It’s re-union day in Old Aberdeen today, as Boris Johnson gets reacquainted with his northern horde. Douglas Ross and Murdo Fraser and the collection of deplorables that make up the Scottish Conservative party will downplay their absolute denunciation of their leader as “unfit for office” and attempt to gloss over the *awkward* fact that of the 31 Conservative MSPs at Holyrood 27 publicly called for Johnson to resign after the partygate revelations.
Ross and Co will attempt a Groucho Marx-style defence: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
Expect stern faces and bold statements against Putin (while ignoring the dark lolly financing the party) and bold and ridiculous sentiments about ‘British’ solidarity (despite us putting up the most ridiculous system in Europe); expect pronouncements of faith in Brave Boris (despite only a few weeks ago the knives being out in a rare show of Tory principle). The knives have been discrete re-moved from Johnsons’s back, the principles sheathed.
It should be fun.
Tom Martin over at the Scottish Daily Express is excited, telling his readers (Scottish Tories call for voters to ‘take back Scotland’ from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP): “The Scottish Tories will call for voters to ‘take back Scotland’ from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP when the party gathers in Aberdeen today.
He has said he will fight Ms Sturgeon and her Scottish Green allies “at every single turn” over plans for another referendum next year.
Strategists said a major feature of the campaign will be the “taking back control” message, which could feature in TV, social media, and other election material.”
“Take Back Control”?
This is great, the Tories strategy is to big up Brexit.
One senior Scottish Tory source said: “One of the themes in Douglas’ keynote speech will be that we need to ‘take back Scotland’.
“We’re going to ask voters to back us in May so we can take back Scotland from the SNP and get all of the focus onto people’s local priorities.
“One key part of our campaign is going to focus on taking back control from Holyrood to local communities. We’ll lean-in to that Brexit message.”
The source continued: “There are clear parallels between the Brussels bureaucrats that a million Scots voted to reject in the 2016 referendum and the SNP bigwigs that two million Scots voted to reject in the 2014 referendum.”
I mean, this is great on so many levels.
First, you gotta love the idea that the SNP somehow snuck into power, rather than, you know, got elected. Second, I love the idea that Brexit has been such a success that its worth using as the pivot point of your campaign and regurgitating its hopeless slogan. I think the Scots Tories are high on their own supply.
In his Brexit and Beyond blog Chris Grey writes (Is Brexit being ‘cancelled’?):
“On the one hand, the need for friendly cooperation between the UK and the EU is so overwhelmingly obvious that the creation of the barrier of Brexit seems more foolish than ever. Not only does it get in the way of shared practical measures, such as sanctions, it also dilutes the institutional expression of a shared ideological commitment to liberal democracy. On the other hand, the sight of what a real violation of sovereignty, and resistance to it, looks like throws a sharp light on the asinine idea that EU membership entailed a loss of sovereignty in any serious sense or that Brexit regained it. To that one could add that, despite the government’s woefully inadequate initial approach to taking refugees, the generosity of the public response seems to nullify, or at least contradict, the nativist spasm of 2016. Perhaps we are not really the people we seemed to be then, and which the government still believes us to be. Perhaps we never were.”
He goes on:
“The analysis that the war fundamentally recasts Brexit is being increasingly widely made. The London correspondent of Le Monde, Cecile Decourtieux, suggests that “in a context of dramatic rise in geo-political risks, Brexit appears to be a handicap, even a historical error”. In a similar vein, writing in the New Statesman Paul Mason argues that “Brexit, in its original form, is dead: killed by the new geo-political realities created by the war in Ukraine”. And the issue isn’t ‘just’ geo-politics: on any account the war is going to compound pre-existing economic pressures deriving from energy prices rises and the long-run impacts of Covid, not to mention the challenges of climate change. These, as the Brexiters always say, are global issues. What they omit to say is that only Britain has to face them at the same time as the economic drag-weight of Brexit, as its ‘clear contribution’ to this week’s sackings of P & O employees brutally illustrates.”
Still – if today’s projections are right then the Tories are (unsurprisingly) tanking:
Projecting ComRes 10 – 16 Mar (for @TheScotsman) into seats (changes vs 24 – 28 Feb/ vs 2021 Election):
SNP ~ 62 (nc / -2)
Labour ~ 24 (+1 / +2)
Conservative ~ 23 (-1 / -8)
Green ~ 13 (-1 / +5)
Lib Dem ~ 7 (+1 / +3)
— Ballot Box Scotland (@BallotBoxScot) March 18, 2022
Brexit may indeed be a ‘historical error’ but it’s one which Scotland is lumbered with. The Tories have to maintain the pretense that everything’s going great in order to avoid this massive anti-democratic fiasco. But they are experts at maintaining un-truth: Covid is over, everything is fine now; Brexit has been a huge success and the benefits are rolling in; the only way to maintain Scotland in the EU is to vote NO; partygate’s both a confirmation that Johnson is un-fit office and he’s the best person to lead us in a time of war; Liz Truss negotiated Nazarene Zaghari-Radcliffe’s release … and on and on).
The Conservatives will go into this election extolling the virtues of Brexit even as it dies on its feet. Yet the story they are telling – of the Scottish Government and the SNP having centralising tendencies akin to the EU is completely true. The problem is that the rump of people that voted for Brexit in Scotland is a diminishing and disenchanted group. The Scottish Conservatives are playing to their core with a couple of simple messages: ‘Hate the SNP/love the Union’ and ‘Brexit’s been great’.
This fantasy land isn’t just about the Tories really bad and doomed political strategy, it’s worse than that.
It’s as Grey points out part of a wider “wish psychosis” in which you just will the world to be other than it is. This has parallels in political attitudes to climate change in which remarkably stupid and crap solutions are given air-play, or in Covid where we are urged to just pretend that it’s over because people are a bit bored now, or with Brexit where we are told to just “Move On”:
“The Covid pandemic helped with that quietude but, interestingly, Covid itself is now being treated in the same way, as something the government wants to ignore and seems to think that, if ignored, will go away. So, just as it is being reported that ministers want “to get rid of data and move on” despite the new spike in Covid cases, we also learned this week that the government no longer keeps track of delays and queues at Dover (and, I assume, all ports) caused by post-Brexit regulations. Like babies playing peek-a-boo, ministers appear to imagine that if they can’t see something then it doesn’t exist.
More seriously, it would seem to be the flip-side of the post-truth politics discussed in last week’s post, in which reality can be denied with impunity. But, of course, neither viruses nor lorry queues disappear just because you ignore them – they exist regardless of any “wish psychosis”, to use the term in Gerhard Schnyder’s most recent excellent analysis on his Brexit Impact Tracker. Perhaps to that concept we could add that attempts to “cancel” both Brexit and Covid show not just the nature and limitations of post-truth politics but also those of the ‘politics of the spectacle’: we may be endlessly exhorted to ‘move on’, but that neither cures us of Covid nor clears us through customs.”