Be Careful What You Wish For: Trump, Boris and Scotland

Following the racist comments made earlier this month by Donald Trump about a US judge of Mexican heritage, New Republic’s Jeet Heer tweeted this:

Jeet Heer

As you can see from his tweet, Heer is both a thoughtful commentator and an entertaining one.  What the wit couldn’t obscure, though, is that the notion that Trump might in fact be for real is very scary indeed.  This does contradict the earlier suggestion that Trump’s nomination campaign shouldn’t be taken at face value, because on the stump he simply says what should play well for the time and location concerned.

The argument was that his comments pandering to traditional viewpoints (“You’ll be able to call it ‘Christmas’ again”), on the growth of the Hispanic population (“We’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it”) and so on should all be read in that context.  You could match the “issue” to the State in which he was then campaigning and the news headlines of the day concerned.

Trump is an opportunist.  He has tapped into the populist themes of the moment and plays to the gallery.  The saving grace would be that as President he would of necessity be reined in by the realities of office and the weight of the White House machine.

God willing, that hypothesis won’t be tested in practice as it seems pretty certain that the next US President will instead be Hillary Clinton. [1]

Still, it’s worth considering what the alternative to Trump had been and whether that would have been a better outcome to have wished for.  To be frank, I would have viewed Ted Cruz as a much more scary prospect, because he really does believe in what he says and sticks to his principles.  At least with The Donald, there would always be the chance of a change of mind . . .

And so to the debate in the UK on membership of the European Union.

Michael Howard, the former Tory leader and cabinet minister, suggested on Monday that a vote for Brexit would not necessarily lead to the departure of the UK because instead it might very well motivate the EU to come up with an offer of improved membership terms, to the extent that it would negate the need to leave.  That struck a chord with some of us watching him on TV because it brought to mind what Boris Johnson had been saying back at the start of the campaign, which was along those same lines.

Boris is now the figurehead for Leave.  Accordingly, his every utterance proclaims that the EU is the source of all our ills and that Brexit will instead take us to the Promised Land.  Where he has a problem is that not so long ago he said very different things about EU membership.[2]  Even once he had decided to commit himself to the Brexit campaign, his initial stance was that it was a way of strong-arming our way to a better membership deal, rather than having unavoidably to lead to complete cessation of membership altogether.

Johnson is as much of a naked opportunist as Trump is.  As has become obvious to just about everyone, his real motivation is that of supplanting the current leadership of the Conservative Party.  The EU referendum offered him the chance to take the opposite side to David Cameron and his presumed successor, George Osborne, and to destroy them in the process.[3]

Just as with Trump, though, I’m not sure that Johnson is the man to fear the most.  Boris will change tack as it suits him, irrespective of anything he might have said beforehand.  Compare that with Chancellor George Osborne, who remains fixated on seeing through his economic programme, regardless of the actual outcome.  The inconvenient fact that the deficit continues to grow relentlessly (and thereby the debt) is something he seems able to block out, fingers in his ears while muttering “nah, nah, nah, nah”.  He scares me much more than Boris.  On that basis, I’m not convinced that crushing defeat for Johnson is the thing to wish for.

No matter the decision on Thursday, the aftermath will see the Tory Party tearing itself apart.  If nothing else, the closeness of the result will guarantee that the issue will not be treated as having been settled once and for all.[4]  The insults hurled at each other won’t be forgotten in a hurry either.  With any luck, the choice of the next Tory leader won’t much matter anyway as they will lose the next election.

Finally to Scotland.

For those seeking independence, the oft-quoted ideal scenario is that the UK votes overall to leave the EU but a majority in Scotland favours staying in.  The way would then be clear for Holyrood to claim that it had a mandate from the Scottish people for exiting the UK in order to secure continued membership of the EU for Scotland.

What that analysis overlooks is that no power devolved to Scotland entitles it to do any such thing.  It cannot call a referendum without first getting permission from Westminster, let alone take action following such.  The European Union Referendum Act 2015 does not in any case make provision for the separate recognition of the result in Scotland.[5]

If the result of the referendum on 23rd June is in favour of Brexit, the implications will be far-reaching.  Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty envisages a two-year period of negotiation over the exit terms and the “future relationship with the Union”.  The period of transition would be likely to extend over a much longer timeframe than those two years, perhaps taking as much as a generation to be completed.

You can be sure of one thing: a second referendum on Scottish independence will not get a look-in.  Westminster’s priority – reasonably enough, to be fair – will be the mechanics of the exit from the EU.  The unintended consequence of the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics is that the UK parties no longer need to cater for Scottish interests and concerns.

Perhaps more important, however, is that the worst case for Scotland is that of being in a different trading bloc to that of the rest of the UK, because that is the principal market for Scottish goods and services.  Even if a Scottish exit from the UK were possible, it would make no economic sense under those conditions.

I hate to burst the bubble, but there is no silver lining for Scotland in Brexit.  If the UK votes to leave the EU then Scots will have to live with that, liking it or lumping it according to taste.

Be careful of what you wish for.





1.  There is out there a persistent theory that Trump never meant for things to go this far, that it was only ever meant as publicity stunt.  He still doesn’t want to win but can’t bear the loss of face that would follow a withdrawal.  Instead, he needs to provoke the GOP into organising a coup to depose him.  I’ll leave that one with you.

2.  See this link, for example:  Changing Views Of Boris .

3.  The delicious irony is that the most prominent member of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, is a previously proclaimed Europhile, whereas the counterpart for Remain, Prime Minister David Cameron, is suspected to be at heart sympathetic to exit from the EU.

4.  Whaur’s your “neverendum” complaint noo?

5. When it comes to it – and no matter the result – the EU referendum will not be binding on the UK Government, either now or in the future. Moreover, the Act does not attempt to specify what would have to follow the result of a vote for Leave. It would be Parliament that would decide what would happen next.  That’s relevant when considering Michael Howard’s comments referred to above.

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