The recent chaos in the UK has both helped and hindered the SNP. It is easier to argue for separation if the UK is poorly led and in an economic crisis. But it’s also easy to see why even the most ardent Scottish nationalist might decide to wait for calmer times before deciding to put an international border down the middle of our shared island.
While everyone’s attention was on Liz Truss, no one’s attention was on Nicola Sturgeon. Which must have hurt especially while she was trying to advance the case for Scottish independence. But that too has good and bad aspects for the SNP as support for independence depends on ignorance of what it would involve. Hard border plus currency change with maybe passport control, tariffs plus in the end the Euro looks worse than we have already to all but those who want independence come what may.
Into this we have a new Prime Minister. Whether you supported Sunak or whether you didn’t, it is time for all Conservatives and British people in general to wish him well.
There is no point complaining that he lost to Truss. If she had not blown up the economy and disintegrated like the Wicked Witch of West on contact with water, then Sunak would have remained on the back benches.
The Conservative Party has rather gone back to the old way of choosing leaders with the coronation of King Rishi, but how a party chooses its leader is up to it. If what matters is the support of MPs otherwise chaos follows, then leave it up to the MPs to get the leader they want or leave it up to a decision by grey men behind closed doors. What matters in our system is that the Prime Minister has the support of a majority in the House of Commons. His democratic legitimacy comes from his election as an MP not from how he became leader.
The appointment of Rishi Sunak has already calmed the markets and we can hope that in a short time we will be back to where we were before Truss. The cost of borrowing is crucial to our economic future as it will determine how much we can spend on everything else. Sunak will bring it down.
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Sunak’s task is to use his extensive knowledge and experience of the markets to gradually improve the UK’s economic conditions. There is no point trying to do too much too soon. The Conservative party will probably lose the next election whatever Sunak does. But it can somewhat restore its reputation if two years from now there are some signs of growth after two years of stability.
It would help Labour if the economy is in better shape when it comes to power than now, but we must hope all governments govern in the interest of the country. People will think better of both Sunak and the Conservatives if that is their focus now.
While chaos helps and hinders the SNP, stability helps and hinders it too. If two years from now there is no war in Ukraine, if the cost of energy has fallen and Covid has declined to such an extent that we no longer even think about it, Scottish nationalists might think now is a good time to leave the UK. But if we have economic stability and fewer risks than before why leave?
Scottish independence is at best an unknown. No first world market economy and no country in the G20 has attempted to split. Leaving the EU was difficult enough for the UK, but splitting up a 300 year old country would be bound to involve difficulties that are hard to even imagine. So, if things are going better in two years’ time and there is the prospect of a Labour Government why vote for the unknown?
Sunak’s parents were both born in Africa. One was a GP the other a pharmacist. He wasn’t super rich as a child, but studied hard and gained as good an education as anyone in Britain. It says a lot about our country that he can become Prime Minister with hardly anyone caring at all about where his parents were born or what he looks like.
It is unimaginable that either China or Russia would choose leaders who were not ethnic Chinese or Russians. It is equally unimaginable in most EU countries or indeed most countries anywhere.
It is going to be much harder for people like Sturgeon to criticise Sunak in the way she has criticised previous Tory leaders. The SNP relies on a stereotypical view of Tories based on them being like English lords of the manor coming to Scotland to clear poor oppressed highlanders from their homes. But this stereotype does not apply to Sunak. His ancestors did not fight at Bannockburn. His ancestors did not demand the droit du seigneur from poor wee innocent Scottish maidens. His ancestors did not massacre wounded clansmen after Culloden. So, he can rightly respond to the independence marchers and their fancy dress mixture of silver foil armour and Jacobite hats, what has this to do with me?
Scottish nationalism depends on people who hate Britain for a variety of historical reasons. The typical SNP supporter hates Britain because of various historical grievances which it associates with the Tories. Mixed in with this is typically a West of Scotland sectarianism that blames Britain for everything that ever happened in Ireland.
But both Irish and Scottish nationalism are almost exclusively white and are very closely connected with ancestry. The supposed illegitimacy of British people living in Northern Ireland is due to their having been “planted” there in the 16th and 17th centuries. The justification for Scottish independence is grounded in our ancestors writing the Declaration of Arbroath, our ancestors writing the Claim of Right and our ancestors sending your ancestors homeward after Bannockburn.
But Sunak’s ancestors didn’t cause any famine in Ireland. His ancestors did not ride with Cromwell and what has he to do with the sectarianism in the West of Scotland or Northern Ireland. Is he a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu? If Protestants were planted what about Hindus who arrived in the 1960s? It all looks rather anti-immigration if you are still an invader after 400 years.
Scotland has few ethnic minorities, but many of those support the SNP. Still Sunak being Prime Minister says something about the UK which contrasts with both Scottish and Irish nationalism. While these are grounded in past grievance and an obsession about how our ancestors were oppressed by your ancestors. Sunak shows a way forward where we don’t care who your ancestors were or what if anything they did to my ancestors.
Rishi Sunak can destroy the Scottish nationalist argument by making it appear irrelevant to our shared future that does not require a shared past. Compared to this, Sturgeon offers white people waving fake claymores and re-enactments of Bannockburn. It is not a vision of the future, but a failure to accept that history is past. Sunak makes the SNP archaic.
Effie Deans writes about Scottish politics. This article was originally published on her blog, Lily of St. Leonards.