The flapping plastic bags of Britishness
It’s been reported over the weekend that three Conservative cabinet ministers have warned Theresa May that they are planning to support an amendment to delay Brexit and take a no deal Brexit off the table. The former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Heseltine, one of the grandest of the party’s grandees, also spoke out to say that cabinet resignations are likely unless MPs are allowed to block the most catastrophic aspects of Brexit and the Prime Minister ceases her dance of death with the zealots of the European Research Group and the DUP.
The three cabinet ministers who spoke out in an article in Daily Mail,what Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, the justice minister, and the business secretary, Greg Clark, warned of the damage and chaos that would be produced by a no deal Brexit, and stated that it would wreck the UK’s economy and put national security at risk. The three are insisting that the Prime Minister allows cabinet ministers a free vote on an amendment due to be voted on in the House of Commons on Wednesday and have said that if the Prime Minister doesn’t do so then they will resign. Put forward by another former Conservative cabinet minister Oliver Letwin, most famous for leaving his cabinet briefing papers in a public bin, and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the amendment would oblige the British government to ask the EU to delay Brexit unless a deal has been passed by the Commons by the middle of March.
Under normal rules, cabinet ministers are obliged to vote with the government. But these are not normal times, and this is a government which has hitherto shown very little respect for normal rules. If normal rules were respected, the Prime Minister would have already resigned when her flagship policy went down to the greatest defeat in parliamentary history. But this isn’t a normal Prime Minister. This is a Prime Minister who has the listening skills of a rock and the interpersonal skills of the speaking clock. Even now, she’s still refusing to change course and refusing to acknowledge any need to alter her plans.
On Sunday, faced with yet another humiliating defeat in the Commons and an EU which is steadfastly refusing to budge, Theresa May yet again displayed her lack of respect for normal rules and announced that she was postponing the meaningful vote planned for this week until March 12, just two weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU. The move has tensions amongst cabinet ministers and Conservative backbenchers even further. She’s a minority PM behaving like a dictator, playing a game of chicken with the entire economy, with the personal lives of millions of people, and the future of the UK. Only a person without the slightest concern about the effects of her actions on other people could pursue such a path. Theresa May makes Margaret Thatcher seem humane, compassionate, and understanding.
Other than being Tories who are speaking out against the calamity of a no deal Brexit, what Amber Rudd, David Gauke, and Greg Clark all have in common is that none of them is David Mundell. Even amongst the no marks of the Conservative cabinet David Mundell fails to make an impression. He’s the political nobody’s nobody. The Scotland Secretary is the living embodiment of a shredded plastic supermarket bag with union flag branding, flapping aimlessly in the breeze in the branches of a tree, signalling nothing but its own uselessness. At least you notice that the bag is present and it impinges upon your consciousness, which is considerably more than can be said for David Mundell.
When you have a cabinet where collective responsibility has broken down and a party which is at war with itself that is precisely the time that any politician who has an ounce of moral fibre should be standing up for her or his constituents and personal beliefs. Yet from a Scottish perspective, what has been most noticeable about the power plays, staking out of red lines, cabinet splits, and internal battles which characterise the Conservative party is the silence and passivity of Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservative MPs. That’s those MPs who we were told were going to vote as a bloc to protect and defend Scotland’s interests within this so-called union.
You might think that amidst all these power plays, that Scottish Conservative MPs might seize the opportunity to make their own mark on Brexit and in the process demonstrate to the electorate of Scotland that they are indeed an effective voice for Scotland within the UK. But instead the closest thing we’ve got from any of them to a distinct political manifesto is Ross Thomson’s denial that he did anything wrong when he allegedly mistook a man’s crotch for an item of furniture.
It is striking that even when party discipline has all but collapsed, when cabinet ministers feel free to brief against one in the press and openly defy the Prime Minister, that none of those Scottish Conservative MPs is speaking out against a hard Brexit and defending the interests of their majority remain voting constituents – never mind a Scotland which voted to remain by a considerably larger majority than it voted against independence. The fact that even when there are going to be few political consequences against them within their own party for speaking out, yet they still don’t speak out, is indeed a testament to their character. It’s just not a good testament.
You might think that that Scottish anti-independence media which was so keen to big up Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives in the first place might now be holding those silent and complicit Conservative MPs to account. But then if you think that you probably also think that the BBC Question Time audience was a fair and balanced representation of the people of Motherwell. When this period of Scottish history is written about in future decades, the failure of anti-independence MPs and the anti-independence media to speak up for Scotland and defend Scotland’s interests within the UK will be cited as one of the most important reasons which led to Scottish independence. Even on their own terms they are failing Scotland. It’s not just David Mundell who’s a union flag branded plastic bag caught in a tree.
Scotland will become an independent nation because the British state and its institutions have proven themselves incapable of responding to Scotland’s needs, views, and concerns.
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