Are we all feeling special? Rishi Sunak is currently even more unbearably smug than his base state of resting smug face because the wheels have not yet come off his Brexit deal. This is something of a novelty for Sunak, because when he was Chancellor the cracks typically started showing in his budgets within hours of him standing at the dispatch box to announce them. Boris Johnson and the DUP are both keeping uncharacteristically quiet about the deal which has replaced the serial liar and expensive wallpaper aficionado’s oven ready deal which turned out to be half baked. So Sunak is currently in that glorious phase when he thinks that everything is going to plan, a phase that is invariably followed by the dawning realisation that something somewhere is going terribly terribly wrong.
The DUP has not yet made an announcement about a deal whose success Sunak has said could be measured by whether it leads to the restoration of devolved government in Stormont. But some senior figures within the DUP have already voiced their unhappiness with the new deal. The truth is that the DUP backed Brexit in the first place because they wanted to bring down the Good Friday Agreement and restore a hard border on the island of Ireland. They failed spectacularly in that goal and so are highly motivated to ensure that any EU deal does not work. They are also desperate to avoid a devolved government in Stormont which is led by a First Minister from Sinn Fein, an utter humiliation for the DUP which would highlight both that support for Brexit is very much a minority position in the North of Ireland and more importantly signal the Unionist loss of control of a statelet which was only carved out of Ireland in the first place in order to ensure a Unionist majority. The DUP are highly motivated to find some reason, however spurious, for rejecting the deal. If they do so their enablers on the Brextremist frothing wing of the Conservative party will also be more likely to reject the deal as well, meaning Sunak could find himself in the humiliating position of relying on Labour support in order to get the deal through the Commons.
When you get to my age, and I am quite a bit older than Sunak, you learn that smugness is always a hostage to fortune. That has not happened to Sunak yet, insulated as he is by his wife’s money, but one day, probably sooner rather than later, he will follow the path taken by all Conservative Prime Ministers in recent years and get to the point where the only thing that motivates him to get up in the morning is his bladder.
Sunak gushed about his Northern Ireland deal and how it put Northern Ireland in the advantageous position of having unfettered access to the European Single Market. Sunak described access to EU markets as exciting and good for business. You know, that unfettered access that Sunak and his party ensured that the rest of us were deprived of. But hey, sovereignty and blue passports eh?
Today at Prime Minister’s Questions the SNP chose to focus on the deal and why Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, is being given a special status allowing it full access to European markets but this status is being denied to Scotland which likewise voted against Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum and which has voted for parties opposed to Brexit at every election since then.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry asked Sunak at PMQs, after wryly noting that both he and the SNP had been left to clear up the constitutional mess created by Boris Johnson, asked Sunak why if Northern Ireland could have a special status could Brexit phobic Scotland not have the same special status too. Sunak smugly smugged that Scotland already has a special status as part of the UK. He undoubtably thought he was being terribly clever in that patronising posho English private school debating society sort of a way. But the truth is that Scotland does indeed have a special status as part of the UK, just not in the way that Sunak intended.
Scotland is special because it is the only constituent nation in the UK which has consistently voted against Brexit but whose concerns about being ripped out of the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union have equally consistently been ignored by the Conservatives and by Keir Starmer’s Labour party, both of whom are far more interested in pandering to the English nationalist prejudices of Brexit voting constituencies in the Midlands and north of England than in making the slightest accommodation to the genuine concerns and interests of Scotland.
Scotland is special because it is the only constituent nation of the UK where Labour and the Conservatives deny the democratic will of the people and vie with one another to Anglo-splain away the outcome of Scottish elections to the people of Scotland because apparently they know better than we do what the people of Scotland really voted for when we chose to elect a Scottish Parliament with its largest ever pro-independence majority in an election which was overwhelmingly dominated by the single topic of whether there should be another independence referendum.
Scotland is special because Westminster politicians insist that it is a constituent nation in a voluntary union of nations even as they refuse to tell the people of Scotland what the democratic route to another independence referendum might be. They assure us that such a route exists, but it’s just that it is super top secret so they are not going to tell us.
Scotland is special because it has a devolution settlement which Westminster tells us it respects, even as the Conservatives introduce legislation which allows a party which has not won an election in Scotland since 1955 to by-pass the Scottish Parliament and which wields a veto over Scottish legislation that it does not like, as it did with the GRR bill and as it threatens to do with the deposit return scheme. And yet they tell us that Scotland within the UK is a democracy. It’s clearly a very special kind of democracy. With independence Scotland could be a normal democracy, not the UK’s special sort of non-democracy. I don’t want to be special, I just want to live in a normal European country.
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