The Daily Telegraph
The Brexiteer case for a Scottish referendum
If the Scots want a say on their future, it is hard to see how the PM can deny them the opportunity
‘Democracy must – and will – prevail,” said Nicola Sturgeon, closing the SNP’S virtual conference yesterday. She was, yet again, making the case for a second independence referendum. She wants the Westminster Government to back such a vote, saying her first choice is to do it in a spirit of “cooperation” rather than “confrontation”, though she has also made clear she will plough ahead regardless, and go to court if necessary.
She’s playing a canny game in some ways, and it’s one which around half of Scots buy into, even if many of those still think such a referendum should be delayed until Covid has dissipated.
This presents Boris Johnson with a huge problem. How can he reasonably argue that Sturgeon doesn’t have a mandate for a referendum, especially since the agreement with the similarly pro-independence Scottish Greens that gave Ms Sturgeon an effective majority at Holyrood? Sturgeon’s 2020 manifesto made clear she wanted another referendum and that was endorsed by the voters.
David Cameron promised a Brexit referendum in the Tories’ 2015 manifesto and won a majority of seats in Westminster. He was therefore obliged to go ahead with the referendum, even though George Osborne warned him of the dangers.
Can any Brexiteer seriously argue that the situation here isn’t analogous? Surely if you believe in giving people a say on Brexit, you can’t maintain that Scots should be denied a second vote on independence?
Johnson should throw down the gauntlet to the SNP, grant them their referendum next year and take the unionist case to the Scottish people, deploying positive, optimistic arguments about the future of the UK with Scotland remaining within it. Project Fear won’t work in the same way it just about did in 2014.
The weakness in the SNP’S case is that although they maintain they want independence from the UK single market, they want to subsume Scotland’s independent decisionmaking powers to the EU. That’s not independence. It’s subservience.
As a Brexiteer, I am at least consistent in thinking people deserve their say. Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, I also believe that independence must mean independence, otherwise what is the point of it?
Talking of “what’s the point of it?”, let’s look at the BBC. As the national broadcaster, wouldn’t you have expected it to make a better effort to show the US Open Tennis semi-finals and final at the weekend, given that 18-year-old British star Emma Raducanu stood a very good chance of winning? And, of course, she did win in style.
Both matches were due to be shown on Amazon Prime, which had bought the rights some time ago. Yet while the BBC floundered, Channel 4 stepped in for the final and garnered an incredible audience of nine million, their highest for any programme in nine years. Good on them. Meanwhile, around four million people watched yet another episode of Casualty on BBC One. Public service broadcasting, eh?
The BBC makes a great deal of broadcasting sports which few people ever watch, but seems to have given up on events which attract a mass audience. BBC Sport has been hollowed out to such an extent that there is now a case for giving up showing any sport and putting their resources into news and current affairs. However, that department is also being hollowed out, with dozens of experienced reporters and correspondents taking advantage of generous redundancy packages – most of them white, middle-aged males.
The outgoing head of news, Fran Unsworth, has presided over a decade of cuts and decline in editorial standards. Her deputy Jonathan Munro was complicit in many of the decisions, and was the man who welcomed Martin Bashir back to the BBC and gave the green light to Cliff Richard’s house being filmed by helicopter during a police raid. BBC News needs a new broom. Munro, widely being touted as a frontrunner, is not it.
One of the worst faults in a prime minister is the need to be liked, and Boris Johnson has it in spades. He is appalled when confronted by someone who thinks he’s anything less than a lovable bundle of fun. This is why he hates reshuffles. It means he has to make enemies.
To be fair, few prime ministers enjoy carving the cabinet joint. David Cameron hated it. Even Margaret Thatcher didn’t like it and left far too many decisions to her chief whips. On Sunday evening, the Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, and the No 10 head of communications, Jack Doyle, were spotted heading into Downing Street. Such manoeuvres typically hint that a reshuffle is in the offing.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, will no doubt be having a sleepless night. As a former chief whip, Mr Williamson knows that if he survives the cull, it will be extremely difficult for the PM to look cabinet ministers in the face and explain why they are being dismissed when he isn’t.