Boris Johnson and Brexit deal have killed the union - GulfToday

Boris Johnson and Brexit deal have killed the union

Sean O'Grady

@_SeanOGrady

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Brexit

Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein party president Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media at Stormont House in Belfast. File/AP

He might be good at energising the moribund Conservative Party. He might, more fancifully, deliver a Brexit deal. Boris Johnson is, however, the worst possible choice as far as Scotland goes. The Tories could scarcely have come up with a more “English” prime minister if they’d tried. Styling himself, as he does, as “minister of the union” simply adds insult to injury.

He sounds comically English. He is English (despite some cosmopolitan ancestry). And, more than anything, he is turning his party into an English National Party, whatever he says. “Do or die” Brexit means the most blatant disregard for the views of the Scottish people, who voted, lest we forget, to remain in the EU. They do not want to be railroaded out of it by a Westminster parliament run by a minority of English Conservative MPs, with a prime minister elected by 92,000 Tory party members, overwhelming, white, male, rich — and English.

Even his own Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, has made her frustrations with his policies and style perfectly clear. In response, Johnson chose to sack her ally, the blameless Scottish secretary of state David Mundell.

Not since Margaret Thatcher inflicted mass unemployment and the poll tax on the long-suffering Scottish people has there been such a mutual incomprehension between No 10 and the Queen’s subjects north of the border.

They’ve even gone back to the old device of appointing an English MP sitting for an English seat (Worcester Man himself, Robin Walker MP). Expect to see him modelling a kilt soon enough. What a fankle!

Like an unhappy marriage, no union can survive such abuse of a partner. It should, then, be no surprise that in the latest polling there seems a decisive tilt towards independence, were a referendum to be run in Scotland on the issue — 52-48 per cent in favour of leaving the UK, funnily enough. Back in 2014 the vote in favour of staying in the UK was 55.3 per cent to 44.7 per cent, hardly overwhelming anyway. Since then the Scots have found themselves on the thick end of austerity, ignored over Brexit and patronised, yet again, by a UK government run by and for the interests of the English.

So the next referendum should signal the end of the three-centuries-old union of Scotland and England?

Maybe not yet.

First, the decision to hold a referendum rests in London, not Edinburgh. It is a “reserved matter,” as the saying goes, meaning that Scotland cannot unilaterally declare independence or run an official referendum on its own account that would be, in Nicola Sturgeon’s words, “beyond doubt or challenge”.

Ms Sturgeon says she wants another referendum — indyref2 — by 2021, but she will find some difficulty in getting London to agree. To do so she would have to repeat the same sort of process that occurred over 2012-14, when a series of agitations, including legal moves and a threat to hold a unilateral referendum, forced David Cameron to agree to the 2014 vote.

Ms Sturgeon is careful, at the moment, to say she wants a vote during the term of the current Scottish parliament, which means before May 2021. There is a big problem with this, however — Brexit.

On the one hand, Brexit, particularly a no-deal version, would enrage the Scots and create a very powerful patriotic feeling about what was being done against their will.

The emotional case couldn’t be put more strongly, or humiliatingly, for Scotland to be treated in the same way as, say, Bath or London — as just another strongly pro-EU part of the UK being dragged out of the EU, rather than some partnership of equals. The solution would be to grant Scotland (and possibly Wales and Northern Ireland) a veto in a second referendum. That would help preserve the UK.

But then there’s money. Brexit will mean a huge economic hit to Scotland, but it will, if it does happen at all, be over by the time indyref2 gets underway.

Indeed it might even be over on the evening of 31 October. A no-deal Brexit will inflict an even heavier financial cost on Scottish businesses, people and public services.

All true, but then would the Scottish people want to get themselves kicked up the bahookie again by severing their economic links with England? They might hate the English (understandable), but would they want their cars and lorries stuck on the new international EU (Scotland)-England border from days on end? Do they want tariffs on scotch?  Doe anyone in their right mind?

Mirroring Brexit, geography and economics count for much in this indyref2 debate, as we saw in 2014. I hope not disparagingly, I was surprised at how much of the debate then was about whether the Scots would be worse or better off by sticking in the UK — there was less talk about national pride and self-determination.

Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t augur so well for a post-Brexit poll, because the Scottish people would already be suffering financially from the immediate Brexit shock.

There is no way that Brussels or the EU can make up for lost trade and income as Scotland leaves the UK and enters the EU, with most of what it imports and exports to and from Europe travelling via English ports and bought in the rest of the UK.

What’s more, as Johnson teases them, they would have to commit to joining the euro and giving up exclusive rights to Scottish fisheries. There you go.

The shame of it is that the debate about Scottish independence south of the border is virtually non-existent. Asked about the subject, most of the English simply shrug, regarding it as purely a matter for the Scots.

They are not bothered, I’m afraid, and the Conservatives even less. Many I am sorry to say agree with the prospective Conservative candidate in Bedford, a Ryan Henson.

In 2014 he wrote that: “Scotland’s single biggest offering to the union over the past 50 years has been to provide the Labour Party with parliamentary lobby fodder.

“In exchange, the people of England have seen their prescriptions and their university fees go up, while in Scotland both have been abolished — using English taxes to pay for it.

“Like a marauding tribe from the Dark Ages, Scottish Labour MPs have travelled south every four years to pillage their hard-working, wealthier and more politically sound neighbours. Enough is enough.”

And that, you see, is the root of the problem. For the moment the referendum might be delayed, or lost by the SNP, simply because of the chaos caused by Brexit, but it will come eventually, and it will be acrimonious.

The marriage is over, even if the two parties can’t quite believe it. They will both be poorer and they won’t agree on the divorce terms. It will end in tears. Sounds familiar.

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