The dissolution of the United Kingdom is now bruited abroad on a daily basis as a likely outcome of a No Deal Brexit. This applies not just to Scotland, the likeliest candidate to be first to leave, but also to the possibility of Northern Ireland joining with the Republic, and even tiny Wales rethinking its future.
A new Scottish independence poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, a donor to the Conservatives, shows 52% of Scots in favour, and that’s without one single campaign leaflet being delivered nor a stump speech being uttered. This sea change was caused, not just by the pellucid and arrogant incompetence of the UK Government in Brexit negotiations, where the devolved Parliaments were ignored, but by the Tories putting Boris Johnson into Number 10. Why is he so disliked outside of England, and why do commentators, including those contributing to this noble blog, continue to ‘fear’ the break up of the UK, as if we were going to lose something of inestimable worth? Let me explain.
Mr Johnson said he would not only be Prime Minister but the Minister for the Union which is on, as Scots say, a ‘shoogly peg’ (try ‘uncertain’). After creating the most right-wing (and frankly weird) Cabinet in history, the new PM enthused that he would do a grand tour of the UK, with the Ultima Thule of Scotland first on his list. Used to adulation in England, the blond mophead was met outside the residence of a stern-faced First Minister in Edinburgh, not with bagpipes, but boos from the general public. After his short meeting, he escaped by the back door in humiliation.
Johnson has form on Scotland. As editor of The Spectator, he allowed a poem to be published which called for the extermination of the ‘verminous’ Scottish race, and said to the Treasury that money spent in Croydon was of more value than the same being spent in Strathclyde. His racist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic barbs are even worse, and his propensity for lying is notorious, summed up by a Brussels correspondent of ‘The Times’ as “Boris told such dreadful lies/It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes”. For him, the world is a cabaret, old chum. In the burlesque world of Brexit, he is now the main performer having a turbocharged ball with a large vocabulary devoid of ethics, now that his boyhood dream of being top of the pile of the UK has been realised. He is a Trump with Latin, and reeks of class privilege firmly rooted in a xenophobic English nationalism that is the engine of Brexit in the first place. Such behaviour does not go down well in the Scotland of the ‘democratic intellect’.
As Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister pointed out, Johnson may be a buffoon but he is a highly dangerous one. He began his trip to Scotland at Faslane on the west coast where the UK’s nuclear subs are based within forty miles (103 kilometres) of where I am writing this in Glasgow. In addition to not meeting ‘ordinary’ Scots, he is telling us in his Eton-bred sense of superiority that (a) he is now in charge of the world’s most powerful toy, the nuclear button, which could result in obliterating Scotland but, fortunately, not the rest of the UK, and (b) if you Scots shoved off, you would lose all the jobs that the nuclear facility gives you (in reality, according to the UK Ministry of Defence, 520 civilian jobs). We Scots don’t want nuclear weapons on our soil, and have expressed that politically for decades.
Johnson has upped the rhetoric on a no-deal Brexit which will be catastrophic for the UK but especially the smaller Scottish economy, to say nothing about the effect on Norwegian and Irish neighbours. He is now blaming the EU, and not the British Government’s incompetence at the negotiation table over the past three years, for the current stasis. We Scots know political incompetence or lies when we see it, and punished the Labour Party for acting in a similar way.
And then there is Johnson’s ideology. Several of his cabinet members penned a book entitled, ‘Britannia Unchained’, which, after calling British workers lazy and too keen on pop music and football, became a paean of praise to an even rawer type of neoliberalism which has caused the chasm between rich and poor to widen like the mouth of a basking shark in search of plankton. Johnson and his cabinet are now looking forward to ridding GB of all those pesky rules and regulations protecting workers, engineered by the lefty EU, to unchain the Beast. The elitist ideology does not stop there.
The MP for the 18th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is, unbelievably, in Johnson’s cabinet. His father, William Rees-Mogg, wrote what Fintan O’Toole describes as a ‘key Brexit text’, The Sovereign Individual. This is a manifesto for ensuring that rich (and thus more intelligent) elites divest themselves of nationality and taxation, ushering in the end of mass democracy and loyalty to a citizenship which guarantees our rights and binds us more closely as human beings in a nexus of bonds of solidarity. The elites will ensure that ‘control over economic resources will shift from the state to persons of superior skills and intelligence’, while those of lesser intelligence will be able to owe feudal allegiance to these new gods. Such views, crazy and undemocratic, are circulating freely in the new, ‘unleashed’ cabinet of the UK, full of, as O’Toole writes in his Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, “figures who would have been enjoyably ridiculous in a Dickens novel [and who] now get to determine a nation’s fate for a generation”. We Scots hate elitism, and fear the carnage to our welfare state that could result from Johnson’s crew of extreme neoliberals.
Scotland does not wish to share such a fate. This is manifestly clear from the current political Scottish landscape: 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU; the social democratic, internationalist, and pro-independent SNP has been the Scottish Government for twelve years and is still riding high in the polls with 40% of the vote; the SNP has most seats in the Westminster and European Parliaments, and it is in control of most of the local councils; a majority of Scots have not voted for a Tory Government since 1955.
The choice for Scotland is stark: to remain in a Tory dominated UK driven by a narrow English nationalism which will gradually undermine the devolution settlement and take pro-Europe Scotland out of the EU with or without a deal by a ‘do or die’ PM we didn’t vote for and whose views we despise, or to be welcomed as an independent, social democratic state into the EU and the world. Why do so-called ‘liberal’ commentators still stand up for a United Kingdom which became a Little England that left its reputation for tolerance, fairness and solidarity on Brexit Day, 23rd June 2016? Why not welcome an independent Scotland (the other nations can talk for themselves) that has been an oasis of political sanity in the whole Brexit farce, into the global, democratic community? After all, this nation of five million has punched above its weight on climate change, welcoming refugees, mitigating anti-social legislation from Westminster, and introducing laws that have liberated our society. Help us to make Boris Johnson the last PM of the UK. It’s time to put the lights out.
Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University, but writes in a personal capacity from Glasgow.