Advantage Sturgeon

There are several flaws in the analysis at which suggests that “Theresa May will be tough for Nicola Sturgeon to deal with”. For a start, there’s a rather flattering tribute to Theresa May and an assessment of Nicola Sturgeon which fails to take adequate account of her personal popularity in Scotland, or the formidable campaigning machine at her disposal. A machine which, in the context of the independence campaign, is augmented by other Scottish parties and a massive grass-roots movement. That combination took support for independence from around 25% to 45% in only two years and against one of the most intense and unprincipled propaganda campaign ever mounted by the British state in peacetime. It would be a mistake to discount its power. Especially given that there is unlikely to be the same collusion amongst the forces of unionism as we saw with Better Together.

We are offered, also, a view of Ruth Davidson that is very evidently from a London perspective. The reality, visible to those of us who are actually in touch with politics in Scotland, is that Davidson is something of a figure of fun. She did not so much raise the “Scottish” Tories up in the last Holyrood election, as prevent them declining significantly while British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) plummeted. There is no Tory revival north of the border. If there were, then Davidson would not have felt the need to be quite so conscientious about keeping the words “Tory” and “Conservative” off their election literature.

Rather than a Tory revival, what we saw in the Scottish Parliament election was a coalescing of the hard-line unionist vote around a figure, Davidson, whose campaign was little more than a jingoistic appeal to British nationalist fanaticism designed to lure away from BLiS the element which marches under a banner bearing the legend “THE UNION AT ANY COST”.

Davidson, like BLiS “leader” Kezia Dugdale, is not a real leader of a real party. Neither can formulate policy independently of the British parties they are part of. Both will do as they are told by their head offices in London. Which explains Davidson’s vacillation on the matter of a second independence referendum as she tried to align her views with whoever looked likely to be her new boss at any given point in the debacle following the EU referendum.

And let us not forget that, like every party in Holyrood, Davidson and her Tories campaigned explicitly for Remain. As she now does yet another U-turn to follow May down the Brexit route, whatever remained of her credibility will be lost.
The point of all this is that there is no realistic possibility of an effective anti-independence effort in Scotland when the campaign resumes in earnest. BLiS lies in ruins. They would not be effective as a front for the Tories again even if they were stupid enough to repeat that calamitous mistake. And the Tories alone lack the resources, even if they weren’t still a toxic brand.

Davidson is going to be little help to May as she strive to keep Scotland mired in an anachronistic and dysfunctional political union. And May will have problems enough dealing with the matter of extricating the UK from the EU.

The most serious flaw in the analysis is the failure to recognise the sheer impossibility of the task that confronts May. There is an arrogant assumption on the part of many British politicians and commentators that the UK is going to walk away from its EU membership with a sweet deal. This is pure fantasy. Once Article 50 is invoked, May faces two years of being told “No” at every turn. During the negotiations she faces being sniped at from all sides by both pro- and anti-EU forces – with no possibility of satisfying either, never mind both.

At the end of the negotiations, May will have to put her deal before MPs, the vast majority of whom don’t want to leave the EU at all, with the remainder wanting the magic cake solution of leaving whilst retaining all the advantages of membership. There is simply no way to appease these factions. Not even if she actually got the deal of her dreams.

Bear in mind to that this is only the start of her travails. She has to deliver on the promises made by the Leave campaign, not only in terms of the constitutional settlement with the EU but also in relation to all the wondrous new trade deals we were assured would leave us spoilt for choice after Brexit. Officially, at least, work on figuring out the new trading arrangements cannot even begin until the UK is formally and ex-member of the EU. And the only certainty in what will ensue is that the core promise of the Leave campaign – privileged access to the single market without adherence to rules on freedom of movement – will not be on the table.

With all of this, May is going to have a hard time finding any resources to deploy against Scotland’s independence movement. She has said that she wants the Scottish Government to be “fully involved” in the Brexit negotiations. By which she means she wants the SNP to be fully implicated in an outcome which can hardly be anything other than universally denounced as disastrous. When Nicola Sturgeon says that the deal is unacceptable to Scotland, May wants to be able to retort – with at least superficial plausibility – that it is a deal Sturgeon helped negotiate. If May supposes the First Minister is about to walk into that trap, she is naive beyond belief.

Sturgeon has a complex path to tread. Of that there is no doubt. She cannot be seen by EU leaders to be openly using Brexit as a means to further the cause of independence. But there are more than enough ways that this can be done without offending the more delicate European sensitivities. She has to show willing to cooperate with the UK Government is exploring solutions. But that’s just her day job. And, compared to the intractable problems facing May, Sturgeon’s job looks like a stroll in the park.

