric but still fell well short of winning the “once in a generation” referendum in 2014.

    It is surely time to wake up and smell the coffee. Continually demonising the Tories is not going to convince a single NO voter to change their mind.

    Some ideas for things which might sway NO voters include:

    ~ Reverse Scotland’s slide down the educational league table
    ~ Find ways to reduce Scotland’s public spending (currently 12% higher per head of population than the UK average)
    ~ Take steps to boost economic growth in advance of North Sea oil running out
    ~ Treat NO voters with respect instead of labelling them stupid/greedy/cowardly

    1. Craig P says:

      The best way to attract and retain No voters is to get the media onside, stoke fears, appeal to avarice, demonise others, jettison the vulnerable from electoral calculations.

      But the Tories are already doing that, so we will have to think of something else.

  5. john young says:

    Harry Molloy it is all there in print in a “Book of Ideas” produced by the “Common Weal” a way forward for Scotland it is all forward thinking chock full of initiatives/thoughts and ideas,cutting away the political baggage that weighs down everyone of them the SNP included,Robin McAlpine says in it that you will never change peoples minds by scare stories by hoping they will bring their own house down,you have to go out there and show as best you can there is a better world awaiting us.

  6. Willie says:

    Maybe, just maybe, human nature is such that not only does it not care for the old, ill or infirm, but would actively harm or even kill them.

    YouthanAsia as Hitler showed is the way to go with those who are deemed a burden on the more exalted in society.

    The Tory mantra- don’t get old, don’t get ill, don’t be poor, and if you do, you’re on your own is the reality.

    And who voted for this right wing ideology when they voted No in their droves.

    Yes it was no lesser than the over sixty-fives. Turkeys and Christmas, enjoy,

  7. James Dow says:


  8. Alf Baird says:

    Lets keep it simple. A simple majority of Scotland’s MP’s is enough to dissolve the union of parliaments in the same way it was enacted, and to declare independence on June 9th. There is no need to prolong the agony and ignominy of Scotland’s colonial status within England’s ‘union’ fraud. And there is no need for Scotland to depend on any dubious referendum requiring permission and ratification by 600 MP’s of other nations.

    1. Willie says:

      And that Alfred is why the Conservatives are seeking to inculcate a Loyalist Unionist vote.

      It’s their attempt at the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics.

      That is the way Britain has always done it, and will do it again as it senses democratic defeat.

    2. john young says:

      Totally agree Alf.

  9. john young says:

    Totally agree Alf

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