A Tale of Two Traps or “What the Hell are We Supposed to do Now?”
As the Mother of Parliaments packs up its ineptitude for the last summer holiday its members are going to get before they and the rest of us need a Visa to pop over the Channel to the seaside, the sense of futility and uselessness that has afflicted the group of 36 SNP MPs since last year’s election, introducing ignored amendment after ignored amendment to protect Scotland from the shrill hysteria of what feels more and more like somebody else’s problem in somebody else’s country, has become universal.
Desperate futility is written across the pasty features of Honourable Members from every corner of Englandshire also. No wonder they want to run away from it all and attempt to forget it from the bottom of a jug of Sangria somewhere. And the temptation to say “The hell with the lot of them” is particularly strong not just for SNP MPs but for the 62% of Scottish voters who uselessly voted not to have ANYTHING to do with any version of this post-imperial bullshit.
English Brexiteers, now loyally supported by a Scottish cohort of vapid nodding wally dugs, are actually winning the race to nowhere that the voters of Scotland decisively rejected at the ballot box not once, not twice, but three times since the election of 2015 bounced David Cameron into preferring a wafer thin Tory Majority to the good of not just our country, but of his.
And 45% of Scottish voters can quite rightly grab a hold of the 55% who voted No in September 2014 and point and say “This is your fucking fault, you dopey bastards! You handed our future to these maniacs and LOOK what they’re doing with it!”
But Scots, even “Yes” voting Scots who want and feel they deserve NONE of this lunacy, are trapped by arithmetic too. Just like Parliament in London, we are paralysed by our own national division. We feel we need to do SOMETHING, but every avenue of escape seems blocked. There are calls for SNP MPs to boycott the UK Parliament for all the good they are doing there. But this looks like an empty gesture in the face of a Brexit Event Horizon that is fast becoming completely real. Unionist voters would simply not take part in an “unofficial” referendum on Independence. It would be nothing but a PR stunt…and these things are all very well and have their place under some circumstances, and might even make us feel better, might even let us cry out “Nothing to do with us, gov”…but nothing would really be changed. Brexit would still come and take us kicking and screaming with it.
I think the SNP need to respond right now to the change in Westminster circumstances right now. And, however reluctantly, I think they need to join in with a Westminster response to the increasing hopelessness that is being felt all across the chamber. I think the SNP has to declare in favour of another UK wide popular vote on the “Brexit Question.” Despite the strong and understandable temptation to say “Nothing to do with us, buddy” to the lot of them ” I think something is changing in the political weather in the whole UK. It is not just six weeks of unbroken sunshine that is freaking everybody out.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still an outside possibility. Up until two weeks ago, both the Tory Brexiteers and Jeremy Corbyn were happily planning to postpone the leadership crisis in the Tory party and the subsequent inevitable General Election, until AFTER March next year, when the UK electorate would be given a choice of who they trusted to pick up whatever pieces of the UK had landed wherever they are going to land when the Europeans finally boot us out, deal or no deal. This was what Theresa May was attempting to cue up with her ludicrous “Chequers Brexit “ Package…it was an entirely symbolic exercise in party Management, not any serious attempt to deal with the Upcoming Omnishambles…but, after a fashion, it seemed to be working for a whle, having factored in the even more vapid spectacle of Davis and Bojo biting the dust, and Michael Gove keeping his ambition warm for another day. For the SNP and the wider Scottish electorate, a 2019 General Electionwould be yet another UK election which would be differentially experienced and interpreted in Scotland, with an inflection of the National Question in that new context of “Oh My God It’s Actually Happening!” Brexit Britain.
This is still most likely to be be roughly how it goes, but at THIS moment the summer fevered chatter in the tea rooms of Westminster by those who belong neither to the Corbyn minority in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Tory MPs who haven’t drunk the Brexit Kool-Ade of their own Brexit extremists, are desperately circling another scenario. And they are doing it together.
Step One is to give up on paralysed parliamentary procedure altogether, and throw the Brexit “problem” back to the electorate with a popular” Yes/No/Forget the whole thing and stay in the EU” referendum sometime in the Autumn. I am sure the thought of Step Two is also occurring to them by now that it might be possible to interpret this vote as a mandate from “the British people” for a particular soft flavour of cuddly Brexit …and to attempt to form a National Unity government in order to deliver it.
The question before the SNP this morning is “How do we respond?” Do we denounce the whole stupid pack of them? Do we say, “Unite your own Nation, pal…this has nothing to do with our Nation?” Do we boycott the People’s Poll on exactly the same grounds as Scottish Unionists would boycott Indyref 2 (without a Westminster agreement like last time) as “Nothing to do with us.”
Or do the SNP strategically embrace the idea. And call for it. One last throw of the British Electoral dice. One last chance to avoid the cliff jump…with the implicit or explicit proviso, that if England chooses to go cliff diving this summer, we might just have other plans.
Now, there are big problems with this idea, as has been pointed out by Kenny Farquarson among others. If it has not been feasible up till now to interpret Scotland’s vote against Brexit IN PRINCIPLE as a vote for Independence IN PRINCIPLE, then how would that change if there were a second Brexit vote BEFORE a second independence vote?
To which the answer might be that a) an independence vote isn’t going to happen before either another another UK General Election or said BrexitVote 2 and b) it wouldn’t be a vote IN PRINCIPLE any more, on either question. No. It would be absolutely specific on both.
To vote FOR the specific Brexit deal the Union ends up offering would include, in effect, a vote for the Union itself. To vote AGAINST that deal would be to vote against the Union. Because within the Union, we are GOING to get whatever England decides we’re going to get.
We are genuinely trapped by arithmetic into choices we didn’t want to make. All of us. For this morning, if there is to be a call for a People’s Vote, I think the SNP has to support it. If there isn’t, I think the SNP has to call for it. And to show willing to throw the dice as a British political party one last time. That way, the 2014 result is “respected”, and , under new and highly specific circumstances framed in advance of a “new” British vote on a specific Brexit deal that implicitly INCLUDES the continuance of the Union, and is EXPLICITLY framed that way by the SNP…the actual question that is actually put before England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland is all rolled up together.
A British Future, which explicitly includes Brexit, or the End of the UK itself. A third choice is only available till March. So the SNP needs to call for the British people to face that choice and face it now. Because after March, there are only the other two…The SNP needs to make the call on behalf, ironically, of those who vote against it…because no one else is offering them any choice about ANYTHING.
This summer of stupidity can’t go on. Something is going to break. The weather is going to get messy. There is going to be a lot of shouting. But the next vote, whatever it is, is, I think decisive on both questions. Another vote of SOME kind, whether a General Election, a Scottish election, a second Brexit referendum or even an independence referendum, WILL include the national question no matter which comes first. The attitude of the SNP has to be, to any of these, no matter which comes first, bring it on.