Sunday 30 October 2022

I praise of boring

 It is time things were a bit more boring. 

Since the beginning of 2015, British politics have been a state of some chaos. We have had a referendum, three General Elections, five Prime Ministers and no less than eight Chancellors of the Exchequer.  Oh, and we have also had a pandemic. And a proper war in Europe. 

And through quite a lot of that time people have been worried. Not always the same people. In the run up to the Referendum people worried they might lose their right to live in the UK. Then others worried that such was the state of the Tory Party, Jeremy Corbyn might become Prime Minister with all that would mean for our Jewish population. Then they worried that leaving the EU with no sort of deal at all would wreck the economy. Then they worried they were going to die or, even if they survived, they would lose their livelihoods as a result of lockdown. Then. just as they'd started to worry about the cost of living, they were distracted by worrying about the possible collapse of their pension fund. Then, when that latter threat receded, they went back to worrying about the cost of living, not least whether they could afford to heat their homes through the Winter ahead. And then finally, to top it all, they found themselves worrying that there might be a nuclear war. 

So boring, for a while, would be good. And, despite his ludicrous false first step over Braverman. I think Sunak will, in a good way, be quite boring. And Sir Keir will bore back, promising a Labour alternative that can also be trusted to be reassuringly boring. Now, while I'm for that Labour Government as soon as possible, I'm realistic enough to think the Tories would be mad to go the Country before the Autumn of 2024. The problem for the Tories then is, just as John Major, our last boring but competent Prime Minister. could never quite get over Black Wednesday, I suspect Rishi will never get over the 44 days of Truss. A Party daft enough to do that once could not be trusted never to do so again, at least until a respectable period of time had passed. 

Anyway, I don't normally write about UK politics and I'm not really writing about that here. For there has been another aspect to the chaos of the last seven years that has caused some fear. That, such was the state of UK politics, a crucial number of middle ground voters might conclude that an Independent Scotland could hardly be worse. Now my point here is not to knock that belief down but rather to acknowledge its existence as a concern. 

The SNP leadership were sufficiently realistic to accept in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum that they couldn't immediately credibly demand another go. But a fair number of their rank and file were not. The Women for Independence group was not wound up for a single day, nor were any number of "Yes" Groups throughout the Country. The All Under One Banner organisation, charged with demanding a re-run referendum was actually set up in October 2014!

Now to square this circle, Sturgeon's 2016 Holyrood Manifesto found a form of words. A SNP run Scottish Government would not seek a second referendum unless there was a material change in circumstance, such as a vote to leave the EU in the then forthcoming EU Referendum.

This was an easy pledge to make. It bought off the marchers with the illusion of a possible second referendum yet, in May 2016, proceeded on the assumption that there was not the remotest prospect we would actually vote to leave the EU. Everybody in the SNP could be happy. Insofar as they are ever happy.

And yet we did then vote to leave the EU. And Sturgeon had hung herself on a hook she has been wriggling on ever since.

However, she has been helped by wider events. If it was inconceivable that we would leave the EU; inconceivable that Jeremy Corbyn might nearly become Prime Minister; inconceivable that Boris Johnson would actually become Prime Minister, let alone Liz Truss, and yet all these things happened, why then was it so inconceivable that there be a second independence referendum within ten years of the first? 

The answer to that question now is boring. Because the answer to that question is boring. 

We are now set for an attritional two years of UK politics. Labour will argue the coming austerity is because the Tories have mismanaged the economy. The Tories will argue that they have learned from their own mistakes and that a Labour Government inevitably means more tax (heavy emphasis) and spend(thrifery).  

The point is that nationalist politics will be irrelevant to this, For the age of chaos is over. When the Supreme Court delivers its inevitable ruling next month, any lingering mirage of a referendum next October will disappear. And, given that, we are then left with either the option of a second s.30 consent (inconceivable from UK Governments of either stripe) or a de facto referendum when the UK goes to the polls in 2024. "It doesn't matter to us if it is a Labour or Tory Government, we are voting in a de facto referendum instead," Good luck with that SNP. No. I really mean that.

This has been an odd period in Scottish politics. But it is about to be bored to death. 


Sunday 9 October 2022

No more worlds to conquer

 There is a famous quote referring to the final campaign of Alexander the Great "And Alexander wept, for he had no more worlds to conquer". I have always assumed this had some classical, or at least renaissance, origin but, having researched its source for this blog, it appears to have originated, at least in its now accepted form, with Alan Rickman playing the baddie in the Hollywood blockbuster Die Hard!!

But of course Alexander, having won Afghanistan did have more worlds he could have tried to conquer but, in truth, his army, having looked at the formidable task of invading India concluded it was beyond even them and mutinied. Alexander had no choice but to withdraw. A couple of years later he was deid. At the grand old age of 32.

So, interesting though this is, what relevance does it have to the matter I usually write about, Scottish politics?

This weekend the SNP are meeting in Conference in Aberdeen, their first in person Conference for three years. This is supposedly because of Coronavirus but that did not stop the other Parties having in person events last year.

As you look on from afar, you can see why they were so keen to avoid such a gathering, for the whole thing has a distinct fin-de-siecle feel to it. 

Since 2006 the SNP have been a Party moving forward. They were either anticipating winning elections or celebrating having done so. Sure, there has been the occasional setback but none fatal, all of the momentum was with them. But they have now reached the end of the road. And postponing conferences has now run out of mileage as well.

I kind of anticipated more tub thumping about their prospects in the Supreme Court, at least as red meat for their rank and file. Instead however they seemed strangely resigned to losing there and acutely aware that the lunatic tactic of a self declared de facto referendum delivers nothing if they, exceptionally improbably, win and disaster if, overwhelmingly likely, they lose. "You'll have had your second referendum" will be the unanimous declaration of the opposition.

And then there is the prospect of a Labour Government. It is noticeable that the Nats biggest reverse since 2006 was in 2010, when Labour looked that they might win and had a credible candidate for  Prime Minister. The last time since then it turns out.  

Come (most likely) 2024, that will not be the case. Now, the Nats can try and sit this General Election  out, declaring they have no interest in whether Labour or the Tories win, that they are engaged, instead, in a de facto Referendum but I suspect the Scottish electorate will not share that view.  And any but idiots in their leadership have surely worked that out. And to be fair, at a leadership level, they have a good number of people who are not idiots.

So, I suspect they will have to find a way of getting themselves off the hook Sturgeon, it appears almost unilaterally, has hung them on. Watching that will prove entertaining, not least as it will force them to spell out expressly whether they might vote with the Tories to bring down a Labour Government. A call which, if it entails doing that without a second referendum, has the potential to cause an actual split. When Brown told the SNP Conference that for Nationalists there was nothing to choose between a Labour or Tory Government, while most people thought "Whit!" he had a ready audience in the hall. 

Except if not the de facto referendum, then what? There has never been much doubt that Holyrood could not call a unilateral referendum but within six weeks or so the Supreme Court will settle that conclusively. Beyond that neither Labour or the Tories will grant them a s.30, so, to quote not Alan Rickman this time but Roy Orbison, "It's over".

And I wonder if the cleverest of all the Nats doesn't know that better than anybody. As First Minister she has won every election she has fought. Interestingly, despite what people might think on Twitter, according to polling in today's Scotland on Sunday, virtually no other SNP politician has even 10% name recognition. If she was to go after the anticipated Supreme Court reverse she would depart, electorally, undefeated and avoid the potential of having to go after a significant reverse at the next General Election. That surely has to be tempting prospect. 

Alexander was forced to retreat by the mutiny of his army. I wonder if the Yes army might be forced to retreat by the mutiny of its general?