The new terms of the debate

Yesterday’s events in the House of Commons signalled something significant in British politics. It marked the breakdown of trust between Parliament and the Government that the Government will obey the law and act in an honourable and honest manner. Now you might think that you’ve never trusted the British Government, and you’d certainly not be the only one – especially in Scotland – but in this dysfunction that we call the British state, the collection of precedents, customs, habits, and laws which together pass for a British constitution can only work when both sides in Parliament trust that the precedents, customs, and habits will be adhered to. That has ceased to happen.

What we have in the UK is not a proper constitution, we have instead a gentleman’s agreement that was forged in the gentleman’s clubs and public schools of the 19th century. It was all very hail fellow well met. As long as you were the right sort of fellow. Originally confined to those deemed acceptable company at the dinner table in an upper class household, the British state proved itself to be very good at accommodating those who sought to challenge it, coopting them and absorbing them. The Labour party started as a movement aiming to undermine the pillars of the British establishment and ended up as one of the strongest pillars. However this could only work as long as everyone in the British establishment abided by these unwritten rules of fair play, decency, and honour. It could only work as long as everyone involved acted as a gentleman or woman.

The problem is that we now have a government of talentless opportunists, shysters, chancers, liars, and cheats. Boris Johnson may have the vowels of a gentlemen but he has the bowels of a bastard. This is a government which cannot be trusted to obey the law. It’s a government whose word cannot be trusted, as the DUP have discovered to their cost. Scottish Unionists beware, your unionism counts for nothing. Your loyalty is that of a faithful dog who finds itself abandoned by the side of a canal.

You cannot make a deal with a government which will betray you the second that it believes it’s in its interests to do so. Yesterday MPs were being asked to approve the Government’s Brexit deal even though this Government of the untrustworthy was refusing to allow MPs to see the details of its deal. At the same time the Government was refusing point blank to publish its economic assessments of the impact of its deal. MPs were being asked to buy a house without being allowed to see it, without being allowed to so much as glance at a home report, without being allowed to know whether its foundations were sound, without being allowed to know whether it would provide adequate shelter. Then Michael Gove declared that democracy is precious. It’s so precious that he wants to keep it locked away in the dark.

Had this deal been approved yesterday, the Benn Act would have had no effect. A deal would have been agreed by Parliament and so the conditions of the Benn Act would have been fulfilled. There would then be nothing to prevent the Brextremists of the ERG from refusing to pass the enabling legislation, ensuring that the UK falls out of the EU on 31 October without a deal. Don’t you think it’s at all suspicious that those MPs who were so vehement in the opposition to Theresa May’s deal are now lined up behind a deal that is universally agreed to be worse? A deal, moreover, which is rejected by the überunionists of the DUP whom the ERG had sworn to defend. The reason is because they knew that if the Commons had agreed to the principle of the deal yesterday, then they could wreck the details and ensure that there was no deal left by 31 October. Then there would be a no-deal Brexit by default.

Had the ERG not succeeded with its wrecking attempts between now and 31 October, they would have plenty more chances between now and 2020. That’s the date by which a final trade deal is supposed to be agreed between the UK and the EU. No agreement, and we’re back to a no deal Brexit. The ERG agreed to back the Prime Minister because they knew that it gave them plenty of opportunities to get the no-deal that they crave, and because they knew that backing it meant removing the chances of the opposition parties to block it.

Any party and MP who had agreed to the principle of the deal yesterday would have been complicit in turning the entire UK into a hostage of the Brextremists. Yesterday MPs decided that they couldn’t trust the untrustworthy, and voted not to approve it until they’ve had a chance to scrutinise the withdrawal legislation. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, not by handing a blank cheque to a known liar.

The lesson from the events of the past couple of weeks is a lesson for those who still call themselves Unionists. It’s a lesson for those in Scotland who still cling to the belief that the British state is a union. It’s not. The UK is a union of nations in name only. It is a unitary state with devolved decorations. Yet worse than that it’s a unitary state which lacks the proper constitutional checks and balances to ensure that the executive branch of government can be held to account. It’s a unitary state which persists in using a deeply unfair and unrepresentative system of elections which means that a government can achieve an absolute majority on as little as one third of the popular vote.

