Friday 26 July 2019

Beware of making Boris the bogey

From my Daily Record column

DOES political purgatory mean having to live the same lousy life twice over? That's been the experience of observers who are veterans of both the 2014 and 2016 referenda and their aftermath.
Every aspect of nationalism we see writ large across the UK today, we saw in Scotland first.
With Boris Johnson, pictured right - a populist to match Alex Salmond in his pomp - installed as Prime Minister, we are about to see the next phase of British nationalism.
In this stage, patriotism is harnessed to the no-turning-back certainty of a divisive referendum and moulded into an unbeatable political force.
People who took the step and voted Yes in the 2014 independence referendum were easy to gather behind the SNP in a first-past-the-post election the following year, creating a 50 per cent share of the vote for one party and nearly wiping out the opposition in Scotland.
Watch what will unfold. The cabinet Boris Johnson assembled on Wednesday is not one for government, it is for political warfare.
The horseguard of the Leave campaign have been recalled to duty.
Three of the great offices of state, Chancellor, Home Office and Foreign Secretary are filled by the talented children of immigrants, Javid, Patel and Raab.
This cause for liberal celebration also provides cynical cover for a Prime Minister who is about to run a nativist British campaign appealing to white, working-class patriots to get a breakout Brexit over the line.
Johnson, charismatic, funny and optimistic, will have no problem coalescing Leave voters behind this Big Brexit party in an early general election.
He will be the peoples' champion, opponents the unpatriotic roadblock to Brexit.
That is the plan, it's simple, and Scotland, that laboratory of nationalism which populists the world over now study, has shown it works.
One veteran Leave campaigner was quoted earlier this year saying that "if Vote Leave was a party, we'd smash everyone at an election".
In Scotland that's not a political revelation, it's a plain fact.
In the run-up to 2016, the Leave UK campaign studied and learned from the successes and mistakes of the SNP's 2014 venture.
They didn't produce a detailed manifesto. Alex Salmond's White Paper, and when you read it now, it is still stunning to think it was produced by an impartial civil service, became an albatross around his neck.
They didn't propose any detail on the Irish backstop or anything else to tether their fantasy to the ground, which is why so much remainer energy since has been spent on complaining the electorate were sold a pig in poke.
The voters weren't fooled, they didn't vote on detail, they voted on how they felt.
The Leave campaign, like the Yes campaign was an exercise in psychology as much as politics.
The change campaigners reached into the emotional hearts of voters to turn doubts on identity into opportunities.
The very meaning of Britishness, once the BBC is rubbished for "bias", is the NHS, Labour's neverending legacy.
In the Autumn of 2014, the Yes campaign warned there were only days to save the "NHScotland" from a UK Government by suporting independence.
That control of the NHS was already wholly devolved to Scotland didn't stand in the way of the lie.
Similarly, Leave reached into the battlefield between head and heart during Brexit, guaranteeing the NHS would flourish, £350million a week extra, but only outside the EU.
Fortunately or not, the deep anti-politics anger sparked by the 2008 crunch, superheated by the expenses scandal, hardened by the fall in living standards, had not reached boiling point in 2014.
On the morning of June 24, 2016, on what Nigel Farage coined "Independence Day", SNP strategists bitterly realised they had gone too early.
Had they waited, the mood even a few weeks later might have tipped the world their way.
If the SNP are to learn from history they won't repeat Labour's mistake when faced with a populist, right-wing Tory Prime Minister.
Scottish Labour, then the power in the land, demonised Margaret Thatcher to the extent that voicing support for the Conservatives, far let voting for them, was discouraged.
Funnily enough this didn't create Labour converts.
Tartan Tories simply began coalescing around the party most likely to beat Labour, the SNP.
If the SNP offers no better argument for independence than Boris Johnson as a "bogeyman", it could repeat history and reap the same harvest.

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