Tuesday 7 June 2022

Alas poor Boris


It is hard to imagine that Boris Johnson will recover from winning his confidence vote. 211 for 148 against has to be too small a margin. I can’t see how he can lead the party into the next election, he may not survive the week. But if that is the case then we must conclude with MacBeth that “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly”

I have been willing to forgive Boris much. The fundamentals of Scottish politics were changed by Brexit and we would still be in the EU today if he had not decided to campaign for Leave.

Subnational nationalism is made too easy by EU membership and it is only because independence referendums are forbidden by EU members states that the problem is not more widespread.

The UK has a different political tradition and crucially views itself as a country made up of countries in a way that that no one else does. It makes us vulnerable to the SNP argument from 2014 that Scotland could have independence while retaining much of what we like about living in the UK.

If Scotland and the former UK were both in the EU then we would retain free movement, free trade, the right to live and work and open borders. An Austrian and a German barely notice the border between them. They have the same currency, the same rights and are both ruled by Brussels. It matters little that one is called Austria and the other Germany.

The SNP argument was that we could be an independent country, but in most other respects we would still be part of the UK because we would still be part of a greater whole. The EU. They were correct.

Of course, if this logic were played out all across the EU there could be fifty or more new countries, but it wouldn’t be. Spain bashed a few heads to stop Catalonia seceding and the EU looked the other way, because if Spain cannot keep itself together how can the EU? But Spain will stay together because it will prevent secession by force if necessary and the same goes for every other EU member state. If Silesia tried to go back to Germany it’s hardly likely that Poland would give it a referendum.

But a British Government will not ultimately refuse if Scotland really wants to go, in which case remaining in the EU was a long-term risk, because it made sub-national nationalism possible by allowing SNP cakeism. You can separate from England but still essentially be part of the UK. You would barely notice the border.

Boris changed that. Leaving the EU was unpopular in Scotland and gave the SNP a short-term boost, but Scottish nationalists have not even begun to address the difficulties involved in Scotland being in the EU while the former UK is not.

The alternative of being outside both the UK and the EU would leave Scotland initially at least without a trade deal either with the UK or the EU and perhaps without the right to live and work in either. After all, if leaving the EU deprived us of our European Passport and the rights that went with it, why should we expect to retain these if we left the UK?

The former UK could treat Scots favourably and probably would, but it would not have to. It could make us choose between a British and a Scottish passport and could decide that Scots were no more welcome than Russians. The UK wide welfare state with free healthcare wherever you live or visit could cease and with it the UK wide NHS that the SNP pretend to protect.

It just needs a British Prime Minister to say sorry Scotland if you choose to leave, we will make life as hard as possible for you for Scots to realise what secession would really mean. We will check every lorry that wants to travel through England in exactly the same way that the EU does in Northern Ireland. We will make you fill out forms to visit and make you queue at the border, just like Brits are queuing to get into Spain. The SNP argument then becomes :They wouldn’t do that would they? But if the EU can do that to the UK why couldn’t the former UK negotiate in just this way with the SNP?

So, Boris changed the argument. Leaving the EU made him so unpopular that Remainers waited six years for revenge, but it fundamentally made it much more difficult for Scotland to leave the UK.

The risk of course is that Scots are so blinded by nationalism that the majority do not understand the fundamentals. But the SNP argument amounts to this: We will be better off if we

1 Give up the subsidy from the UK Treasury

2 Use the pound unilaterally, set up our own currency or join the Euro.

3 Create a hard border between England and Scotland

4 Decide to be in a different trading bloc (the EU) to our greatest trading partner (the UK)

Only people so blinded by nationalism that they disbelieve there is a subsidy, could possibly think this would increase Scotland’s standard of living.

Scottish nationalism is not really about independence or it is only nominally. There is an element of flag waving about the desire to leave the UK, but the motive is not primarily about sovereignty. Scottish nationalism is an anti-Tory movement. It grew out the 1980s when Scots resented being ruled by Thatcher while we voted Labour.

Boris is unpopular in Scotland because of Brexit. He made the SNP goal harder. But it doesn’t matter how much a Tory Government spends or gives, nor indeed how centrist it is. Many Scots voters vote tribally. They were part of the red team that hated Tories now they are part of the yellow team. If the Conservative leader were Karl Marx, they would still argue for independence so that Scotland was free to create socialism.

The Conservative task is this. Make Britain as wealthy as possible. Do so by spending less and taxing less. Remove all of the rules and regulations that hinder business. Trade freely with as many countries as possible. Thatcher was hated, but she made Britain more prosperous. Do the same and we won’t have to worry about separatists as even if they want theoretically to leave, they won’t because they would miss what they have here.

I have been largely supportive of Boris, but hugely disappointed. If he has to go then let him be replaced by free marketeer who believes in Brexit and is willing to maximise its potential. Stand up to the EU and make clear that it cannot depend on the UK to defend it while treating us as an enemy. Security and friendship must go together.

But where are we to get a reforming leader who understands that prosperity depends on making the state smaller and our citizens freer to make things and sell them. I thought once that Boris might have done so, but the man who was elected in 2019 somehow survived only a few months before Covid killed him, Carrie married him and Cummings deserted him.

What was left looked like Boris, but somehow it was as if he had ended up in an iron mask somewhere with his double ruling over us.

Alas poor Boris.