This is a unitary state which does not respect Scotland, because it doesn’t regard Scotland as a partner, but as a possession. Possessions are not given choices. Possessions are not consulted. Scotland is just a puppet in the pageant of Britishness, serving to disguise the nationalism of British nationalists from themselves. As soon as it no longer serves, it will be discarded, locked away, silenced and forgotten. A Scottish Unionist does not and cannot negotiate with the British state. They can only beg as supplicants. That’s what Brexit has taught us.

That’s a lesson which remains true even if by some miracle Brexit can be avoided. The UK that Scotland is a part of is not the UK that Scotland was told it was a part of in 2014. It is now highly unlikely that Brexit won’t happen, but the important truth that Brexit has revealed is a truth about the nature of the UK that was hidden from Scotland during the independence referendum of 2014. Scotland isn’t a partner in a family of nations. Scotland doesn’t have a voice or a say. Scotland is only to be respected insofar as it agrees and obeys with the interests of whoever happens to occupy Number 10 Downing Street. All by itself, that is a significant change in material circumstances that justifies an independence referendum. The debate in Scotland in 2014 was a debate about the nature of Scotland. In 2019 the debate in Scotland is a debate about the nature of the United Kingdom.

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36 thoughts on “The new terms of the debate

  1. I wonder how many people are still prepared to punt the idea of the SNP voting to support the Tories in exchange for a Section 30 order after this?

  2. Whatever your opinion of Johnson, his opening statement contained some eloquent and interesting remarks. Particularly this:

    “Many times in the last 30 years, I have heard our European friends remark that this country is half-hearted in its EU membership, and it is true that we in the UK have often been a backmarker—opting out of the single currency, not taking part in Schengen, very often trying to block some collective ambition. In the last three and a half years, it has been striking that Members on all sides of this House have debated Brexit in almost entirely practical terms, in an argument that has focused on the balance of economic risk and advantage. I do not think I can recall a time when I have heard a single Member stand up and call for Britain to play her full part in the political construction of a federal Europe. I do not think I have heard a single Member call for ever closer union, ever deeper integration or a federal destiny—mon pays Europe. Perhaps I missed it, but I do not think I have heard much of it. There is a whole side of the debate that one hears regularly in other European capitals that is simply absent from our national conversation, and I do not think that has changed much in the last 30 years.

    If we have been sceptical, if we have been anxious about the remoteness of the bureaucracy, if we have been dubious about the rhetoric of union and integration, if we have been half-hearted Europeans, it follows logically that with part of our hearts—with half our hearts—we feel something else: a sense of love and respect for European culture and civilisation, of which we are a part; a desire to co-operate with our friends and partners in everything, creatively, artistically, intellectually; a sense of our shared destiny;, and a deep understanding of the eternal need, especially after the horrors of the last century, for Britain to stand as one of the guarantors of peace and democracy in our continent—and it is our continent.​

    It is precisely because we are capable of feeling both things at once—sceptical about the modes of EU integration, as we are, but passionate and enthusiastic about Europe—that the whole experience of the last three and a half years has been so difficult for this country and so divisive. That is why it is now so urgent for us to move on and build a new relationship with our friends in the EU on the basis of a new deal—a deal that can heal the rift in British politics and unite the warring instincts in us all. Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting, with a new way forward and a new and better deal both for Britain and our friends in the EU. That is the advantage of the agreement that we have struck with our friends in the last two days. This deal allows the UK, whole and entire, to leave the EU on 31 October in accordance with the referendum while simultaneously looking forward to a new partnership based on the closest ties of friendship and co-operation.”

    The same observations could be made about Scotland’s relationship with England. I’m sure the irony won’t be lost on him either.

    • He can fairly talk the talk, especially when he has a multitude of advisers keeping him right. No doubt even writing his speeches for him. A spiel from a man who initially supported staying in the EU and then changed his mind at the eleventh hour. Says it all for me.

    • My immediate reaction was recollection of a prior piece of theatre:
      Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives…
      Taggart: God darnit Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

  3. What a good read Paul, all of it true. I think my auld granny would not have been as polite as you, with your descpritions of the chancers etc of the present government. She’d probably classed them as a bunch of hoors and comic singers. Mind you, I reckon that the said hoors and comic singes wold have been more honourable than this bunch.

