CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal head of policy Ben Wray says Ruth Davidson is banking on voter fatigue in Scotland to escape oblivion
THE shape of Theresa May’s surprise snap General Election is already pretty clear: it will be the constitutional election.
It’s an election about two constitutional mandates: Theresa May’s for hard Brexit, and Nicola Sturgeon’s for a second independence referendum. Behind that lies a bigger battle: the future direction of Britain.
Theresa May’s position is both strong and weak, but it is important to understand that the decision to call a second election was made primarily out of weakness. She didn’t want to do this.
The reality of Brexit negotiations and fear about her narrow majority has forced her hand. She has now exposed herself to the public, and will have to defend her vision – which could show vulnerability. If May doesn’t win the election in a big way she will be weakened.
But we shouldn’t be naïve – the most likely outcome of this election is a large Tory majority, and a mandate for hard (and hard-right) Brexit. Polls show more people becoming accustomed to leaving the EU and little remorse among Leave voters.
Indeed, the economy has fared better so far than many economists (and George Osborne) predicted, and May has had a poll bounce, as most new prime ministers do. It makes sense to reap the harvest before the crops begin to wilt.
For Nicola Sturgeon, the General Election presents dangers and opportunities. The danger is referendum fatigue. Ruth Davidson has already set out her camp, saying she will campaign on “no more referendums”. After indyref, after Brexit, after a snap General Election – can the people of Scotland stomach more turmoil? Davidson is banking on demoralisation and resignation leading to Scots limply surrendering to Tory hard Brexit rule.
But the Tories would have to produce something pretty remarkable to claim any sort of a dent in the independence march. Even if the SNP lost four or five seats to the Tories, it would still have an enormous majority in Scotland.
Indeed, Sturgeon can absolutely, justifiably state that winning any sort of majority of MPs in the election on a pledge of a second independence referendum would solidify her mandate. After all, May is running the General Election for her own mandate, and will surely claim one no matter how narrow the victory.
May’s likely victory will be much more narrow than Sturgeon’s north of the border, of that we can be confident.
So an aggressive anti-Tory, pro-second referendum strategy has sizeable advantages for Sturgeon over a safe, ‘SNP stronger for Scotland at Westminster’ approach. This is an opportunity to deliver a clear verdict on what the people of Scotland think about Tory hard Brexit – Sturgeon should not duck away from taking that fight on directly, as the odds are stacked in the independence camp’s favour.
Indeed, this could be the opportunity to finally align Scottish politics in such a way as the prospect for a big independence majority opens up. Scottish politics runs primarily on two over-lapping paradigms: left vs right and independence vs union. While left is generally associated with independence and right with unionism, the waters were muddied in the last referendum primarily by Labour and the possibility of another route to getting the Tories out of power.
This time, Labour is in a historically weak (almost irrelevant) position in Scottish politics and almost no one thinks the Tories are going to be out of power. Add to that the fact that the Tories themselves have shifted well to the right since 2014 – basically taking Nigel Farage and Ukip’s clothes – and the opportunity for the independence movement in this constitutionally-focused election becomes clear: usher left opinion behind independence, and isolate the right behind unionism.
If unionism can be welded in the public’s mind with Toryism, then a big majority for Scottish independence can emerge.
This is the task all independence supporters should dedicate themselves to over the coming seven weeks of campaigning, regardless of whether they support the SNP or not. You don’t have to put on a yellow sticker to say to the public that hard right Tory Brexit rule will be a disaster for the majority of people in Scotland and we need to win an unquestionable, iron-clad mandate for a second referendum on independence.
A clear route out of the Tories’ fantasy Empire 2.0 vision for Britain has opened up and we need to seize it. My sense, glancing quickly at social media in the aftermath of the announcement, is a certain activist fatigue – many have been in campaign mode now for half a decade. I understand that.
But the stakes are now extremely high. The stronger mandate that emerges out of this election for a second referendum, the weaker Theresa May’s hand will be. If she can’t resist a second referendum, then the prospect of Britain unravelling before it sets sail on its Empire 2.0 journey is real.
Now is not the time to get distracted, demotivated or deterred. If you feel that way, remember this – that is exactly how Ruth Davidson wants you to feel.
Picture courtesy of Liam O’Hare
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