Barring some unforeseen event like an asteroid striking the earth, Liz Truss will be chosen as leader of the Conservative party tomorrow and will then travel to Balmoral to be appointed as the next worst Prime Minister in modern times. It’s fair to say that the asteroid strike would probably do less damage. You have to add the qualification ‘in modern times’ when you say that Truss is going to be the next worst British Prime Minister because if you don’t then some tiresome pedant will pop up on Twitter to say ‘gotcha’ in order to point out that Lord North was worse when he was Prime Minister between 1770 and 1782 as though anyone other than Jacob Rees-Mogg really thinks that it’s valid to look to the politicians of the 18th century for relevant comparisons to British politics 250 years later, although the fact that you have to look back 250 years and the era of buying votes and public office in order to find someone who is arguably worse than the current lot tells you all you need to know about the current dire state of British politics.
Truss is, thankfully, not yet in office, but the likely horrors of her administration are already hoving into view, like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, which would be more powerful of a warning were it not for the fact that the British ship of state was holed below the waterline quite some time ago, and the third class passengers in steerage have already started to drown.
Truss has hinted that as Prime Minister she will restructure employment laws, the Times has reported that she plans a review of protections and rights for workers, which could lead to the abolition of the 48 hour limit on the working week in order to make the UK ‘more competitive.’ Holiday pay, equal pay for women and men, safe limits on working hours and parental leave are just a few of the rights underpinned by retained EU law, which Truss wants to review.
In an audio recording leaked during the Conservative leadership contest, Truss was heard to tell an audience of Tories that British workers needed to ‘graft’ more, as though the problems in the UK economy are not created by a combination of low pay, corporate profiteering and systemic under investment in favour of short term profit taking and bloated senior management pay, but because shop floor workers on the minimum wage can’t be forced to work 60 hours a week without toilet breaks or paid holidays. Truss’s comments were defended by her prominent supporter and likely new minister for poor houses and sending children up chimneys Jacob Rees-Mogg as ‘sensible.
In her last interview before the result of the leadership contest is announced, Truss told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that it was ‘fair’ that her proposed tax cuts will benefit high earners more. As usual with the Conservatives, poor people need to be incentivised by punishing them, but rich people must be incentivised by giving them even more money. In the same interview Truss refused to set out what she intends to do to help households facing unsustainable energy bills, but in an article published overnight in the Telegraph Truss was mostly concerned with her plans to lower taxes and ‘deregulate’ the economy, Conservative code for axing employment, consumer and environmental protections.
Meanwhile, for those of us in Scotland, the play-doh Thatcher promises a very special kick in the Nadines. There are reports that Truss intends to change the law so that in any future Scottish independence referendum, Yes will only be deemed to have won if it succeeds in gaining the support not just of a majority of those who vote, but of those who are registered to vote. This is the same anti-democratic gerrymandering trick pulled by Westminster on the people of Scotland by Westminster in the 1979 devolution referendum. Labour MPs opposed to Scottish devolution imposed a 40% rule specifying that the proposal need not only win the support of the majority who voted, but must also be supported by more than 40% of all those registered to vote, a measure which was widely condemned at the time as meaning that the dead would count as No voters. In the event the proposal for a Scottish Assembly with less power than the current Scottish Parliament won a narrow majority but failed to overcome the gerrymandering 40% hurdle. This created anger and bitterness in Scotland which lasted for the next decade.
Now it seems that the Conservatives are considering repeating the same undemocratic trick, only this time with an even higher bar. Had this measure been in force during the 2014 referendum with its record voter turnout of 85%, the Yes campaign would have had to have won 60% of votes cast in order to have been victorious so No would still have won even if 59% of votes cast were in favour of independence.
Opponents of Scottish independence point to the independence referendums in the Baltic states in the early 1990s, where support for independence surpassed 90% as evidence that it is ‘reasonable’ of them to demand similar levels of support in Scotland before they concede the legitimacy of Scottish independence. It speaks volumes about British nationalist desperation that they think it is a valid standard of comparison to equate the Conservatives in Westminster with a totalitarian regime which had committed numerous crimes against humanity in its efforts to suppress the Baltic nations and incorporate them forcibly into the USSR.
Not that we really know what the implications for Scotland are with the new Prime Minister because BBC Scotland has failed to interview either Douglas Ross or Alister Jack about it, its coverage being confined to James Cooke sticking his mobile phone camera into the faces of demonstrators at the Perth hustings in a successful attempt to goad them into providing him with some self-aggrandising headlines.
Should the Conservatives impose this measure it would set an impossibly high barrier for supporters of independence to overcome, that is of course precisely the idea. You can also be certain that if it looked as though the independence campaign was likely to overcome this artificially high bar, the Conservatives would raise it even higher.
This measure would not merely be profoundly undemocratic because it could see the campaign which won the most votes losing. It’s also undemocratic because the high barrier would only be imposed on one side, giving the No campaign an in-built advantage. The Tories’ hypocrisy is laid bare because they had no such qualms about the narrow Brexit vote, which apparently represents the ‘settled will of the British people’. The sole reason, the one and only reason, that the possibility of this gerrymandering measure is being raised now is because the Conservatives fear that they would lose a free and fair independence referendum. Those who are confident in the strength of their arguments do not propose changing the rules to handicap their opponents.
However additionally this measure gives the anti-independence parties an extremely strong incentive to boycott a referendum. If they were able to reduce turn out to 60%, which is still more than the turn out in some recent UK General Elections, in a boycott campaign which would doubtless be widely aided by the BBC and the anti-independence media, Yes would still fail even if it succeeded in winning 80% of votes cast.
This is an obvious travesty of democracy and it would deprive the people of Scotland of the opportunity to hear both sides of the argument. It would not, despite the Conservative hand wringing about the ‘divisiveness’ of the independence issue do anything to bring about reconciliation. It would only make things far far worse. But Truss and the Conservatives don’t care about that. They don’t care about democracy, they don’t care about the rights of workers. They care only about their own power.
I am sorry but this bout of post-stroke fatigue is proving very difficult to shift. New blog posts may be rather intermittent this week and as of Thursday I will be taking a week off as my 60th birthday is coming up and we have visitors coming up from England.
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