The Prime Minister believes breaking up the UK is a price worth paying for Brexit

Written by Henry McLeish on 27 April 2017 in Comment

Henry McLeish: The Tories should be punished for their political opportunism

The UK is bitterly divided. Our disunited kingdom has been made worse by last year’s European referendum and its poisonous aftermath, which may be a harbinger of what is to come in the run-up to the election on 8 June. Remarkably, in her Downing Street announcement of the election, the PM said that “the country is coming together but Westminster is not”. 

This unnecessary election will marginalise Scotland and Northern Ireland, reopen deep Brexit wounds, further divide Britain, expose the increasingly authoritarian, xenophobic, and nationalist tactics of the PM, and unleash the venom of a Tory party that once again seems hell bent on using the ballot box to put party issues before the interests of the people.

Some would have us believe that this whole election is about strengthening her hand for the Brexit negotiations by giving her a bigger majority at Westminster to deal with the extremists in her own party and then secure a softer Brexit. But at this stage, there is no compelling evidence to believe that this is anything but ‘fake news’.


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For Scotland, this will be a strange election. The PM’s actions so far – no to an early independence referendum, the rejection of any serious role for Scotland in the EU negotiations, the promotion of the voice of England through Westminster, and the deafening silence to any mention of a four-nation union – suggest Scotland’s role is marginal and the break-up of the Union is a price May feels is well worth paying for securing England’s exit from the EU. The prospects of another five years of Tory rule at Westminster will also concentrate the minds of Labour voters in Scotland – out of the EU, with little prospect of a federal solution and no immediate prospects of a Labour government at Westminster, may force more Scots to think of new ideas and a future away from a disunited and disintegrating UK. Voting for Scotland in this general election may never be any easier and for the SNP, Theresa May is a gift that just keeps on giving.

May’s conversion to a snap election may have been caused by panic – more necessity than choice. Maybe she couldn’t risk waiting until the Article 50 negotiations were complete because of the 2020 elections and a contest being fought on a disastrous set of outcomes. Maybe the EU negotiators are already gaining the upper hand over her inexperienced, ideologically motivated and inept negotiating team. Maybe she is going to be forced to pay a large sum of money in EU compensation, accept the interim authority of the European Court of Justice and live with a limited free movement of people. Maybe she doesn’t want the electors to know that the negotiations are not going well and that there will be no parallel talks on trade. Trade will have to wait for years. Maybe the constitutional vote in Turkey showed the folly of celebrating a tiny majority of votes as an overwhelming victory for one side or another. Maybe the support for remaining will grow, buyer’s remorse will set in and the noise of Regrexit will get louder. Maybe, as a fledgling autocrat, she wants to avoid the possibility of Parliament having a decisive vote on the Article 50 outcomes, knowing this will have become a popular idea.

Based on the logic of this growing list of imponderables, Theresa May has cut and run. As an authoritarian, she is dismissive of democracy and accountability. She is seeking a one-party Brexit state before her false promises and lies catch up with her. And for the first time, a British election will be exclusively fought in England but with potentially dire consequences for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Britain should vote on: her panicked reaction to the insanity of a hard Brexit; the economic nationalism she is keen to pursue; her fetish for Britain resurrecting the idea of the old Atlantic alliance and becoming, at least in concept, the 51st state of the USA; the elective dictatorship she is creating in Downing Street; and the xenophobia, religious intolerance, nativism and racism that have become prominent on her watch post the EU referendum. Lest we forget, there are also the issues of austerity, cuts in mainstream services, tax cuts for the wealthy, welfare cuts for the poor and Tory ambivalence about the NHS.

This election is an unconvincing act of political delusion and opportunism for which the Tories should be punished.

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