In news you may have missed, what with the revelation that the Conservatives have been responsible for leading the UK to the top of the European coronavirus death league, the Tories have also decided to reward their victory in the General Election with giving themselves extra seats on the influential Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, a committee which they now dominate in exactly the same way that they dominate the political landscape of Scotland. Oh. Wait.
They didn’t win the General Election in Scotland. In Scotland the voters gazed upon the Conservative party in its Brexity Borisoid incarnation and decided that they didn’t like what they saw. Which is, to be fair, the only conclusion any normal human being can draw when confronted with the sight of Stephen Kerr. The Tories in Scotland were rewarded with the loss of over half their seats, losing seven MPs out of the 13 they had before the election and being left with just six.
Any normal political party would have reacted to a defeat of that magnitude by taking a bit of time to reflect upon what went wrong and trying to find ways of restoring the trust of the voters. Because when a political party loses the trust of the electorate, it’s the fault of the political party and not the fault of the voters, unless of course that political organisation is the branch office of the Labour party in Scotland. This is Scotland, and in Scotland we don’t have normalcy. We have the British state. Now have some VE Day cake, sing a Vera Lynn song, and consider yourself blessed as you contemplate the death toll from the virus and wait to die in lockstep in order to preserve the integrity of the UK.
Naturally this means that the fault for the Labour party in Scotland falling so precipitously from its previous dominance in Scottish politics belongs to the voters for listening to that vile Essempee. All Labour needs to do to return to its former state of grace is to keep doing what it was always doing, but to do it with more unionjackery. The Conservatives have clearly looked upon the experience of the Labour party in Scotland and thought to themselves, haud ma coat, it’s got a union flag badge on it. Labour was at least forced to acknowledge that it had lost, the Conservatives in Scotland still believe that they’re full of win.
The new composition of the Scottish Affairs Committee is five Conservative MPs, up one from previously, two Labour (down one), with three SNP and one Lib Dem making up the remainder. That’s how British nationalism works, the politicians who espouse it are rewarded for failure. The Tories know better than mere hairy legged Caledonian natives what’s really best for Scotland, and that’s Brexit, Boris, and the red white and blue balloons at a VE Day. Which is probably as good a description of the remaining British nationalist MPs in Scotland as you’re going to get.
Despite the fact that the SNP has over five times as many MPs representing Scottish Constituencies than all the other parties combined, it’s only got 3 out of the 11 seats on the Committee. Even if the committee seats were to be allocated on the basis of vote share for the respective parties, the SNP with 45% of the total vote share in Scotland would have ended up with 5 members on the Committee. The Committee is instead dominated by the Tories and the other British nationalist parties. Labour has more seats on the Committee than it has Scottish MPs. The seat that Labour lost should have gone to the SNP, not to the Tories.
Four of the MPs on the Committee don’t even represent Scottish seats, two of the Tories, and both the Labour MPs. This means that MPs representing English constituencies have more influence on the Scottish Affairs Committee than the largest party in Scotland does. That’s the SCOTTISH Affairs Committee, not the Hastings and Rye Affairs Committee.
One of the Tories on the committee is Sally-Ann Hart, who represents the Kent constituency in the Commons, and who is currently being investigated by the Conservative party over allegations that she shared antisemitic and Islamophobic content and made offensive antisemitic and Islamophobic comments on social media. However even though Sally-Ann represents one of the most southernly constituencies in England, she was born in Tynemouth, which as far as the Conservatives are concerned makes her practically Scottish. Whatever, she’s clearly an expert on Scottish Affairs. Likewise Labour’s John Cruddas and Liz Twist are experts on Scotland because they’ve visited Edinburgh on holiday.
It ought to be obvious by now that Scotland’s voice counts for nothing at Westminster, and that the Conservatives will stop at nothing to ensure that Scotland is marginalised and sidelined as far as possible. The SNP contingent in Westminster can do nothing to prevent that. That’s not their fault, it’s simply due to the way that Westminster operates. It operates to deprive Scotland of a voice, and to provide the Prime Minister of the day with quasi-dictatorial power. Trying to gain Scottish independence within the strictures of the Westminster system is as futile as goal as Labour’s Parliamentary Road to British Socialism. It’s going to end in failure.
While this realisation may not be obvious to every Scottish MP, who naturally want to believe that they’re doing something useful, it’s obvious to just about every external observer who wants independence. It’s also increasingly obvious to the Scottish electorate. We’re living in a society where the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford makes a perfectly reasonable point at PMQs about the need not to come out of lockdown until it’s safe to do so, and British nationalists have a go at him for having tartan curtains.
There are clear signs that Scotland is growing disenchanted and disengaged from the infantilism of Britishness. This week an opinion poll from Wings Over Scotland found that support for independence is at 50%, neck and neck with opposition at 50%. Consumed as he is by his narrative that the SNP is vile, the jeremiad of that blog is distinctly underwhelmed by this number, but it’s actually an extremely good result for the independence movement.
Those of us who are committed to Scottish independence – or indeed to opposition to it – sometimes forget that our passion is not shared by the majority of the population. Most people resent thinking about politics, and will not do so until they have a good reason to. It is naive in the extreme to expect that support for independence is going to soar in the midst of a crisis when people are preoccupied by life and death and the necessities of daily survival and the need to radically alter their behaviour and expectations. It’s only after the immediate crisis has passed that people will start to ponder its consequences.
We are in the middle of the biggest international crisis since WW2, most people are in no mood or mind to occupy themselves with constitutional politics. People are worried about their health, their lives, their jobs, their futures. There is no official independence campaign and the Scottish Government has announced that it’s suspending its efforts to bring about another referendum for the duration. The grassroots movement is unable to perform effectively, as the face to face personalised campaigning and persuasion and local meetings which it excels at are impossible during the lockdown. We are drenched in a veritable torrent of British propaganda from the media telling us that we’re all in this together and demonising any sign of a different path from the Scottish Government as an attempt to politicise the epidemic.
For all these reasons and more, you would not expect there to be an increase in support for independence during this crisis, in fact you’d expect the opposite. Even though the British Government has been woefully, some would say criminally, incompetent in its handling of the response to the virus, the natural instinct of most people is to focus on the day to day and to deal with the blame once we’re through the crisis.
And yet support for independence is not only holding up, it has actually increased slightly – although admittedly still within the margin of error. That points to a deep underlying dissatisfaction amongst the people of Scotland with the British Government’s handling of this crisis, and their trust in the actions of the Scottish Government – a trust which has been quantified in a previous poll last week which found that the Scottish Government was trusted more than any other organisation in the UK except the NHS. What this means is that when we have got through this crisis and most people do start to apportion blame and point fingers, they’re going to be pointing them at Westminster, not at Holyrood.
And as we’ve seen with its decision to boost the number of Conservative MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee, the British state is failing in its usual tactic of dealing with opposition forces by co-opting them. By ensuring that the SNP remain marginalised and powerless at Westminster, and by focusing on ridiculous childishness such as the pattern of Ian Blackford’s curtains, the British state is merely reinforcing the message that Scotland will never hear its voice heard or see its interests taken into account by the British state.
Combined with the rising resentment and dissatisfaction about the Conservatives’ mishandling of the coronavirus crisis leading to the UK having the greatest death toll in Europe, that provides the independence movement with a very strong platform from which to relaunch our campaign. We will be doing so as recriminations start to fly in earnest as people voice their anger and dismay at how the British Government failed the people in a moment of extreme crisis, leading to tens of thousands of needless deaths. We will be speaking to ears which are predisposed to listen.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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