Wednesday 14 October 2020

The Tory Uses of Scottish Nationalism

In ordinary times, the latest poll on Scottish independence from Ipsos MORI would have sent shock rippling through the Westminster body politic. 58% say yes, and 42% no - the highest support ever recorded for separation. It's not difficult to understand how. As with Brexit, so with Coronavirus, the Tories in London have treated Scotland and Wales with contempt. And while Scotland's record with the disease under the SNP have a less than stellar record, Nicola Sturgeon has proven more adroit than Boris Johnson in the handling of the crisis. For one, you don't get the impression she's chill with sacrificing people for rent payments. Under these circumstances, and with Labour nowhere in Scotland why would anyone want to stay shackled to England and its awful, self-destructive habit of voting in the Tories?

This isn't about for or against independence, but rather how the Tories might play the issue. We know one a key factor that sunk Ed Miliband in 2015 was Dave's success in associating Labour with the SNP and Alex Salmond. As an infamous tweet had it, the choice was stability and strong government with the Tories, or chaos with Ed Miliband. The, we were led to believe, was thanks to an inevitable Labour-led government propped up by an independence-at-any-cost SNP, as opposed to the painful mess and pile of bodies we actually got. It worked, though. Alongside media-confected horseshit about Labour's leader, on the doors the idea the SNP were going to scrap nuclear weapons and head off on their merry way cut through. Never mind how Labour literally burned its electoral support and organisation to keep Scotland in the union in 2014.

Fast forward to Tory strategy in the 2020s and, unfortunately, we're about to see a rinse and repeat. With Brexit on its last legs, the Tories are casting around for a substitute capable of gluing their coalition together. Culture war, raving about trans rights, and declaring war on universities are all runners and riders. Not there's a competition. All these and more are getting purporsed in the central office war room for lobbing at Keir Starmer's front bench, but none of them, either by themselves or in conjunction with others, are enough to replace Brexit as the great divider.

The prospect of Scottish independence, however, is.

Nothing would suit the Tories more than shaping politics as defenders of the UK versus the evil Sturgeon, which means banging the drum for SNP sponging off the English taxpayer, and how Labour will happily throw down the red carpet for separatist demands should Keir enter Number 10. Helping matters from the Tory point of view is the behaviour of the Welsh Government. Having taken the crisis more seriously and proven more effective than either London or Edinburgh, its threat to deploy plod to intercept cross-border traffic from disease-blasted England is sensible from an epidemiological standpoint, but politically it's grist waiting to be used by the Tories for their nationalist mill.

Might it work? We saw last year how Tory members were prepared to see the union sacrificed (as well as their own party) if it meant saving their precious Brexit. Refusing Scotland a constitutional referendum, which Labour is more likely to concede, sets up a polarising dynamic ahead of the next election. To this all the problems of Brexit can be reduced to unpatriotic parties working to break up the UK, and everything else - like the Tories' awful handling of Coronavirus and the multiplying problems around housing, crap wages, unemployment, rising hate crime, and crumbling public services - can get smothered by a Union Jack-branded fire blanket.

Forewarned is forearmed, so they say. Labour and the wider labour movement know how the Tories have played old people's identity politics for the last five years, and rode the dynamics back into office on three occasions. There is a realisation out there the party has to come up with counters to Tory strategy, but so far, so little sign. One thing's for sure. Pinning one's hopes on managerialism and "competence" won't cut it, and is about the worst way of approaching polarised politics when one side is cohered by narrow nationalism.

Image Credit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cue all the 'centrists' decrying the evils of (Scottish, Welsh, and Irish) nationalism while wrapping themselves in the 'butcher's apron' and dutifully genuflecting before Great British 'patriotism' (because that's so "progressive" and "internationalist"!).