Whisper it, but if Boris delivers, it’ll be the stuff of SNP nightmares
By Graham Grant
IF you have ever wondered about the identity of the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, you might get your answer today, when Boris Johnson is unveiled as the new Tory leader.
At least that’s the crazed narrative from any number of liberal commentators, and indeed many on the Right, who portray him as a bogeyman intent on wreaking constitutional havoc.
Meanwhile some Unionists warn that Mr Johnson will put the brakes on the Conservative revival in Scotland, while Tory ministers in London are quitting in their droves before the new PM’s arrival.
It all adds up to a rather British farce, one that would have appealed to PG Wodehouse: a privileged buffoon suddenly finds himself running the country – except this time there’s no Jeeves to sort out the mess.
Chief among his detractors, of course, are the Nationalists, for whom Mr Johnson is an extremist, and a racist, who will further degrade Scotland’s position in the Union.
In other words, he’s a gift for the SNP, or should be: he will hasten the demise of the hated Union; they profess to detest him on the basis that he will cause carnage, but in fact that’s why they want him in power.
It’s a well-rehearsed and specious argument based on crass caricature, which requires us all to buy into easy stereotypes.
We don’t want a bumbling English toff to do irreparable damage to our country, the argument runs (partly because, on the evidence of the SNP in government over the last 12 years, we’re doing a good enough job of this ourselves).
What has always been peculiar about this thesis is that the Nationalists are also pretty extreme, determined to tear up a successful economic partnership, and to ditch the pound – generating far more upheaval than No Deal ever could.
When it comes to ideological dogma, which insists on a course of action that could have ruinous consequences, the SNP long ago cornered the market; their demonisation of Mr Johnson, in this context, is distinctly of the glass house variety.
Back in 2014, the pro-independence movement argued that the prospect of a majority Tory government, which came to pass the next year, should be enough to steer most Scots towards voting Yes.
In fact, we saw through the short-termism of that hypothesis, and realised that a loathing of the Tories is a flimsy foundation for the case against the Union – it was wrong to end a centuries-old alliance because of a government that wouldn’t be around forever.
The SNP believes a Johnson Premiership is a dream come true, driving more Scots into its arms, but in fact it could be the party’s worst nightmare, if Mr Johnson can make Brexit happen, make it work, and – in so doing – shore up the Union against further Nationalist incursion.
There are enough variables here for Nicola Sturgeon to bank on the failure of his administration – an early implosion, in keeping with his scatterbrain and chaotic modus operandi, followed closely, in all likelihood, by a General Election.
Brexit has been presented in Scotland as an English nationalist project, foisted on a country of Europhiles – an argument that overlooks the fact that in 2016 the appetite for further revisiting the constitutional status quo, only two years after indyref, was always going to be limited.
A fifth of the Scottish population backed quitting the EU, including about a third of SNP voters, but Miss Sturgeon has persisted with the fiction that Scots were in the midst of a deep love affair with Europe, prematurely terminated by the Tories.
Brexit should have been framed as a vehicle for strengthening the Union by repatriating power to its devolved legislatures, bolstering Holyrood, and hobbling the grievance-fuelled separatist argument that Scotland labours under Westminster’s colonial yoke.
Most of us don’t want the years, perhaps decades, of disorder that Scottish independence would trigger; and most of us don’t want another EU referendum.
What we do desperately want is an end to the Brexit impasse, and for normal service, whatever that might be, to resume.
Brexit must be sold on that basis, and at every turn Mr Johnson should continue with Theresa May’s carefully worded refusal to countenance indyref2 – all rational Scots will judge the new PM solely on those key yardsticks.
On Brexit, Mrs May played a weaker hand, and the EU never truly believed she would go through with No Deal; but they are prepared to believe it of Mr Johnson, and there are signs that this simple fact is beginning to concentrate minds, both here and abroad.
Senior Irish politicians and diplomats are said to have held peace talks with two of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet allies in recent days, while German and French figures, as well as the Dutch and Belgian governments, have signalled an intention to do a deal.
No less a legal heavyweight than SNP MP Joanna Cherry, QC, has conceded that parliament may be powerless to prevent a No Deal exit, since last week’s vote means MPs must sit for only five days in October.
It isn’t the most desirable option, but the warnings about the devastation of No Deal have been overplayed; and naturally those condemning it most vocally are those who never wanted Brexit to happen, and who still believe it can be undone.
We are on the verge of a period of mass disillusionment with politics, because the electorate fears an Establishment stitch-up will crush its clear command of a few years ago (having written off everyone who voted for it as stupid, or racist, or both).
He is far from perfect, but Mr Johnson is an antidote to the managerial nanny-statism that has characterised politics in recent years, and he recognises that the result of the 2016 referendum must be honoured, if public faith in our democracy is to be sustained.
And if he can pave the way for economic renewal by making Brexit happen, and unlocking the inward investment that has been held back over the last three years, some of those dividends can be deployed to fortify the Union.
Against what backdrop does Miss Sturgeon hope to demonstrate that a chaotic Johnson regime would cripple Scotland, and that independence is a far preferable prospect?
Well, her own party’s reputation for unshakeable, cast-iron internal discipline lies in tatters, along with most of her policy agenda, such as it was.
Internecine warfare increases a notch on a regular basis, as a tired administration gears up for the day when its spiritual leader Alex Salmond goes on trial over a string of alleged sex crimes – a scandal that could have major ramifications for Miss Sturgeon’s own hopes of remaining in power.
Don’t buy the doom-laden propaganda from a party whose spell in office has been dominated by fomenting the kind of social division they now warn Mr Johnson will stoke.
Those much-discussed uplands may not be sunlit, but nor are they anywhere near as gloomy as the future the SNP has planned for us.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on July 23, 2019.