Now there’s a title I didn’t think I’d be writing this year.
Theresa May today announced that she will ask Parliament to suspend the Fixed Terms Parliament Act in order to hold a snap election on June 8th. Just seven weeks from now.
Why is she doing it after weeks of denying she would? Well, Theresa claims that the country is united behind her vision of Brexit, and it’s just those nasty opposition parties that won’t see sense and get behind her marvellous Brexit plan. That is of course utter nonsense. The country has never been united behind Brexit at all. The referendum result proved that, and current polling shows that absolutely nothing has changed in that regard.
Whether Mrs. May actually believes her “united” rhetoric is of course debatable. Personally, I doubt she’s quite that daft, but then again, I wouldn’t be really shocked to find that she is.
Maybe Theresa is going by the polls that show her party to have a commanding lead in Westminster voting intention. If she is looking at those polls, and translating that into united support for Brexit, she could be making a fundamental mistake.
In Scotland there has been much debate over how many SNP/Yes voters also voted to leave the EU, and might jump ship on the independence question, or how many might jump the other way. How many of those Conservative voters might be, in principle, opposed to her hard Brexit vision, and likely to lend their support to another party, given the sudden and unexpected second opportunity to halt Brexit? I suspect there may be quite a few. Those polls tell us about how things looked until today, when Brexit was a certainty. By calling this vote, May just changed the game. Can Brexit now be stopped by defeating the Tories? A lot of Remainers will now be asking that question.
Theresa is pitching this election as needed to give her a mandate to steam ahead with hard Brexit, but it’s also about her increasingly right-wing, authoritarian, austerity agenda. If she gets that mandate, I genuinely fear for the future. There will no longer be any reasonable grounds for the opposition parties to oppose her Brexit vision, either in the Commons, or the Lords. Opposition in a national Parliament is healthy. Theresa wants to crush that opposition, and give herself free reign.
Will she win it? Frankly that’s not something I’m remotely sure about right now. The polls certainly show she could win a landslide, but they could change significantly over the next seven weeks. Even if they don’t, election polls recently have proven to be pretty unreliable. How many of the people who didn’t vote in the EU referendum, thinking that Brexit would never happen, might now get off their sofas, seeing a final chance to change the country’s future? Will that make a difference? Unfortunately, while I’m far from sure of the outcome, I suspect that the Conservatives are most likely to win. Labour are just too divided, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them sabotage themselves yet again. That said, a comeback for the Lib Dems, the only real remaining, strongly anti-Brexit party in England, is far from impossible.
There is only really one thing that I am fairly sure of. This essentially changes nothing for Scotland. Scots will once again vote handsomely in favour of the SNP, and once again it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. As always, the result of this election will be decided by the people of England. The democratic deficit will still exist, and the fact that Scots voted to remain in the EU will still stand. Even if the Tories win, (unless they win with a significant swing to them in Scotland), they still won’t have a mandate to impose a hard Brexit on a Scotland that voted against it and rejected their party (yet again). Scotref will still be required in order to reconcile those problems.
As I write this, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has just responded to the question of whether the SNP will fight this election on winning a mandate for Scotref:
“I already have a mandate. I won that mandate at the Holyrood election last year, and again in the Scottish Parliament just a few weeks ago.”
Does that mean she intends to forge ahead with Scotref regardless of the General Election? I hope so, but could unlikely Tory gains from the SNP in GE17 throw a spanner in those works? That’s extremely unlikely. The SNP are dominant in Scotland, and I’d be extremely surprised to see them lose many, if any seats, never mind to the Tories, who came third in the last Westminster election with just 14.9% of the vote.
Another thing to consider is that by calling this election, May just made a farce of her own argument that “now is not the time” for a Scotref. No one wants it, she says. Well, no one wants a General Election.
While I think I get the reasoning behind May’s spectacular U-turn in calling this election, I can’t for the life of me help thinking it’s a misguided move. It’s hard to argue with Sturgeon’s assessment that this is a prime minister putting the “interests of her party ahead of those of the country”. A lot of voters might come to agree with that too. It’s not as if the Tories were really having any problem getting their legislation through Parliament. It’s an obvious attempt at increasing their majority, and weakening an opposition that wasn’t really much of a threat anyway. But it’s also a gamble, and gambles can go wrong.
One thing is for sure. With the local elections happening next month, a General Election essentially certain the month after, and wranglings over Scotref still to come, 2017 just got a whole lot more interesting.
Any thoughts? Leave a comment.