Alex Hedger is a company director and a former council candidate.
Whether you agree with it or not, there’s no doubting that Theresa May’s Chequers deal is (maybe; was) an attempt, at its core, to preserve the integrity of United Kingdom from the predations of European Union negotiators – and, in particular, to ensure the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland. Yet at roughly the same time as Theresa’s May’s Brexit proposal landed her a bloody nose at the hands of EU leaders, Jeremy Corbyn announced his ease at selling-off Scotland, with virtual impunity.
This is the same Corbyn known for frequently lambasting Conservative Governments (past and present) for having the nepotistic audacity to ‘sell off the family silver’, which he inaccurately conflates with privatisation. Whilst he’s made some limited mood-music to soothe Labour Unionists, that ‘it’s not an option he would desire’ he, none the less, has now made clear his willingness to enable a second Scottish referendum on independence.
There is some logic, if not morality and integrity, behind his announcement. British Election Study data from last year’s poll suggests that Corbyn’s core target audience, the millennial voters, may now be failing him. Early headwinds of support from younger votes look to be fading as an increasing blend of racism and neo-communism begin to have a chilling effect on getting the twenty-somethings out to vote. In response, and with an ever-present possibility of further snap elections, a new base needs to be energised, and fast. Labour high command appears to be selecting the demoralised Scottish Nationalists as their next strongest route to Number 10.
Not only do SNP voters offer a more dependable electoral turnout, they’re also pragmatic enough to realise that their prospects of being offered a further Scottish referendum by an EU referendum-bruised Conservative Government which invited, is presiding over over and bears the fallout from Brexit are next to none. As kindred socialist spirits, it’s no stretch for many SNP voters to lend support to Labour, and it’s no stretch for Corbyn to dangle a reward in return for the favour. We’ve undoubtedly seen peak-SNP so, as the third largest Westminster party, there’s a need for Labour to act quickly before their masses gradually dissipate into the wilderness. Or, worse still for the party, into Ruth Davidson’s popular and soon-to-be maternal embraces.
The juxtapositions here could not be more perverse or painful for Theresa May. In defending the Union, she is accepting that her legacy both inside and outside her Party will almost certainly be remembered as efforts to preserve and protect as many unions as possible. By contrast, Corbyn apparently continues to ride waves of adulation from fellow socialists as he wealds a butcher’s knife towards Britain’s head, in order to buy power.
But there are costs to this Faustian bargain.
It’s easy to throw cheap shots at Conservative governments for ‘selling-off’ public services, but the reality is that there has been no visceral loss to the state or the citizen through any privatisation. There were no gaping chasms in the British landscape when Royal Mail became privately operated. There were no divisive borders erected – separating families, friends and partners when logos changed on electricity bills. There was no fiscal collapse.
On the contrary, within most industries, privatisation has been an overwhelmingly constructive process. Yet, the ultimate Labour sell-off – that of Scotland – would undoubtedly be catastrophically destructive for both nations. Economically, socially, politically and morally. The UK was a member of the European Union for around 40 short years and divorce has, at times, presented bouts of societal indigestion. By comparison, Scottish separation from 300 years of union would be national evisceration.
The remaining United Kingdom would see minimal changes to its living standards: strong financial services and a workforce located overwhelmingly below the border will see to that. Yet forecasts show that Scotland as an independent country would simply not be viable. Nearly half of the population of Scotland would have an undesired independence inflicted upon them as Labour ‘sells them down the river’ in exchange for five short years of power. And it would only be five years, as the original nationalist vote-lenders would no longer be available to prop up Labour’s vote again in subsequent elections.
It’s often said that the definition of integrity is ‘doing the right thing, even when you receive no praise’. A means of assessing it it to weighing the consciences of a leader who would risk destroy the Union in order to gain power, against one who, however Pollyannaish she may be, is seeking to protect and preserve that series of unions, even in the face of heavy personal costs.