Brexit and other Fantastical Beasts

In two days, we elect a government. In the recent history of things, we’d normally be following our historical party affiliations, where a small number of marginal seats tip the balance between parties who pivot around a vaguely centrist axis where, whatever the outcome, most of us can live with it for another five years, the while employing the traditional British relief valves of dark muttering, sarcasm and cynicism. And so the world turns.

But not this time. This time, the stakes are far greater than a short-term opportunity for an elected government to tinker with the parameters of policy, income, debt and stimulus. This time, the stakes are no less than the future of both the UK’s place in the world and, as a consequence, the future of the UK itself. This is an election whose ramifications will play out, not over a five-year term, but over generations.

So this isn’t about the conflicting policies and priorities of left versus right, but the underlying argument about whether we we place our faith in government based – however loosely – on principle and evidence or whether we choose to collude with the proponents of Brexit. Now this is demonstrably a toxic coalition of ideologues, terrified xenophobes, unprincipled opportunists and small-minded boors who, lacking any basis in fact and judgement, resort to lies, deceit and fantastical fear-mongering to gain power, in a foredoomed attempt to turn their fantasies into prophecy.

So this is not a plea to vote for any particular party, but to vote in a way which will create the highest probability of overturning Brexit, not merely of mitigating its impact. Which is where we do have a bit of a problem: not one of the major UK-national parties has had the backbone to stand up and make a absolute commitment to, and by whatever mechanism, overturn the Brexit referendum.

Both Conservative and Labour though, despite a large constituency of moderates in each, appear determined to follow the populist zeitgeist of the lowest common denominator rather than the rule of reason: a majority for either would result in a Brexit, although a Labour government would likely provide a more collaborative and nuanced outcome, negotiated more in sadness than anger. The Liberal Democrats come closest to mainstream rejection of Brexit, but even they are making some pretty basic mistakes in their policy and positioning: their focus on marginal seats rather than seeking to re-energise their natural base of support across the UK (much like the Democrats in the US); their seeking only for a second referendum on the outcome of Brexit, not on its fact, at a point where much of the damage will already have been done; and their opposition to a second Scottish independence referendum, rather than taking an agnostic view on the subject. Alternatives then are to look for either an issue-based party such as the Greens where these have a genuine chance of election or, if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, voting for a local party that stands in opposition to Brexit.

The implication there is, whatever the merits of local candidates, to not vote Conservative under any circumstances – that way, madness lies. Whatever the swing in the polls though, an overall Labour majority is both highly unlikely, albeit more desirable than the Conservative majority that May seeks in the name of “Strong and Stable” leadership, a quality she is supremely unqualified to recognise.

Looking first to Westminster though, the possible outcomes for Brexit mitigation or avoidance, are, in descending order of desirability, and ignoring anything that returns the Conservative Party with sufficient of a majority to allow it to continue its delusional, grade school-level approach to ‘negotiation’, about which it has repeatedly demonstrated that it has not one clue:

1. A hung parliament, where, whatever the nominal party of government, the smaller, anti-Brexit parties effectively control the balance of power: the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems. This is probably the most effective of possible outcomes, but trying to vote for a hung parliament is fraught with danger in itself.
2. A workable Labour majority, but not one large enough that they can allow their own loons free rein.

Moving on now from the overall UK picture, living here in Scotland adds both further possibility and complication: the obvious thing being to vote for the SNP, in the hope that their strength of 50+ MPs at Westminster will provide much of that oppositional buffer to Brexit.

In my case and in our local constituency I’d do just that, except that I’ve a decade’s direct experience of the ineffectual incompetence of much of the SNP administration in Scotland, and of the way in which its approach has actively inhibited economic progress here. In 2004, I was one of the founders of the Scottish Futures Forum at the Holyrood parliament, with high hopes of stimulating fresh and invigorating debate about the place of Scotland in the modern world. Only to watch it be subsumed by civil servants into a mere presentation window for often unimaginative and restrictive policies already being enacted. Which is itself a pretty good analogy of what’s happened to governance in and of Scotland over that same period. So, in the absence of any sign of a credible Labour resurgence in Scotland, I’m left with voting Lib Dem or Green, despite the fact that our local constituency was Labour before it turned SNP in 2015.

Now we need to consider what happens to the UK, in the scenarios of a Full Brexit, a ‘soft’ Brexit and no Brexit. The first of these, as promulgated by the May administration would ironically – given that the Conservatives are the party most focussed on UK unity – have the greatest likelihood of causing the breakup of the UK: as the ramifications of the Brexit delusion play out over the next few years, the Scots are likely to flock to the lifeboat of independence – exactly, in fact, what Nicola Sturgeon is planning for. The abandonment of Brexit would significantly reduce the probability of a second independence referendum in Scotland, and a middling muddle through (“Brexit Lite”) would probably keep Indyref 2 on the table, but with much less certainty in the outcome.

And all of that is before we get into the game of numbers that decides whether each country within the UK and the UK as a whole is better of in its current state or as a very different entity from its current constitution. Which of course is intimately tied to our relationship to the EU: whatever happens now, there’s a complex chain of consequences – intended and otherwise – to be played out. Whatever the results of Thursday, there is no easy ride to come, just a range of outcomes that create both challenge and opportunity. And for ‘challenge’ in the event of Brexit, read ‘unmitigated disaster’.

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