What BoJo’s Done for the Cause of Scottish Independence

Photograph Source: Bundesministerium für euro – CC BY 2.0

If you are from Scotland and want independence for your country, then Boris “BoJo” Johnson, the UK prime minister, is just the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

BoJo made a recent “essential” visit to Scotland– ignoring pandemic travel restrictions in so doing– for one of his now de rigueur but palpably contrived photo ops (featuring hi-vis jackets, hard hats, lab coats, butchers’ aprons, the works).

While there he, in essence, blamed the Scottish for their ingratitude in not appreciating how much Scotland’s union with the rest of the UK (and especially England) had done for them.

“Think of your economy”, was the gist of his message.

Thing is, thanks to Tory mismanagement of Covid and Brexit, resulting in the UK’s worst recession in 300 years, the “think of your economy” sound-bite was always likely to have a quite different resonance in Scotland.

The last 20 opinion polls have shown a majority of Scots in favour of independence, and every time Boris visits Scotland, the poll ratings of the Scottish National Party (SNP) go up a few points.

Boris Johnson is becoming to Scottish (and Irish) people what the blowhard sectarian Ulster Protestant Ian Paisley was for the cause of Irish reunification.

Cynics have said the reason the IRA didn’t assassinate the bull-frog-voiced Paisley during the Irish Troubles was because he was their biggest recruiting tool every time he opened his mouth.

The tin-eared BoJo– albeit a “shape-shifting creep” (described thus by a member of Obama’s administration) that the tribally-entombed Paisley never could be– is becoming a similarly effective recruiter for the cause of Scottish independence.

The Tories and Labour are well behind the SNP in opinion polls– SNP are at present 56% in the polls, the Scottish Tories are 22%, Scottish Labour are 14%, Scottish Lib Dems 6% and others 2%.

Support for the Scottish Tories is falling: under Theresa May it was 27%, the low point of support for the Scottish Tories under Boris Johnson has been 19%.

Scottish Labour is not doing much better.

At the 2015 general election Labour lost 40 MPs in Scotland in an SNP landslide. Scottish Labour is facing a fight for “survival”, but Scottish voters, understandably, see the SNP as providing the real opposition to the Conservatives, and therefore view Scottish Labour as a “wasted vote”—the invariable fate faced by 3rd or 4th position parties in a 2-party system without proportional representation.

Political commentators say Scottish Labour’s chances of recovering from that position, and supplanting the Tories as the main opposition to the SNP, is all but impossible.

Since both the Scottish Tories and Lib Dems are opposed to independence, the only way for Scottish Labour to demarcate itself from this anti-independence alignment is to: (a) back independence (b) campaign to rejoin the EU (c) support the introduction of a proper federalism, and (d) abolish the anachronistic House of Lords, and commit itself to dealing with all the other long-ingrained interests associated with such political relics.

Only in this way will Scottish Labour take the wind out of the SNP’s sails, by robbing it of its key campaigning points against the now pro-Independence and anti-neoliberal Labour.

But this will put Scottish Labour radically at odds with the Labour Party in England and Wales.

The Labour leader Keir Starmer’s strategy (so far) has been to hang on to BoJo Johnson’s coat-tails, and hope he can convince voters in the lead-up to the next election that he’ll give them everything they have with BoJo (with a bit of trimming here and there of course), all delivered more competently and without the Tories unending corruption and cronyism.

Starmer is thus bent on delivering neoliberalism “with a human face” (laughter may be permitted here), mimicking the strategy espoused by his mentor Tony Blair when he took on the Tories successfully in 1997.

Starmer, apart from his lawyerly ability to trounce BoJo in parliamentary debate, is the quintessential ““empty suit”. People who know him say he is fundamentally “apolitical”, and that politics is simply an arena where he can take his personal ambitions to the next level.

Starmer agrees with BoJo that a second referendum on Scottish independence should be prevented.

Starmer’s ingratiation towards the Tories seems to have no limits—he even agreed that BoJo’s trip to Scotland was “essential”, even though it clearly breached the lockdown restrictions.

At the same time, Scottish Labour is in disarray. It is currently undergoing a leadership contest, and the winner will be the 5th person, each one just as ineffectual as the other, to lead the Scottish Labour Party in just 5 years.

The two candidates– one a Blairite multimillionaire, the other a wooly centrist—are both opposed to Scottish independence and to a referendum on that independence. The winner will face a key electoral examination just 9 weeks later at elections for the Scottish parliament.

The consensus among the commentariat is that Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories will be demolished in these elections because of their opposition to a second referendum for Scottish independence.

The Scottish parliamentary elections will therefore serve as a prolepsis to an actual referendum that neither the Tories nor Labour, at both the Scottish and Ukanian levels, will be able to prevent.

The cause of Scottish independence is now a juggernaut.

Scottish Labour’s only avenue to survival is not to contest the SNP on the issue of independence (it’s bound to lose on this one), but to say that since Scotland is the most socialist of the national components of the UK, only Labour can deliver on a full blown social-democratic agenda for Scotland.

This will test the SNP’s commitment to socialism, on which it has been fuzzy at times, on account of its nationalist-libertarian wing.

But, but— Scottish Labour committing itself to independence and full-blown socialism to remain viable in Scotland?

That’s probably not going to go down well with Keir Starmer and his neoliberal Blairite cabal in London.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.