Tuesday 14 March 2017

Nicola Sturgeon's Independence Ambush

Back in the halcyon times of the UK Left Network discussion list, plenty of participants had bust ups with the grandly over-titled Scottish Republican Socialist Movement - a "movement" with more initials than members, one of the slogans often attending its adherents' contributions was "Britain out of Ireland, Scotland out of Britain". Well, it has to be said, that's not looking anywhere as fanciful as it did 15-16 years ago.

Theresa May must be bitterly cursing Nicola Sturgeon's intervention in the Brexit debate and reminding her of the almighty hash she's making of it. A scant 24 hours earlier, this blog happened to raise the issue that Westminster and its media had seemingly forgotten about, the Scottish dimension to Brexit. Indeed, by all accounts Sturgeon's pledge to put a second independence referendum in motion caught the government completely on the hop. While I don't think too much of her politics - palest pink social justice politics plus independence monomania - Sturgeon is much cannier than the flotsam and jetsam of the Tory elite, and that includes our dear leader. For instance, just check out her lame, not to say hypocritical, reply to the First Minister.

Ever since the UK's first near-death experience at the hands of the Scottish independence referendum result, the SNP have been itching to have a second crack at it. After all independence at whatever price is their party's raison d'etre. Expecting them not to advocate for it, strategise for it, and work toward it is like supposing the Tories would not hand perks and privileges out to the already wealthy. With Holyrood in the party's control and as near as dammit a full roster of Scottish constituencies at Westminster, Sturgeon and the SNP have an opportunity they just cannot pass up. You would have thought the presence of so many Scottish Nationalists in clear view from the Prime Minister's seat might have caused her to take some notice of them. Even Hammond thought they were worth a cheap troll. And yet, for all of May's talk about the preciousness of the United Kingdom, for all her sharey carey nonsense, her determination to seriously weaken British capitalism for the sake of preventing a few tens of thousands of Europeans here, a few tens of thousands of Europeans there coming here to work and contribute was always going to put her on a collision course with the Scottish government. Let there be no doubt. Theresa May is responsible for this mess. It is her, no one else, that has gone out of her way to ignore the pro-EU aspirations of a voting majority of Scots.

As far as Sturgeon is concerned, May's stupidity is a gift. Here we have a clear case of Westminster forcing on Scotland a political reality it did not vote for. The promise set out in The Promise - remember that? - that Scotland is an equal and valued partner in the UK is shown to be demonstrably false. Sturgeon and the SNP have a grievance. And, fortuitously for the pro-independence case, one of the key props of Better Together, EU membership, is going to get wrenched away from them. While it is true an independent Scotland would have to re-apply as soon as it leaves the UK, for the SNP and its hegemonic "inclusive" civic nationalism, it has the advantage of aligning more happily with the liberal utopianism that attends the EU than the backward, little Englandism of Number 10. Scotland does and always will carry out more business with the rest of the UK than the EU, but economic realities these days are trumped, sometimes literally, by nonsense nationalism. All Sturgeon is doing is striking while the iron is hot. The forces of unionism are divided and weak. The much-talked about return of Scottish Toryism is little to crow about, and Scottish Labour virtually used itself up in defending the union last time and is something of a shambles, unfortunately. If not now for the SNP, when?

There's also the small matter of the SNP's immediate interests getting served. Scottish local elections are coming up and, surely, the party can expect to do very well indeed. Even if the results are a mere adjustment in toward Westminster/Holyrood levels of support, the SNP can reasonably expect to net hundreds of seats, mostly at Labour's expense. I don't want to be cynical (who, me?), but throwing independence back into political contention has the happy consequence of obscuring the party's record in government. A less-than-stellar performance on education and an outright refusal to effectively use the powers available to it to ameliorate cuts coming from Westminster immediately spring to mind.

Nevertheless, it could turn out that Sturgeon is doing the rest of the UK a service. An independence referendum isn't likely for a couple of years, and she knows the harder the Brexit the easier the SNP's case will be. May doesn't want to go down in history as an even worse Prime Minister than her predecessor. She doesn't want to be the one nation Tory who sacrificed the UK on the altar of border controls and so, yes, it is possible that Sturgeon's ambush, for all the sound and fury, might force her to moderate her negotiating position and make an independence referendum victory less likely. How delightfully ironic.


Anonymous said...

Sturgeon's a bullshitter. She can't call a referendum: Holyrood doesn't have the power, which would have to be transferred from Parliament under a bespoke agreement (which will not be forthcoming). This was the case with the bit of the Edinburgh Agreement that gave the SNP their last "once in a generation" referendum. Unless Sturgeon has a plan to ratchet up the pressure on May over the next two years, nothing is going to happen. And the SNP's failure to plan properly for what would happen if Scotland had seceded in 2014 suggests that this is unlikely to be the case now. As it stands, all Sturgeon has to offer is the prospect of EU membership, and like the tantalising IndyRef2 that is not in her gift to control either.

