I have been wondering before whether there is such a thing as a Scottish mandate these days, or whether it’s now necessary to convince a majority of all MPs – rather than just the Scottish ones – in order to make changes to Scotland’s constitutional status.
Many people seem to be assuming a bit of gentle persuasion is bound to convince the Tories to revert to their old stance (i.e., to make them respect a Scottish mandate). I’m not convinced, though. As The Economist pointed out a few months ago, Boris Johnson’s new Tories are revolutionaries:
The closest thing the Tory party has had to an in-house philosopher is Edmund Burke, and the closest thing it has to an intellectual bête noire is Burke’s French contemporary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Burke, a liberal conservative, believed fervently that changing societies needed to be anchored by tradition and custom. Rousseau, the patron saint of revolutionaries from Robespierre to Pol Pot and prime enabler of “democratic dictatorship”, was the sworn enemy of the established order. Yet over the past few years the party of Burke has become the party of Rousseau. Boris Johnson’s bloody cabinet reshuffle completed the purge. Burkeans such as Philip Hammond and Rory Stewart were out; revolutionaries such as Dominic Raab and Priti Patel now hold all the great offices of state.
Wee Ginger Dug has also recently been exploring a similar theme, describing how the new Tories are bringing the politics of the far right into the mainstream:
Yet McConnachie gave a speech to the far right wing pressure group The London Swinton Circle, which claims to be dedicated to the promotion of “traditional Conservative and Unionist principles” on Thursday 18 June 2015, and told the massed ranks of gammonistas that the UK was a unitary state. Although now officially outside the Conservative party, the London Swinton Circle continues to be closely associated with leading Conservatives. Conservative MPs Liam Fox and Owen Patterson have been guest speakers. Now we find that the Secretary of State for Scotland apparently holds the same marginal view on the nature of the UK as those on the extreme far right of British politics. That’s a deeply alarming development. […] Boris Johnson’s government has normalised the politics of the far right and brought it into the mainstream of British politics, and that this Conservative government is using the arguments of the extreme right to deny the democratic right of the people of Scotland.
It’s almost certain these revolutionary, far-right Tories aren’t going to allow a new independence referendum. No matter how many votes and seats the pro-independence parties get, it’ll never be enough. They want to recreate a British Empire, and letting Scotland go doesn’t fit into that vision.
We need to accept that trying to jump a bit higher next time will never get us anywhere. A bigger pro-indy majority in the next Holyrood elections won’t make one iota of difference. I can therefore only see three realistic options for achieving independence:
- Waiting for the Tories to get kicked out by the voters in England.
- Making England want to get rid of Scotland.
(I haven’t included a court case in the options – I simply don’t believe the Supreme Court will tell the House of Commons what to do; they might say that it’s for Parliament and not for the UK Government to decide, but that won’t help us now that the Tories have a majority.)
Option (1) is not going to be fast – the Tories have just been reelected and are safe till 2024, and they’ve already announced they’ll redraw the electoral map before the next election to make it even easier for them to win. I also wouldn’t put it past them to do other things to improve their chances of winning, and given how useless Labour and the Lib Dems are at the moment, we might have to wait ten or fifteen years before the Tories lose power, and that’s a very long time in politics – the SNP may well be very unpopular by then and not be able to fight a new independence referendum successfully, and the party (or parties) that will eventually defeat the Tories might not be great friends of Scottish mandates, either.
Option (2) has obvious problems – Spain won’t like it (making it very difficult to rejoin the EU), and it would seem lots of independence supporters aren’t brave enough to try it. Last but not least, it’s been ruled out by the current SNP leadership, so it won’t be attempted for a long time. I think it’s dangerous to rule it out completely, though – it’s useful to be prepared for this scenario in case everything else fails.
Option (3) seems like the most realistic option to me. It’s really a multipronged approach, combining sticks and carrots. The sticks could involve interrupting Westminster proceedings, blocking roads in London, and so on, while the carrots could be appealing to old-fashioned Tories pointing out about how it’s always been a voluntary union and that it’s not fair play to hold Scotland captive, and talking a lot about the good relationship England and Scotland will enjoy post-independence. To be successful, it would be ideal if the English tabloids started campaigning to get rid of Scotland, perhaps to get rid of a lot of pro-EU people trying to halt Brexit.
No matter what approach gets chosen, it won’t be easy. The old Tories who were quite willing to let Scotland go if the desire was expressed strongly enough are gone, and the new ones are going to need quite a lot more than gentle persuasion to abandon their dreams of rebuilding the British Empire.
The first step is realising that jumping higher and higher is pointless so long as we’re allowing the new Tories to decide whether it was high enough after the jump.
We need to try something else. And we’re running out of time.