Nicola Sturgeon’s unlikely success in allowing a Tory Prime Minister to speak for the great Scottish majority – who did not want to kick off another referendum, 30 months after the last one – is unlikely to be looked back on as her finest hour.
She chose the wrong ground to fight on and will not change that by trying to crank up indignation, egged-on by her attention-seeking predecessor. The test here is “reasonableness”. To most Scots, the grounds for refusing another referendum are reasonable while the convoluted case for demanding one carried no such credibility.
Whatever one’s views on independence or Brexit, the idea of a secessionist referendum campaign in parallel with vital negotiations over the whole UK’s future relationship with Europe was unreasonable, cynical and selfish. It was a manoeuvre too far, which drew the widespread response: “Give us peace.”
The fact that Sturgeon and her colleagues could not offer clear answers about what our relationship with Europe might be in her ideal world compounded the impression of a heavily contrived position. Even if she wanted to say: “We must leave the UK in order to stay in the EU”, she had no basis to do so, as the EU itself made clear.
The Scottish Parliament will nonetheless demonstrate its priorities next week by devoting two days to debating a question to which we already know the answer. That is another piece of imagery which should not go unnoticed. When did they last spend two days debating education or the economy, where the subject matter is not a constitutional hypothesis but urgent reality which affects people’s lives and prospects?
It is interesting how nobody bothers to speculate what the result of that now-symbolic Holyrood vote might be. The mini-me Green nationalists are added to a full SNP turn-out and a majority assumed. It is difficult to imagine any other minority government, in a Parliament more conscious of its powers, being allowed to take ascendancy for granted without dissent or compromise.
There are two groups who might usefully reconsider their positions, in search of some intellectual consistency. Obviously, there are the pro-Brexit SNP MSPs who number, according to Alex Neil, at least half a dozen. Are they really going to vote in favour of an early referendum, based on the premise that it is essential for Scotland to remain in the EU?
Mr Neil helpfully articulated this point a few days ago. He asked: “Are we seriously going to tell the fishermen of Scotland that, having come out of the Common Fisheries Policy, we are going to go straight back in?” Alex, I hate to break the news to you, but that is the precise logic of Sturgeon’s EU-centric narrative – unless, of course, it is an even bigger farrago of nonsense than we both suspect.
The pro-Brexit Nats should now feel liberated to square their votes at Holyrood with the logic of their own position – which is not consistent with the demand that, at all costs, we must stay in/rejoin the EU without waiting to see what Brexit yields and regardless of impact on our trading relations with the rest of the much more significant UK.
Then we have the curious case of the Scottish Greens. It seems taken for granted that they will support the Nationalists though this is in breach of their own manifesto position. A new referendum was only to “come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage,” pronounced the saintly Greens.
Their preferred method for the people to manifest their will was for them to “petition” in support of a referendum, which I haven’t noticed. On the contrary, every measure of opinion confirms that “the will of the people” is not to have a second referendum. Can the Greens produce contrary evidence? And if not, why will they underwrite a token majority by surrendering their own integrity?
I had a Twitter exchange this week with a Green MSP whom I respect, Andy Wightman. He said he did not support independence but is a “confederalist”. I pointed out that “confederalism” would not be on the ballot paper the Greens are planning to facilitate. He replied that they were between “a rock and a hard place”. Welcome to politics, Andy – and better to choose the hard place!
One thing I thought I knew about global Green politics is that they are in favour of breaking down borders. The Scottish Greens must have a special dispensation if they plan to vote for a referendum whose sponsors are hell-bent on creating a border where none at present exists. What’s Green about that?
I noticed again that Sturgeon’s only answer to the border question was by reference to Ireland which confirms how shallow her politics are. She really seems to think there is no “border” within Ireland. The reality is more subtle. To avoid border posts which would be blown up, the mechanics of the border are removed to ports of entry to the island, which will happen to a far greater extent post-Brexit.
The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, explained this week how sophisticated and expensive technology will be used to monitor traffic and goods as they cross, post-Brexit, between the two parts of Ireland, to avoid the need for physical border posts. That is not an option available to Scotland, even if it was desirable.
Rather, I commend to Sturgeon and the Greens the words of a distinguished writer, Eoin McNamee, in the Irish Times this week: “There’s talk of an electronic border. It’s a dystopian sleight of hand, a futurist non-solution introducing new paranoias into a place that has had enough of them….” Is that what we want to create for ourselves?
Within our own small island, we have no borders but there are those who are obsessed with setting in motion the politics that would create them. They will not give up but, for the sake of the next few years, thank goodness the Four Day War is over.