Boffy said...

""Britain out of Ireland, Scotland out of Britain". Well, it has to be said, that's not looking anywhere as fanciful as it did 15-16 years ago."

A better solution today would be England out of Britain, Ireland back into Britain. That would mean that all those parts of Britain who voted decisively to Remain in the EU could do so, whilst England that voted marginally to Leave the EU could simply leave both the EU and Britain at the same time. It would leave Wales free to choose which path it sought to follow.

It would also open the door to Britain minus England to come to an arrangement with the Isle of Man, Channel Islands etc., and to hold a constitutional convention to decide on whether it wanted to become a unitary state, or a Federal state including Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland etc.

Additionally, as Britain itself has metropolitan areas like London, manchester, West Midlands and so on, with their own elected Mayors etc., perhaps these large regional areas could then have a vote on whether they wanted to remain in England, or to affiliate remain themselves as part of Britain. Given the huge vote to remain in Britain in England's most important economic area, London, its likely it would vote to remain withain Britain inside Europe rather than an isolated England, for example.

MikeB said...

@Boffy makes an excellent point. Sturgeon's latest intervention highlights how the headlong rush of Westminster - both Tory and Labour - towards Brexit reflects a further collapsing of their concept of the "United Kingdom" into what is actually a crude kind of English nationalism.

In Scotland, the resurgence of interest in independence is driven not so much by the SNP's historic nationalism, but by a broader wish to remain connected to European social democracy. In Ireland, we have seen not only a swing to Sinn Fein in elections in the North, but moves by the Republic to allow "British" citizens in the North to vote in the republic's presidential elections. In Wales, Plaid is basing its campaigns on decidedly left, internationalist perspectives. All these "nationalist" parties are actually internationalist in their aspirations.

Meanwhile, Westminster politics seems trapped in atavistic notions of England as the centre of Empire. The refrain that "the people have spoken" not only fails to recognise that we are not one people, one class, or one nation. It is underpinned by the narrowest English nationalism.

ejh said...

No, Holyrood doesn't have the power. But suppose they do it anyway - what do you think happens then?

Speedy said...

"As far as Sturgeon is concerned, May's stupidity is a gift"


This business about what Scotland can or cannot do: power is not about the rules but the facts on the ground. Wot ejh said: if Scotland chooses to have a referendum which is judged as fair and declares independence there's bugger all the UK can do about it, short of sending a gunboat, ha ha.

ejh said...

Well, maybe, but that's not exactly what I meant. The UK can stop a referendum happening, it doesn't have to sit and wait for the outcome. But if it does that, you have the situation currently playing out in Catalonia, whereby support for a referendum rockets the longer that referendum is denied, support for independence also rises, and because the referendum option isn't open, you get people threatening UDI.

A further consequence in Catalonia has been the shrivelling of the PSOE vote (or strictly speaking PSC, in Catalonia) which Labour Party people may wish to bear in mind before assuming that you can just say referendums be damned and thus make it a go away.

Anonymous said...

ejh said:

"No, Holyrood doesn't have the power. But suppose they do it anyway - what do you think happens then?"

I think even the SNP are bright enough to realise that breaking the law on such a massive scale is not the way to build trust with the electorate.

But ok, let's pretend that Holyrood calls an illegal referendum (and, more to the point, let's assume that this illegal referendum goes ahead without anyone pulling the brakes). The result is invalid, with even less value than a correctly-controlled opinion poll, and makes the EU referendum of 2016 look as definitive as the Ten Commandments by comparison.

The SNP has now broken the laws it was elected to uphold, and obtained an utterly worthless result. Brilliant.

What's Sturgeon going to do now? A UDI? OK, this is effectively a coup, and creates a situation that can only be described as civil war (even if not a shot has been fired yet).

The one thing you absolutely definitely totally need if you're going to pull off a coup is military backing. The closest thing Scotland has to an army is commanded by the Duke of Buccleuch, who for various reasons is unlikely to be sympathetic. Congratulations, you now have a undefended border with a fully-armed hostile power. Oh and the major media are out of your control too (although presumably the editor of The National could be relied upon, but who on earth would care?)

But OK, pursuing this silly daydream even further, the UK Government does nothing and for whatever unfathomable reason sits back and watches an illegitimate breakaway by one of the kingdom's mainland countries, without lifting a finger.

Can you see an illegally-seceded Scotland being recognised by the UN or EU?

But let's take a step back. This is, after all, a silly daydream. Last time round, the SNP sold the Scottish electorate a fantasy about petrochemical riches. It turned out to be lies and nonsense, and if Scotland had walked away in 2014 it would now be reduced to near-beggary. This time round,the SNP is promising something even less tangible, and something over which they have even less control.

Ken said...

Try this for the argument nobody knows Scotland's economic position post independence.