    So where do we find ourselves now. What fresh hell has appeared before us. Well the said Boris has now sent two letters to Brussels. One with the explicit wording of the Benn Act which remains unsigned, then another telling the EU that we don’t need a further delay, and we will be leaving on the 31st Oct which he did sign. There appears to be a third letter floating about, but I can’t remember who this one if from because, by now I have just about lost the will to live.

    I can’t see that what LBJ has done in anyway complys with the undertakings that were given to the Court of Session. So it looks as if it’s back before their lordships to decide. Quite what LBJ will do about it, who knows, he’ll probably try and dismiss it as the Scottish Courts being irrelevant. I wish they would send him to the Bar L for a wee while and gie the rest of us a wee bit peace.

  4. ”Scotland isn’t a partner in a family of nations. Scotland doesn’t have a voice or a say. Scotland is only to be respected insofar as it agrees and obeys with the interests of whoever happens to occupy Number 10 Downing Street. All by itself, that is a significant change in material circumstances that justifies an independence referendum.”

    Well said Paul. No matter how this Brexit fiasco pans out, remain, leave, whatever type of deal, we’ll be holding Indyref2 next year. Nicola Sturgeon has said so herself. Nicola Sturgeon the only leader left in the UK (other than Plaid Cymru, Wales) that can actually be trusted.

  5. Very well said Paul.
    Brexit may not be the only reason for claiming a significant change in circumstances since 2014 but it has completely exposed the nature of the British state and how it operates.
    Not a pretty sight but the fact that Scotland has been side lined during the whole debacle and our democratically expressed wished ignored is more than enough reason to ask Scots whether they still wish to be a part of this “union” and more importantly run our own affairs as directed by the Scottish electorate and not England’s Tories.

  6. Pingback: The new terms of the debate | speymouth

  7. Good post.

    Of a parliament and system that can’t be trusted, the Conservatives truly top the pile (and I do mean pile). Of a party known for its naked backstabbery, shameless politicking and venality? Well. A few names spring to mind tbh, but Mr Johnson certainly is right up there.

    They aren’t trusted. The institution and the other parties which inhabit its halls aren’t trusted . Their narratives have undermined trust in institutions across the board of civil society. They’ve fractured society across these islands by nationality and demographics within each population.

    In short? The nature and practice of politics in the UK is debased by their own narratives, their own actions and by their own choice.

    So, yes. Yes, you can see why trust in the political class (and Tories in particular), might be in short supply.

    • I had to laugh at those MPs asking Johnson for assurances about this that and the other in the Hof Commons yesterday. This is a guy who would say anything to get what he wants. There is only one person who is a bigger liar and he is the POTUS -Trump.

  8. Excellent and timely point, now go have some R&R…
    Much though the Scottish imperative remains departure from this connivance, we are witnessing the abuse of the nation for the benefit of the few (who largely control our media and thereby political attitudes), but you have to ask the question re London, not England, what is it about the Finance Act 2019 so terrifies the British public ? Ans = Zero, Mafia=Evacuation of bowels…
    We need have no fear that Independence is a tsunami, and for all those slagging off SG/SNP’s cautious approach eeking to limit England’s self harm, you do not lightly diss the “rich” and powerful “partner” when seeking a divorce….
    We are almost there, but let’s not fall for the diversionary tactics yet again, now is our time !

  9. Seems that the EU can’t refuse an extension. Looks as though this could go on forever, lol.

    “It is a democratic decision which the EU must respect, for else it would be expelling a Member State against its own sovereign and democratic will. Art 50 does not allow this, as the ECJ confirmed in Wightman. The European Council may determine the length of the extension, and impose certain conditions, in agreement with the United Kingdom. But it cannot refuse this extension.“

  10. The majority of MPs don’t want Brexit. Sadly they cannot be honest enough to revoke article 50. They would rather vote fir an absolutely terrible deal just so they can say they did Brexit. So sad so cowardly. The leavers don’t want it the remainers don’t want it yet they persist on this ridiculous strategy. Fools and cowards the lot of them. It would serve em right if the EU gave em the ultimatum – no extension. If they understood that there was no more road left the can would be picked up and Brexit revoked quicker than you can blink.

