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For Scotland The General Election Is British Nationalism vs Scottish Nationalism

24/04/2017 12:52 BST | Updated 24/04/2017 12:52 BST
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British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election bears all the hallmarks of a government in the throes of a ongoing political crisis in the wake of last year's referendum result to rip the UK out of the EU.

The Prime Minister's reasoning for calling an early general election, which is set to be held on the 8th of June, is to give her the mandate required to take Britain into the protracted period of negotiations with Brussels on the terms of the UK's exit from the European Union. Theresa May, it should be pointed out, was selected by Conservative Party as its leader, and as such Prime Minister, in the wake of the EU referendum and is yet to receive a democratic mandate from the British electorate.

This being said, it is impossible to negate the whiff of opportunism when it comes May's decision to go for an early election. In so doing she clearly believes it will serve to derail any last vestige of post-referendum opposition to Brexit, thus paving the way for the imposition of a 'hard Brexit' - i.e. one that comes without any trade deal or arrangement being negotiated with Brussels. The potential impact on the British economy in such a scenario is grim indeed, which is why Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been demanding a second referendum on Scottish independence. As such the SNP's vote in the upcoming UK general election will act as a barometer of support for indyref2, support for which recent opinion polls suggest is currently lacking.

Rather than clarify Britain's constitutional position vis-à-vis Europe, Brexit only succeeded in kicking over a constitutional hornet's nest when it comes to Scotland's status within the UK. In this regard, what opponents of Scottish independence fail to grasp is the extent to which the first referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 awakened a national consciousness that is not going back to sleep anytime soon. It means that politics in Scotland is now viewed through a national prism, much to the detriment of a Labour Party that for decades was the dominant political party in the country, but which in the wake of the first Scottish independence referendum has been reduced to one solitary Scottish MP in the UK's Westminster Parliament. It is Labour's comeuppance for the years it spent being more Catholic than the Pope in implementing Tory economic and social policies north of the border, culminating in the disastrous if not surprising decision to campaign with Thatcher's party against Scottish independence in 2014.

Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015, his supporters in Scotland believed, would result in the vertiginuous collapse in Labour's fortunes in Scotland arrested. However, 18 months on, there is no evidence of it being reversed anytime soon. Indeed, rather than learn salient lessons from Labour's collaboration with the Tories in opposing independence first time round, Corbyn has now followed the Tories through the House of Commons voting lobby twice in succession, first over the triggering of Article 50 and secondly and most recently in support of Theresa May's call for an early general election.

This upcoming general election is in essence a second referendum on Brexit, which is where Theresa May is pursuing a clever strategy in calling it. With the Labour Party still mired in a fractious inner-party squabble over Corbyn's leadership, and with the latest opinion polls revealing a lack of support for another referendum on Scottish independence, the Prime Minister believes there is no better time to isolate the opposition and forge ahead with the aforementioned so-called hard Brexit.

Nicola Sturgeon's unionist detractors have extended themselves in alleging that her call for a second referendum on Scottish independence is needlessly divisive and disruptive at a time when the priority should be bringing the country back together in the wake of the EU referendum last June. However this argument is both tendentious and disingenuous, considering that 62% of people in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and that many who voted against Scottish independence in 2014 (myself included) did so on the basis of the UK being part of the EU.

Moreover, in the wake of Brexit, Scotland's First Minister has gone out of her way to broker a compromise arrangement with Theresa May's government, one in which Scotland could retain membership of the European single market while a the same time remaining part of a UK that sits outside the EU. In this regard Sturgeon has been crystal clear: single market access is vital to the health of the Scottish economy in terms of employment, investment, and the role that migrants have played in filling a skills gap.

Unfortunately, the Scottish First Minister's attempts to arrive any such compromise deal with the Britain's Prime Minister have been unceremoniously rebuffed, sacrificed to the interests of the toxic anti-Europe wing of her own party, along with a feral EU-hating right wing media in London. It is a rebuttal that has posed the question of whether Scotland is a partner nation or whether merely a region of the United Kingdom? No leader of the Scottish National Party, much less one who also happens to be the First Minister of the devolved Scottish Parliament, could possibly countenance acceptance of the latter status contained within that question.

Locating this issue in a broader context, we are living through an age of constitutional crises, what with centrifugal forces within the EU gaining increasing political momentum over the past few years. This growing momentum is, however, a symptom of a deeper malaise within neoliberalism, which at time of writing is over in all but name. A variant of capitalism premised on the primacy of economics over politics and national sovereignty, neoliberalism has crashed against the rocks of the tremendous inequality it has sown, dividing the world between a tiny superrich elite and everybody else.

In the immortal words WB Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.