Sturgeon has something that May can never have – the backing of the people.

There will be another independence referendum. There is no credible scenario in which this doesn’t happen. May will not formally block a referendum, not least because she will be aware that the Scottish Government will just go ahead with it anyway, leaving her looking weak and ineffectual.

That referendum will, of necessity, be held before negotiations between the UK the EU are finalised – September 2018 at the latest. By which time it will be clearly evident to all but the most fanatical British nationalists that remaining part of the UK is not a viable option for Scotland. Scotland will, basically, inherit UK membership of the EU to be “Independent in Europe” by 2020.

The structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state will be broken and discredited – with massive implications for politics in England. But that’s another matter.

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7 thoughts on “Advantage Sturgeon

  1. Graham

    “There is an arrogant assumption on the part of many British politicians and commentators that the UK is going to walk away from its EU membership with a sweet deal.”

    Davie Cameron already negotiated the best deal Westminster was ever going to get from the EU and it was rejected by the English electorate.

    After A50 there will be no further deals.
    Westminster has played its hand and is about to find out Brussels is holding all the aces.

  2. Kiereann MacGhillieMhoire

    free proofreading service:

    please edit “formally and ex-member” to “formally an ex-member”

  3. Wilma Hughes

    Peter, I agree with your assessment of the situation. However, we would need to have our indyref well before Sept 18. We will have lengthy negotiations of our own with rUK to divide the assets post indy vote. I do feel, very strongly though, that the day our indy Yes vote is announced, should be our official independence date. Otherwise, rUK can delay and delay until we are too late for EU deadline. What do you think?

  4. alasdairB

    The First Minister holds all the aces in negotiations ; now it’s just the timing .

    Brexit & invoking Article 50 seems likely to be in the first quarter of 2017. If Theresa May is true to her word then ScotGov will have been fully consulted ; and in the ensuing UK submission to the EU we will be looking to obtain successor membership for Scotland under Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is a valid & viable route and much less onerous than leaving & then reapplying under Article 49 as a new member.

    In order to be given any consideration under Article 48 Scotland would require to be either Independent or on the road to Independence. This would indicate an early #indyref vote , June 17 preferred , and either with or without a Section 30 agreement by Westminster.

    Without Section 30 the #indyref vote would be advisory & if a Yes result is rejected by Westminster then ScotGov could simply play hardball on any EU-UK exit agreement by delaying or withholding approval on all matters relating to the EU currently written into Scots law.

    However it would be preferable to have Section 30 Westminster approval & to obtain this it might be expediant to come to some short term arrangement on hosting the current Vanguard Trident subs until the end of their useful life of around 2030; but not the proposed Successor . As in most things in international affairs there’s invariably some form of quid quo pro and if this was material to our overriding need for #indy then this may be a significant concession. Otherwise it’s hardball again & it’s take your subs & nuclear weapons from Scottish waters.

    Having negotiated at this level for a number of years it was invariably the pro-active hardball approach which produced the desired results. Oft times you don’t make friends
    but then that’s not the name of the game when you’re leading a delegation & a country expects.

  5. schrodingers cat

    good piece peter
    i disagree on a few points

    the negotiations between holyrood and westminster before the A50 button is pushed, … im not sure this isnt just window dressing, as while each party may have different wishes and objectives, eg, WM may not want a separate deal for scotland and may believe that it isnt possible anyway, the most important point in this arguement is whether the EU is open to such an idea, and no one can say for sure what the EU will say until the brexit button is pushed.!

    I maintain that we will know exactly what scotlands and the uks position will be within minutes of the brexit button being pressed, ie an official announcement from the eu
    “any attempt to impose any restriction of free movement of people will mean immediate erection of tariff barriers”
    “scotland will be treated as part of UK, however, if scotland is independent then access to the EU will continue”

    at that point, the pretense of nicola getting some kind of deal will evaporate, indyref2 will be announced, holyrood will take no further part in wm =eu negotiations

  6. ben madigan

    interesting article – scottish and n. irish unionists will have to opt for 1 or other union, PM May’s enigmatic statement after her meeting with Ms Sturgeon gives rise to several questions, and the threat of deporting EU nationals (who maybe scots with irish passports) is ever present.

    What a mess for the UK – I don’t see it brexiting in one piece!!

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