  11. “It is better to be the enemy of the British Empire than a friend, They will always betray a friend to gain advantage with an enemy”

    The DUP re-discovered the reality of this on Saturday.

  12. Picking up on Gove’s ‘respecting democracy’ mantra, probably the brexiteer’s favourite.

    I am sick to the back teeth of hearing this repeatedly in the media and going completely unchallenged by the interviewer.

    Nearly two years ago, research at a prestigious university found that over a hundred constituencies had switched from leave to remain, resulting in a majority of constituences now being remain. Democracy?

    This research was backed up by a prestigious independent data analysis group last year which found that even Bojo’s own constituency had switched from leave to remain. Democracy?

    The poll of tracker polls for ongoing EU referendum polling intention has shown that remain has lead over leave for the past two years. Democracy?

    Does anyone, even the evil disaster capitalists who stand to gain from the collapse of the British economy, genuinely believe that they would have won in 2016 if the options were remain and leave under WTO rules with no deal? Democracy?

    And they refuse a second EU ref to find out if all those indicators might be correct. Is that respecting democracy?

    They are the democracy deniers.

    • No argument about that at all, but I’d go further.
      Nothing about what culminated in this Brexit farce was ever about democracy, from Johnson’s straight bananas all the way to Gove’s meaningless platitudes, it has been a coup by the rich and powerful to preserve their power and financial advantage by the tried and tested “it was them, over there” diversionary tactic. Democracy died with Rupert Murdoch’s arrival, now “domocracy” is but a term to be abused, a justification to burst into a chorus of “Jingo Bells” with Paul Dacre et al conducting the electorate.
      It has been painful to watch this propaganda build and take root over 40 odd years from near and far, most notable by the absence of challenge by our elected politicians who saw the EU as the sacrificial goat for their years of mismanagement.
      Most of the Scots, Welsh, Irish and northern England may have wakened from the hypnotic state, but any expectation “management” will respect THAT version of democracy is as unlikely as the current PM and his coterie being “honourable” and telling the truth.

  13. In order to ensure that the mendacious chancers,which pass as the present UK government,do what they say they will do everything has to be legally nailed down.
    These people rely on “interpretation” of the law to avoid having to comply with parliamentary decisions that they don’t like.
    The UK needs a written constitution but it will never happen until a seismic political event occurs which forces them to.
    In my view only Scottish independence will accomplish that.
    Everything else will simply allow them to pretend that the present system works fine and there is no need for change.

  14. “Then Michael Gove declared that democracy is precious. It’s so precious that he wants to keep it locked away in the dark.”

    I’ve just finished one of my regular re-readings of good books. In this case The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I understand it is the subject of a TV adaptation which I can’t watch since I don’t have a TV.

    But the point is that the library in the monastery is run like that. Only the librarian or his assistant are allowed in it, it’s a labyrinth with psychedelic vapours, moaning air vents and distorting mirrors to scare the medieval mind out of it’s wits should an over curious monk sneak in.

    They have to ask for books and can be refused or referred to the Abbot for approval.

    The book is a long plea for information to be free and the consequences when it isn’t disguised as a whodunnit (William of Baskerville!).

    Gove is Berengar, the assistant librarian, a poor deluded fool.

  15. The logical solution to most of the problems created by Brexit is for the UK to stay in the EEA customs union.
    The Brexiteers won’t want this because it stymies their main objective of deregulation of the UK economy and would still leave them subject to the European courts.
    They don’t like the term “subject” unless they are the ones doing the subjugating.
    Also it would make Scottish independence easier because there would be no hard border between Scotland and England.
    However,can’t see any other way out of their present mess.

  16. Any border. Scotland could gain £Billions Lose nothing. Gain £Billions through EU/UK trade. International trade ports. Shetland based East/West worldwide. Already plans being put in place.

    Prestonpans a trade centre. Ferries. EU trade on the Clyde. EU trade going through Scotland. An Internationsl trade centre.

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