This morning, I waited at the ferry terminal in Cairnryan awaiting the boat to take me to Belfast. From Scotland to Northern Ireland, two countries that voted to remain within the European Union but who could be leaving anyway, because that is how equal partnerships work within precious families of nations.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has been anointed as Conservative Party leader by the majority of the plummeting membership – largely white, male, wealthy and reactionary – who effectively get to decide who will be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
This is what democracy looks like. A democracy, wrote one correspondent, where Boris Johnson is elected as Prime Minister by only 0.25% of the electorate, to form a government that doesn’t have a majority, in a party polling at 20%, to threaten a no-deal Brexit that only 26% of the population wants.
The only good news is that he might not last long. Ministers like Philip Hammond and Alan Duncan have effectively resigned before they’ve been appointed, while in other not very surprising news David Mundell hasn’t, despite previously saying he “couldn’t serve” under a Johnson premiership. In the end, power trumps principles and money triumphs over morality. He’ll fit in just fine.
The reports are that the new PM will be coming to Scotland soon for a charm offensive, although anything he says will not be for the benefit of Scotland but the British Nationalists on whom he relies for support. We can expect much gushing about proud shared histories and Scotland’s valued place in this precious family of nations, but this is because he can’t deliver his hard, Empire 2.0, Rule Brittania Brexit unicorn without the Scottish revenues to mitigate the economic catastrophe that leaving without a deal will unleash.
In Boris Johnson, Scotland has rarely detected charm, but often offence. That tends to happen when you publish a poem in your magazine calling the Scots a “verminous race”. It happens when you go on the record stating that a pound spent in Croydon is worth more than a pound spent in Strathclyde. He thinks we are subsidised by Westminster and wouldn’t survive without the munificence of our benevolent senior partner. Most of his colleagues believe this too, which makes me wonder: if we’re such a complete economic basket case and deleterious financial burden? Why are they so keen to keep us?
The truth is that most of them aren’t. A recent poll of Conservative members clearly suggested that most would happily wave Scotland goodbye if it meant they got their beloved Brexit. So for all Ruth Davidson’s bluster about standing up for the union, it turns out the largest unionist party couldn’t give a monkeys. As they might say in her Edinburgh Central seat, you’ll have had your raison d’etre.
Mind you, whatever else the future PM might be, he’s hardly fiscally conservative. He can hardly afford to be when he needs all strands of his divided party to have any chance of getting his Brexit through, hence massive pledges for things like broadband and schools, although personally I’ll refuse to believe any of it until it’s written on the side of a muckle big bus.
One of the things he has promised is the long-awaited payment of the £190m of convergence uplift monies to Scotland’s farmers. The NFU has given what sounds like a very euphemistic “cautious welcome”.
For the many readers who aren’t in the industry, a brief re-cap.
Scotland technically speaking isn’t a member of the EU. The United Kingdom is, however, and holds the membership card. The recent media narrative has been that Scotland received the highest individual payments across the UK, but this takes no account of individual holdings or the large number of contract farming arrangements in place, particularly in hill or arable estates. When you factor this in, Scotland actually receives the lowest payments – not just across the UK but within the entire EU trading bloc.
Seeing a clear imbalance, the EU allocated £190m of monies specifically for Scotland. But, of course, the monies were sent to Westminster, who then allocated them across the UK. The EU were shocked but essentially powerless to intervene, and every party in Scotland voiced various levels of anger and disappointment. There were enquiries and “forward looking” reviews (translation: we’re keeping your money). But it didn’t matter. Scotland’s convergence monies never arrived.
My own view is that media briefings about Scotland’s allegedly higher payments are a tactic to clear the ground for the Barnett-free, 50 percent cut in funding in a post-Brexit industry. My hunch is that a political class that is openly hostile to a Scotland that it portrays as a burden while knowing it’s an invaluable resource can’t wait to get started.
But in a wider sense the tale of Scotland’s disappearing monies is both instructive and cautionary.
Firstly, in any other normal democracy, a charlatan who promised you £350m per week for the NHS and who told you that if you voted to stay in Europe you’d wake up one morning to find a Turkish family sleeping on your sofa, if he then promised you to pay you the money owed to you from six years ago – wouldn’t be given a “cautious welcome”. He’d be chased out of the room. In the unlikely event of him fronting up the cash we’d chase him for the late-payment surcharge. But this is what happens when you spend three centuries being told you’re not good enough. Subjugation becomes normalised. You pay your way and then get some of it back in pocket money and are expected to be grateful. We beg for a piece of what’s already ours.
Secondly, the whole affair shows the need for Scottish farming to have the kind of tailored support system that was broadly provided by the nuanced and redistributive nature of the European Union. All of that goes in a hard Brexit project whose endgame is the centralising of Westminster power and the undermining of that of Scotland through a power grab.
And, thirdly, I’d caution against becoming fixated by individuals. In a sense it doesn’t matter who gets the keys to the big hoose. What matters is that whoever is in charge, it isn’t Scotland. For as long as the system remains in place, for as long as we allow our democracy to be outsourced to a place whose political instincts are for the most part alien to our own, they can withhold our convergence monies. They can do what they like and there isn’t a thing we can do about it. The real question is: “should Scotland decide, or should someone else decide for her?”. That’s it. The rest is noise.
I’ll leave you with a thought.
Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister. Terrifying as that may be, it isn’t the main issue.
Which is this.
If the system allows – is designed – to elevate Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to a position where he can run Scotland, then that system is utterly broken.
The importance of Scotland taking bold steps towards a better future has never felt so urgent.
Or, in other words: if not now – when?