We live in strange times where little is surprising, but George Galloway seeking to form a national coalition government with the Tories and Labour in the Scottish Parliament is still strange, and slightly surprising. I remember watching Galloway happily stand on platforms with independence supporters, including the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, to rail against the crimes of the British state at huge demonstrations against the Iraq war, but now he wants a coalition with anyone and everyone to protect that self-same state.
“I am against the SNP more than anyone else. That doesn’t mean I’m for anyone else,” Galloway told the Sunday Mail yesterday. Ok then.
Galloway sought to stand for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party too in the European Parliament elections last year, so maybe it’s not really all that surprising. His ‘Alliance for Unity’ is an obvious attempt to secure himself a place in the Scottish Parliament through the list seat by tapping into the identitarian No vote, which he (possibly correctly) thinks Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems do not hold a monopoly over. He claims to have “senior ex-Army officers, farmers, and senior legal professionals” signed up. So that should be fun.
Galloway’s old foe, Tony Blair, was also talking about Scotland yesterday. He was reminded of the fact that following the Leave vote he had said Scottish independence was a “strong possibility” if Brexit happened. Does he still believe that, now that Brexit is happening?
“It’s hard to judge,” Blair said. “I don’t think it’s in the interests of Scotland to leave the UK because the ties – economic ties, cultural ties, everything – are so strong.”
Now Blair has no use for weaponising the threat of Scottish independence to push a Remain agenda, it’s the least surprising thing in the world that he no longer wants to talk up its prospects. His analysis of Scottish politics was also loaded with the same sense of strategic self-interest: Scottish Labour had been “veering to the left” and “playing around with nationalist sentiment”, and that’s why they were losing to the SNP.
“Now, I think if the Labour party as it’s reviving in England and Wales revived also in Scotland, that would be a significant advantage to preserving the Union,” he said.
With Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership, Blair has little to offer other than to act as a cheerleader for the return of centrism, which on Scotland means essentially tail behind the Tories on all the key constitutional questions. One of Starmer’s Minister’s, Jon Ashworth, also chipped in yesterday to say Labour would be opposing an Indyref regardless of the result at the Scottish elections next year.
Which brings us finally to Ruth Davidson, who is apparently now acting as an unofficial advisor to Boris Johnson on Scotland, and wrote in The Sunday Timesthat the big mistake made by unionists was “not sticking the boot in after the 2014 referendum”.
“That was, morally, the right thing to do, but tactically it was a mistake,” she said. “A huge strategic error in fact.”
Davidson indicates where Johnson’s strategy towards Scotland is going – towards ratcheting up hostilities with the SNP, knowing that in any conflict they hold the trump card of a constitutional veto.
Putting together Galloway, Blair and Davidson’s interventions, the collective impression is of a British nationalism that is consolidating around an anti-democratic, right-wing and demagogic politics of confrontation. There’s nothing here that would make you think that there’s attractive new devolution packages coming down the road to Holyrood, and definitely not a Section 30 order. As Davidson indicates, lessons have been learnt. Forget a pretence about respect and conciliation – the best route to defending the Union is to get nasty. The independence movement will have to work out how to deal with a British nationalism which is closer to the standard politics of the Spanish state than what we have been used to.
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