If, as polls suggest, pro-independence parties win a majority in May’s Holyrood elections, the SNP’s plan A is to seek UK government agreement to indyref2.
“There is simply no way Johnson will concede a referendum on Scottish independence.” says Iain McWhirter in the Herald.
“Just say no, Boris” – George Osborne, Evening Standard.
“Simply, clearly, obviously, Johnson has everything to lose and nothing to gain from conceding another referendum in Scotland.” – Stuart Campbell, Wings Over Scotland.
They’re not alone. Several politicians and commentators, on both sides of the YES/NO divide, anticipate the same logical conclusion.
The most striking aspect of these assertions is their certainty. Whatever happens, Boris will say no. He has no interest in granting a poll he’d likely lose. He’s got an unbeatable majority. It’s logical. So there.
But is it wise to view the future with such categoric insistence?
Maybe the recent past is a more reliable indicator of how Johnson might respond.
His early track record as PM makes the idea of Boris the Implacable plausible. In August 2019, he prorogued parliament. He faced down the queen, the Commons and many in his own party. He was stopped only by a Supreme Court ruling, a move initiated by the formidable Joanna Cherry.
Johnson ploughed on with a minority government, suspended 21 Tory MPs, provoked an election, won the biggest majority in 20 years and “got Brexit done”.
But since then? U-turns, cock-ups, fibs and transgressions. Dodgy contracts to Tory pals, bluster and bullying. Countless sackings and resignations.
Boris stood by his top adviser, when he should have sacked him. Then, within months, pressure came from closer to home and Cummings quit anyway.
He rashly whipped his MPs to defy support for free school meals, suffered all the resulting obloquy and then reversed the policy anyway. Political gain: less than zero.
You couldn’t make up the recent musical chairs in the Union Unit. An ex-MP (rejected by Perthshire voters) was appointed, then fired. His Brexiteer replacement lasted 2 weeks.
OK, Boris has an unassailable majority. But is he in control of events? It’s a paradox, the curveball of politics, which no amount of logic can explain.
Thatcher’s strategic advisers studied Marx. And Gramsci. They knew what hegemony meant and how to get it. But this current bunch wouldn’t know a strategy if it took off its face mask and jabbed them in the arm. Buffeted by events, they’re like beanbags, bearing the impression of the last person to sit on them.
September 2014 opinion polls gave Cameron and the unionists a real fright. Panicky trips north and a dodgy vow were hastily cobbled together at the mere hint of a majority for independence.
Think how things will play out when there’s not just an opinion poll blip, but a fresh, democratically determined, manifesto-explicit majority at Holyrood for a new independence referendum, with a depleted rump of unionist MSPs, helpless and hopeless.
Add to that scenario Boris’s posh boy blowhard style, a guaranteed lead balloon north of the border. His visits make him the best recruiter for indy. Like most of his cabinet, he’s clueless about Scotland and careless too.
If the resourceful, energetic and smart independence movement, boosted by majority public vote, can’t win against Bo-Jo and the Bozos, then perhaps the game’s a bogey anyway.
No way he’ll say YES? Enough logical predictions; let’s focus on securing a popular, irresistible case for indyref2.