Were I given to using hackneyed terms such as “double-whammy” I might apply it to Theresa May’s predicament. She overestimates her own capacities by a very considerable margin, whilst massively underestimating the strength of Nicola Sturgeon’s position. The result is a disconnect between what she supposes to be the situation and the reality which borders on delusion.
The notion is being peddled that May has has given an undertaking that “the UK would not trigger Article 50, the formal process of leaving the EU, until there was a deal that would satisfy Scotland and the other devolved administrations”. But this cannot be the case. Because negotiations on a Brexit deal cannot even begin until Article 50 has been invoked. And formal trade negotiations cannot commence until the UK is formally an ex-member of the EU. So what “deal” could the UK Government possibly be using in an effort to get the Scottish Government on board?
The answer lies in what May actually said. She did not refer to a “deal”, implying a legal and constitutional settlement with the EU, but to “a UK approach and objectives”, meaning a common negotiating position agreed by both the UK and Scottish Governments. (For simplicity, I’m leaving out the other devolved administrations. Which should not be taken as minimising their importance in all of this.)
How might that be possible, given that the objectives of the two governments are definitively incompatible? The Scottish Government’s “approach” is that the democratic will of the people of Scotland must be respected; and its “objective” is, therefore, to ensure that Scotland remains part of the EU. The UK Government’s “approach” is that the democratic will of the people of Scotland is irrelevant; and its “objective” is to ensure that Scotland ceases to be part of the EU. There simply is no way that these opposing approaches and objectives can be reconciled. There can be no common negotiating position. The positions of the two governments are intractably opposed.
So, is Theresa May talking pure pish? Or, in the language of politics, is she indulging in empty rhetoric? It might be tempting to think so. It would be easy to dismiss all of this as vacuous posturing. But we should be wary of the deviousness under the surface of May’s superficially conciliatory and respectful tone.
Failing yet again to avoid those hackneyed terms, I would advise that Theresa May speaks with a forked tongue. Quite literally, in that there are two strands to her strategy. On the one hand, she is preparing the ground so that the Scottish Government can be blamed should she fail to invoke Article 50. And make no mistake, the British political establishment is frantically looking for ways to avoid implementing that Leave vote. They just don’t want to face the backlash from voters in England. For all manner of reasons, it would be expedient if they could have that anger directed at Scotland. As ever, the consequences for people in both countries is not a consideration. The imperative is to preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. If this involves engendering social division and conflict… well… divide and rule!
The second strand of May’s strategy is, if you’ll forgive yet another of those tired clichés, her “plan B”. If Article 50 is invoked, she wants to have the Scottish Government – or, more precisely, the SNP – fully implicated in the ensuing thing for which there is as yet no name in all the lexicon of politics and diplomacy. Let’s just say, it won’t be pretty. And if the British state can ensure that some of the ugliness rubs off on the hated SNP, that might be the only prize they take from the whole sorry mess.
May has also totally misread the situation in relation to a second independence referendum. She arrogantly proclaims that “the Scottish people had their vote”, as if hers was the final word on the matter. and this time we can be sure that she is talking pish. The political reality is that there is no way #indyref2 can be avoided; and no way that May can prevent it. If she imagines that she can, against the will of Scotland’s people, then she is seriously overestimating her power. And if she supposes Nicola Sturgeon might be deterred by denial of a Section 30 order, then she is fatally underestimating Scotland’s First Minister.
When confronted with a stern-faced Theresa May dictating that there will be no second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon need only smile and say, “We’ll see!”.Views: 6846
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