Boffy said...

What does an "illegal" secession look like? When Norway separated from Sweden at the stat of the last century, the democratically elected Norwegian Parliament simply passed a resolution stating that it was no longer governed by the Swedish Parliament. There seems no reason why a similarly democratically elected Scottish parliament does not have the same democratic right of self-determination, as enshrined in UN principles.

ejh said...

Problem is here, you're coming out with a lot of how-could-this-possibly-happen rhetoric while apparently unaware that thsse things do happen, UDIs do haplen, nations do secede without being guaranteed UN recognition and so on. Moreover a similar process is some way along the line in Catalonia (there are many differences between the two situations, but the similarities can't entirely be blinked).

Point about daydreams is, they don't happen. Secessions sometimes do.

Anonymous said...

The Norway-Sweden union was not the same sort of thing at all. It was a union in name only, under the monarch of Sweden, the two nations (n.b., not countries) remained separate entities in every other respect, and when Norway decided to leave the partnership it was voted through by a Norwegian parliament that actually had the power to do so. The separation concluded with consent negotiations between the two nations and the king of Sweden renouncing his rule over Norway (that rule being less than 100 years old, and having been established after a war).

What you have in the British union is two countries in a fused parliamentary union (with a very limited amount of regional power in one of them) and a common currency and language, who have been consentingly sharing a monarchy for over 300 years

ejh keeps coming back to the sort of 'singularitarian' argument by which some quantum leap takes us into completely uncharted territory where all bets are off and every single problem is resolved in a Hollywood-style fairy-tale ending. The SNP hasn't even got a back-of-a-fag-packet idea of how to get anywhere near that outcome and to pretend otherwise is delusional.

ejh said...

You'll have to show your working on this one, as I can't find myself having resolved anything into any kind of ending. I wonder if you are committing the error of assuming that somebody with whom you disagree must simply think the opposite of what you do? I am sure there is a term for that fallacy.

Ben Philliskirk said...

"ejh keeps coming back to the sort of 'singularitarian' argument by which some quantum leap takes us into completely uncharted territory where all bets are off and every single problem is resolved in a Hollywood-style fairy-tale ending. The SNP hasn't even got a back-of-a-fag-packet idea of how to get anywhere near that outcome and to pretend otherwise is delusional."

Change 'SNP' to Tories and you have the current Brexit situation. No one thinks the UK leaving the EU is impossible though, and the same applies with Scotland. ejh is right, difficult or not, secessions happen.

Anonymous said...

ejh said:

You'll have to show your working on this one, as I can't find myself having resolved anything into any kind of ending

Well, you said 'secessions happen', which definitely describes an ending. As for whether that would be "the sort of" (n.b.) ending in which (my words) all bets are off and everything works out peachy, well that's not actually what I am ascribing to you. As the following sentence makes clear: "The SNP hasn't even got a back-of-a-fag-packet idea of how to get anywhere near that outcome"

I'll do you the favour of assuming you weren't deliberately trying to put words in my (figurative) mouth.

I'm not sure how any of this advances your argument beyond the 'When I win the lottery' stage of solidity, but there we have it in a nutshell. Sturgeon is a post-reality politician who doesn't care who she cons, or with what lies, as long as she gets her sole political objective achieved.

She speaks to the romantic streak in the Scots psyche, which responds with misty-eyed longing, and is largely blind to the practicalities. Salmond did exactly the same thing in 2014, and - as I will repeat again and again - if Scotland had followed the pished piper, he would have led them over a cliff to ruin so complete that I doubt even the IMF would have rushed to help.

ejh said...

"The romantic streak in the Scots psyche"

Think we probably ought to stop there, shouldn't we?

Anonymous said...

You're obviously expressing disapproval, but I can't see why.

For perspective, this whole subject interests me (perhaps over-passsionately at times, but hey ho) precisely because I'm half-Scottish, and have a large contingent of Scots relatives, who live in Scotland, with whom I am in fairly close contact. If Scotland attained independence, I would move there in a heartbeat (and I'd pass the SNP's 'Scots descent' test, which is arguably as close to 'blood and soil' nationalism as makes no difference).

There's a romantic streak a mile wide in a lot of Scots and in fact a lot of Scottish nationalism is chiefly recognisable by this trait - e.g., the bombing of mailboxes that don't say "Elizabeth I" or the theft of the Stone of Destiny.

I would like to clarify: I perceive absolutely nothing wrong or undesirable about having a romantic streak in the national psyche. Just about every western nation has something analogous. In fact, arguably, you can't have a cohesive nation without a shared sense of purpose or historical narrative.

jim mclean said...

Apart from simple facts such as the largest urban Scots population is in London we must accept small nations are an irrelevance. In fact they are worthy of hate if you can be bothered worrying about them at all, the only thing that allows me to sleep is that the guy carrying the Nuke codes is entitled to blow Donald's brains out