The Brexit Election
What is so very strange about the way the “Brexit Election” has gone is that Brexit, as far as one can tell, isn’t really an issue – in and of itself – at all. This has wrong-footed both the Tories, who wanted to build an entire campaign around Theresa May being the only possible God Given Champion of what The British People Demand – and , perversely, the SNP, whose pitch of “Scotland rejected Brexit and demands a say” is likewise evincing no electoral traction except with the small fraction of voters who were already strongly committed to that view. This election campaign is catching all the experts off balance, in the parties and in the papers, in Scotland and England. So what’s going on?
The conclusion behind all this may be that “The European Issue”, both for and against Brexit, is STILL really only a very minor consideration for the vast majority of the electorate, (with the possible exception of Northern Ireland, where the voters have THEIR border very particularly in mind) just as it was before the Tories’ unexpected outright win in 2015 accidentally put it front and centre of a political agenda that was so shallow rooted as to be manipulable by the noisy but marginal likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Just as the EU referendum took place in an atmosphere of ill informed indifference as to the outcome, so it seems that the consequences of Brexit, economic and political, simply haven’t sunk in…for the very good reason that they haven’t happened yet. This is why, after all, with that whopping great lead in the polls, Theresa May and a VERY tight circle inside the Tory party, decided to call this election before the excrement made contact with the ventilation system. What she, along with the rest of the political “chatteratti”, all commentators included, including me, didn’t get, was just how shallow are the roots of political engagement, how very little connection is now made between “politics” and “real life”and consequently, just how volatile political allegiance has become.
“With a week to go, there is surely nowhere for the Tory vote to move but down…and it may well be that if the Tories DO scrape home again it will be thanks to their formidable and sub-media ground game in individual constituencies, just as it may well be the local machine politics of the SNP, calling on at least a fraction of their huge, passive membership, that may save 50 or so seats for Nicola Sturgeon.”
All this makes the prediction game extremely and unusually hazardous. You’ve got a submerged Labour Party establishment who were completely convinced that a ruinous campaign would allow them to ditch Corbyn and get “their” ball back. This turns out to be as ill-starred an expectation as the Scottish Labour Party’s abiding conviction that “their” voters would see the light “any day now” and come flooding back penitently to the cold embrace of Old Corruption. It also seems likely that Ruth Davidson as much as her leader is about to discover the limits of the Cult of Personality (though no one could surely have predicted just how abysmal and unhappy a public performer Theresa May would turn out to be.) The Corbynites even have the outside possibility of the Hung Parliament that everyone expected LAST time, all unbidden and unwanted, swimming into the realm of possibility THIS time.
With a week to go, there is surely nowhere for the Tory vote to move but down…and it may well be that if the Tories DO scrape home again it will be thanks to their formidable and sub-media ground game in individual constituencies, just as it may well be the local machine politics of the SNP, calling on at least a fraction of their huge, passive membership, that may save 50 or so seats for Nicola Sturgeon.
“The threat of the SNP holding the Balance of Power is likely to dominate the last week of the campaign, as it did in 2015. But in today’s atmosphere, can you really sing the same song twice? Will the electorate in England, having already had their spasm of nationalist resentment in LAST year’s referendum, really respond to another war cry against the Jacobites coming down the hill to Derby?”
And here in Scotland, specifically, other questions occur which may or may not be answered next week. If the election South of the border is hard to define, then the election North of the border is very, very clearly about one thing and one thing alone…and it isn’t Brexit as such. Despite the protests of the SNP, the dominant energies of this election are ALL to do with the prospect of a second referendum. The very amorphousness of the UK campaign has allowed, with the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties banging on about it endlessly, independence to entirely dominate the debate…both for and against. This prompts two observations. One is that Scottish and British politics now seem to be irrevocably divorced. The other is that the anti-politics mood from which the SNP benefited with the huge protest-vote Tsunami of 2015, now very much includes the SNP. The “scunnered with all of it” mood which inflected an element of the Yes campaign in 2014 has turned round to bite the Nats. If the Electorate in the UK are acting as if Brexit is settled and done, rather than about to break over our heads with fury, farce and chaos, then the electorate in Scotland are acting, paradoxically, as if the Yes vote won in 2014 and that the SNP can be held to account for the wider failure of politics to make anything better. It may be that a Rubicon into a new normality has been crossed. Or it may not. It may be that when the cards land back on the table, we will all be back exactly where we started…with a Tory government with a small majority, an undefined Brexit and an uneasy, unstable devolution within the UK, as fraying, nervous and unstable as the Prime Minister herself – and a chaotic, undefined, unwilling, angry, messy car crash of a divorce from the EU that none other than a couple of loudmouth loonies in the pub ever really wanted.
As I’ve said here before , Nobody Knows Anything.
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