Wednesday 24 July 2019

The Scottish establishment is wrong about Brexit and Boris

There is a conventional wisdom in Scotland about politics that everyone agrees on. It doesn’t much matter which party the Scottish establishment support, they still hold the same assumptions. The problem is that this same Scottish establishment has been wrong about everything ever since they came up with the idea that the Scottish Parliament would kill off the SNP.

Those who write for Scottish newspapers and the people who are interviewed on television are nearly all Remainers. They think that it’s a good thing if public spending in Scotland increases. While they may agree or disagree with Scottish independence, they do so in such a way that they form a consensus with Scottish nationalism. None of them think that the UK is “one nation indivisible” like the USA, Germany, France, Japan and nearly every other nation state on earth. Their biggest concern is not to inflame Scottish nationalism and so they think the solution to every political question in Scotland is to appease the SNP.

 The Scottish establishment thinks of the UK as if it were a three-hundred-year-old EU. Scotland is a member of the UK just like the France is a member of the EU. It is for this reason that they came up with the “Better Together” strategy that nearly cost us our country. Putting forward the advantages of Remaining while emphasising the costs of leaving, is not going to win in the long run. Independence movements throughout history have been willing to go through wars to achieve their goal. A few months of economic difficulty even a few years of economic decline would be worth it to any self-respecting SNP supporter.

So long as the Scottish establishment thinks of Scotland as a country like France that happens to be in a union with the other parts of the UK, then they have already conceded the argument. If you think that Scotland is a country like France, why wouldn’t you want Scotland to be independent like France? Why should Scotland be in that rare class of countries that are not independent? Is it because we are somehow second rate?

The problem with the “pro UK” Scottish establishment is that they watch too much rugby. They love to have their days at Murrayfield belting out Flower of Scotland while not quite meaning what they sing. But they only encouraged those who did mean it.

The SNP play the patriotic card. It’s a very strong card indeed. The thin gruel of appeasement and subsidy won’t win in the end, nor does it deserve to. The Better Together argument could equally have been used by the USSR to discourage Latvia from leaving. After all they had a shared currency and no doubt leaving the Soviet Union was disruptive.

But as the Scottish establishment shares the SNP’s assumptions about Scotland and the UK, it really doesn’t have a respectable intellectual argument left to use. All that is left is to concede the argument gradually. It’s the post-war declinist consensus that was overthrown in 1979 only to be resurrected by the pessimism of Philip Hammond and the wet mush and muddle of Theresa May.

We begin with the Scottish Parliament as some sort of Hadrian’s wall to keep back the Scottish nationalist hordes, only to find that a few years later they own it and use it to do the very thing it was built to prevent.

Why would anyone listen to Gordon Brown about anything? He was wrong about devolution. He thinks that if we just give the Scottish Parliament a few more powers the SNP will lose their support. This is like thinking if only we had given the Germans a few more bits of Czechoslovakia we would have prevented war in 1939.

The only way to defeat the SNP is to change the assumptions of the argument. With the assumptions that are shared by nearly everyone who writes and talks about Scottish politics, the SNP win in the end.

They all think that Remaining was the key to keeping the UK intact. We mustn’t inflame Scottish opinion. We mustn’t make the SNP angry.
But the Remainer Scottish establishment can’t think through the logic of Brexit. The reason is that Remain used a “Better Together” argument and was defeated by a patriotic sovereignty argument. It’s because the Scottish establishment feel nearly no patriotism for the UK whatsoever that they can’t understand this. Almost no one feels any patriotism for the EU. This meant that the Remain argument only had a little bit on the supposed advantages of an organization that is little loved in Britain and a lot on how it would be disastrous if Britain dared to leave.

Remainers kept telling Brits that we couldn’t possibly manage outside the EU, that every disaster possible would follow. But the only patriotic response to this is that we’ve been through worse and will no doubt manage again. “We’ll show them” was the correct answer to the Remain campaign, which is why we did show them.

It is just this patriotic argument about Britain that we have needed to defeat Scottish nationalism.

Apparently, Boris Johnson will inflame Scottish opinion so much that we are all going to vote for the SNP. I strongly suspect Ruth Davidson thinks this. Gordon Brown thinks this. Alex Massie thinks this. But I wonder if Nicola Sturgeon thinks this.

The SNP desperately wants the UK to remain in the EU. As I have argued repeatedly for years, leaving the EU is the best way for the UK to become truly united as indeed we were prior to our joining. Scots were as patriotic about Britain as anyone else when we faced great challenges together. The UK is a great country with a great history and a great future. We need no other story to defeat secessionists, just as the USA needed no other story.

Boris Johnson is patriotic. He is also a fine communicator. He is by far the best writer in Parliament and incomparable as a public speaker. His optimism and can-do attitude may just be what is needed to get us out of the EU completely and then make a success of it. There is a great story to tell about the adventure that might just be beginning. We could leave the EU behind and become a beacon of free-trade and democracy and once more an example of hope for the peoples of Europe who, for the most part, are unwilling to be united under French and German rule.

Gordon Brown et al will pretend to be intelligent about Boris. They will tell us that we need to make more concessions to the SNP and that the EU is crucial if the UK will be kept intact. But Brown has been wrong about everything for decades as has the whole Scottish establishment. When Nicola Sturgeon says next that Boris will make Scottish independence more likely, it’s worth remembering that she wouldn’t be saying it if she thought it were true.