Brexit (in the short term) re-engineers the environment around Scotland’s political trilemma

Brexit is changing the terms under which the UK’s internal politics are played. If you thought it could only drive Scotland out of the UK let me re-introduce Dani Rodrik‘s Political Trilemma:

…economic globalization, political democracy, and the nation-state are mutually irreconcilable. We can have at most two at one time. Democracy is compatible with national sovereignty only if we restrict globalization.

If we push for globalization while retaining the nation-state, we must jettison democracy. And if we want democracy along with globalization, we must shove the nation-state aside and strive for greater international governance.

Many Labour folks jumped not because they were seized of some class of blood and soil nationalism, but by a sense of loss of political power at home: ie in Scotland. Brexit (in the short term at least) cleverly re-engineers the environment around the trilemma making Brussels carry the can.

Brexit (in the short term at least) re-engineers the environment around the trilemma, forcing Brussels to carry the can both for thwarting national democracy and undermining the nation state. Expect the re-entry of mainstream British nationalism as a thing.

Gerry Hassan on Open Democracy, highlights some weakness the Brexit-driven Tory party will try to exploit:

…the cross-class, national ‘Big Tent’ coalition that is the 2015 SNP vote. There were already signs in 2016 in parts of rural Scotland, that some of this was fraying at the edges. There are also the new faultlines and divides which emerged out of the EU referendum, with 36% of SNP voters supporting leave, making any SNP pro-EU message have to have a degree of flexibility about EEA/EFTA membership. And as if this weren’t enough, the party will next month have been ten years in office, has a record to defend, and also faces unease in places about any future indyref.

Ten years of SNP success, winning elections and office, and having a sense of momentum behind them, has defined much. It has in some respects, slowly, but perceptibly, weakened the political antenna and sensitivities of the SNP and its supporters. Some of them now expect automatically political victory along the lines of ‘now we have 56 seats out of 59, what is to stop us winning the last Labour and Lib Dem, seats’, for example.

The SNP have become the political establishment, while still in places having an outsider ethos. The party’s senior leadership more and more look, feel and act, no matter how good their intentions, like an insider class. This is what happens from ten years of incumbency. And in a few weeks the SNP will poll well in the local elections (as will the Tories), and will sweep Labour from most of their last remaining West of Scotland strongholds. All of this will produce increased expectations in supporters, and new attack lines for opponents.

Of course, by any reasonable measure, the Tory party is the British establishment’s only reliable partner in government. Much of the easy (anti Blair-ite) rhetoric of the recent past on both sides of the Scots/English divide will help to obscure this seemingly immutable fact of British politics.

If the polls are to be believed (and we should be wary of the far from marginal effects of predictions on public debate), the Tories will face little resistance anywhere else in the UK, so Scotland will likely play much of a role in Tory strategic and tactical thinking.

When pushed to make a judgement a few days back, that permanent thorn in the side of the new Scottish establishment David Torrance, conceded that the SNP will be fine and could only be considered to be damaged if their seat totals go below 40.

In his column in yesterday’s Herald he observed:

…the bubble analysis is mistaken on a number of fronts. The Prime Minister’s hard-line approach to Brexit (or indeed her referendum “veto”) hasn’t driven up support for independence, and nor is the idea of a “hard” Brexit that toxic among voters who generally don’t like freedom of movement. Outside the bubble, Nicola Sturgeon is also increasingly divisive, particularly among older female voters, while Mrs May is viewed relatively positively.

At the same time, Tories should exercise caution, both nationwide and in Scotland. Talk of 1980s-style three-figure majorities seem premature, while even on a big swing the sheer size of many SNP majorities will make recapturing long-lost seats like Perth and North Perthshire extremely difficult.

Still, given the Scottish Conservatives’ poor showing at every UK general election since 1997, even a trio of gains will look like considerable progress, and the Prime Minister needs at least that for her “now is not the time” line on a second referendum to hold up.

Vote shares will be crucial to the battle of mandates; the total “Unionist” vote in Scotland will require a significant increase to bolster the argument that demand isn’t there for a re-run of 2014.

This is true. But it goes double for Nicola Sturgeon too, who has lately become very keen to cool the ardour of some of her more insistent supporters and de-couple the issues of general election and a second referendum. The latest batch of Scottish polls may have something to do with that.

This just one of several polls giving conflicting readings at the moment (as they should). However, the general trend remains in favour of remaining in the UK.

Last February, I suggested that flirting with a second referendum on foot of a Brexit decision might be a bad idea:

Inertia can be a powerful force in politics, and foreign policy (albeit one which comes with considerable domestic burdens) but it is rarely a great lifter of votes. Now, hypothetically push it beyond the point the UK votes for Brexit?

The same inertia issues will appear on the deficit side of anyone plumpin to leave the UK ostensibly in order to re-join the EU (and possibly a far from stable Eurozone).

Two thoughts.  If Brexit occurs it will imply little less than an ignominious collapse for the Remain side.

Selling something to Scotland that the whole of the UK has rejected won’t be easy: especially if it means re-addressing the tricky issues that brought defeat for the Independence side less than two years earlier.

Secondly, the assumption that Scotland and England significantly diverge on the matter of the European Union is doubtful. Enter our old friend/enemy the Social Attitudes survey. The latest Scottish survey suggests that in fact there is very little divergence.

It may have thrilled Irish hearts to see Ms Sturgeon’s Braveheart appearances in Brussels just after June’s poll, but if it was good public diplomacy, it was not yet even the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom.

In contrast to Cameron’s inept handling of the IndyRef, the UK Prime Minister has framed this election as… “a second referendum on Brexit – one that May has called, as she always could, at a time of her choosing”.

In doing so, is Theresa is trying to trump Nicola’s upgrade on the UK Labour party with a British upgrade of her own? Ruth Davidson certainly represents a second and very local point of attack. And all, before a single shot has been fired in anger.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty