“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” –
Last night was a long one. It was a long one for myself as I was on election analysis duty over at Broadcasting Scotland and didn’t get home till almost 7am.
It was a long one for Scotland and the UK as well. The balance of the last couple of years of hung parliaments and indecision has been struck. Boris Johnson has won the largest Tory majority since the Thatcher era.
It is time to Get Brexit Done.
I know. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, “What happened?”
What Happened Last Night?
Boris Johnson managed to win the gamble where Theresa May failed. He has managed to win a majority government, purge his backbenchers of meddlesome Remainers and thrown off the yoke of the DUP. He will now be able to ram through his Brexit Deal, take the UK out of the EU on January 31st and then begin the process of what comes next (wait…you thought that “Get Brexit Done” meant this ends soon?)
Across the UK, voter turnout was down 1.6% at 67.3%. With barely more than 2 in 3 voters actually turning out, the “winner” of the election was still the “Did Not Vote Party”. Those who didn’t vote held, but didn’t use, the power to swing the election in any direction.
Of those who did vote though, the shift was dramatic if not entirely unexpected.
The Conservatives increased their vote share from 42.4% to 43.6% and with that, and the severe tipping points caused by First Past the Post – the least democratic voting system outside of the US’s Electoral College – meant that he increased his share of seats from 49% of the House of Commons to 56% of the MPs there. He can also count on a boost from the fact that the seven Sinn Féin MPs will not take their seats and, unlike last time, the Speaker of the House is no longer a former Tory but a former Labour MP. John Bercow’s seat of Buckingham is back in Conservative hands after a decade of being held by the politically neutral Speaker (so neutral that he spent the last few years blocking many of the attempts by the Tories to ride over Parliamentary procedure).
But they did this on the back of possibly the dirtiest election campaign ever seen in the UK. We warned about the vulnerabilities in the election regulations in two papers last year and I’m sorry to say that we’ve seen every single dirty trick, from data harvesting to opaque campaign funding, deployed in this election. The Electoral Commission has called to have its powers to regulate elections increased but I highly doubt that a party that just won BECAUSE of those lax regulations will be in any mood to change things.
Labour, by contrast to the Tories, had a terrible night. They lost two and a half million votes across the UK, 59 seats across the UK and all but one of their seats in Scotland. Corbyn hasn’t quite resigned at the moment but will not lead the party into the next election. I’m sure that the party will react by retreating to the vapid centrism that the PLP would always have preferred and they’ll successfully use this failure to justify it.
Which is entirely the wrong direction, of course. The Labour manifesto was without a doubt the best manifesto the Left has seen in years – certainly the manifesto that the Left of England deserved (though in the same breath I’d say that it rather sold Scotland short. We’re in a different place now).
But the desire to “Get Brexit Done” coupled with a buy-in to the antisemitism propaganda – neither of which Corbyn was able to brush off – put paid to that opportunity. We know that the voters weren’t scared of that manifesto. The Tories were already trying to triangulate towards them in terms of promises of more public spending so they knew it too.
The Lib Dems had a terrible night too. On paper, they only lost one seat compared to 2017 and actually increased their vote share but their ranks had recently been boosted by disaffected MPs for both Labour and the Tories and one of the seats they lost included their leader Jo Swinson – who subsequently resigned the leadership as would be expected.
They, too, will be doing a lot of soul-searching this week and where they will take the party after this is a conversation for the members in the coming weeks and months.
Northern Ireland – too often forgotten by Westminster even when their votes are needed by a minority government – threw up a possibly seismic shift. The DUP lost their Westminster leader Nigel Dodds and between Sinn Féin (who don’t take their seats) and the SDLP (who do) there are now more MPs elected from pro-Irish Reunification parties than from pro-UK parties. I believe that Irish reunification is now an inevitability. It’s just a matter of whether or not they get there before Scotland becomes independent. It would certainly make Boris’s Brexit Deal easier possible to implement…
In Scotland the SNP were most certainly celebrating their gains. 47 MPs (plus 1 currently suspended from the party) is the 2nd best performance in the history of the party and many key strategic seats lost in 2017 were won back. High profile new MPs such as Kenny McAskill and Alyn Smith will be watched closely to see how they adapt themselves to the archaic Westminster system from the relative collegiate Holyrood and Brussels systems respectively.
I have to say though that this success didn’t come off the back of a particularly strong manifesto. I said before that the Labour one was the manifesto the Left of England deserved but that Scotland deserved better, well, the SNP manifesto wasn’t the “better” that we were looking for.
I think there needs to be a conversation about where the SNP actually want to take Scotland. We’ve had too long of cobbled together policies without much vision behind them. This is the party that produced the Growth Commision. I challenge any SNP member to hold that against Corbyn’s plan and tell me that it’s better. Go on.
In terms of independence, the Referendums Bill comes back to the Scottish Parliament next week and Nicola Sturgeon stated this morning that there would a publication about “Scotland’s right to choose” it’s own path – although she stopped short of actually saying that she’d submit a formal Section 30 request to hold another independence referendum.
If and when one is submitted, Johnson will almost certainly refuse it and then things go up in the air. The UK’s constitution is unclear about whether or not Scotland could hold an advisory referendum on a constitutional issue and it’s even less clear about whether Westminster would do anything other than ignore the result.
These things could and should be tested in the courts (this should have been done years ago) and it is a distinct possibility that we might finally get to that point – especially seeing as Scottish politicians have had major success in challenging illegal Brexit legislation and procedures as well as forcing clarifications on EU law such as the right to unilaterally withdraw Article 50.
There’s no guarantee that the UK constitution will be “clarified” in a direction beneficial to the independence movement (despite self-determination being essentially THE MOST fundamental human right) and as of January 31st, there will be no recourse to courts outwith the UK such as the ECJ.
And, of course, all of this will take time. I do not believe that we’ll see an independence referendum in 2020 which means we’ll be reliant on a pro-indy majority being maintained in the 2021 Scottish election.
There may be other options of achieving independence or of bringing about a referendum that need to be discussed – all I’ll say at this point is that political unions often end not because one part wants to leave but because the other part no longer wants to fight to keep them and England – being more Conservative than Unionist now – may be at or near that point…
But..”Get Brexit Done”?
Yes. So that’s the election results. I said I’d come back to that opening kicker.
Remainers in the UK failed to persuade the UK to Remain in the EU.
We’ve failed to ensure a “soft Brexit” and a close relationship with Europe.
We’ve also failed to ensure that the UK Government goes for even a half-way sensible Brexit with a thought out plan and a method of delivering it. (No one who actually understands the EU, international negotiations and the UK’s readiness to Leave says that it can be done by December 2020, the current Boris Johnson timeline. Not one person)
But the electorate have had their say and they said that we have to “Get Brexit Done”.
Fine. Let’s do that.
But this is all on the new government and the Leave voters who brought it in. It is entirely on them to explain how they are going to do this. They can’t blame the courts for forcing them to adhere to the law any more. They can’t blame the Parliament for not giving them permission to jump off the cliff. They shall not blame immigrants and other vulnerable people who were not even able to vote in this pivotal election.
It’s all on them. So go on. Show us how to “Get Brexit Done”. It’s long past time for you to own your own project. Get out of the fridge. Get into the media and actually answer the questions put to you. No more soundbites. No more fluff and provable untruths. Show us what the plan is.
Or, Boris, admit that you’ve lied to the electorate on this too.