Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Corbyn: Westminster should not block second Scotland poll

Labour leader opposes UK breakup but says not parliament’s place to bar independence vote

Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed he believes Westminster should not block a second referendum on Scottish independence, but said he opposed the breakup of the UK.

Corbyn implicitly endorsed remarks by his close ally John McDonnell last week where he said a Labour government would not obstruct a fresh independence vote if there was sufficient support for one in the Scottish parliament.

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A national unity government led by backbenchers to block no-deal Brexit is a dangerous idea

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction and would only serve to sharpen divisions, writes Lea Ypi.

The metaphor of the body politic can be an attractive one to think about political community, especially when the body is on the verge of collapse and you have a name for the disease: Brexit. The UK has been branded ‘the sick man of Europe‘ and needs a good cure before it is too late. What better suggestion than the idea of a national unity government, united only by the noble purpose of extending article 50 to avert a no-deal?

The idea of a government of national unity to prevent a no-deal Brexit is a destructive contradiction. First, there is a contradiction in its appeal to the nation. A government of national unity identifies the whole nation with the part opposed to a no-deal Brexit. It not only ignores the will of the other part of the nation, inclined to leave the EU, and indeed leave by October 31st, but denies its claim to be part of the nation, even in name.

Second, there is a contradiction in the promise of unity. A national unity government would sharpen divisions, not only in the nation as a whole but in its parts.  A cross-party government formed and dissolved with the sole purpose of fixing Brexit by extending article 50 (assuming a further extension is any kind of fix) can avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of its very consequential decisions. By its temporary nature, by its concentration of executive discretion, by its absence of a wider programmatic commitment, it lacks the democratic credentials to chart a process of future reconciliation. It prevents citizens from linking their grievances on Brexit to wider political issues, and to engage with the deeper question of what kind of society they all want to share.

Not only does the solution sharpen divisions in the nation, it sharpens them in its political parties.  In parliamentary democracies, these are the primary agents that help citizens distinguish their political views, the principles they subscribe to, and the selection of policies that reflect their commitments. A government of national unity is the work of all but the responsibility of none. Such is the hope of course, yet British history has not been kind to pioneers of national unity. Lloyd George, the artifice of a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives in 1916, was the last Prime Minister the Liberals ever had. In 1931, Ramsay Macdonald’s decision to form a government of national unity with Tories led to his expulsion from the party, and to Labour being wiped out of power until 1945. 1945 was of course the year that marked the end of yet another government of national unity, and with it the eclipse of the prime minister that championed it – that same prime minister about whom Boris Johnson has written a biography and of whom he admires the statesmanship.

These were extreme circumstances. Only in the phantasies of the most ardent Leavers can Brexit be compared to a World War. Nor can it be compared to the Great Depression, though some Remainers have tried. Still, the fact that parties are systematically punished for their participation in governments of national unity is not the result of unfortunate historical accident. It is the logical expression of a very basic democratic tension, one where in consequential political moments, politicians that owe their power to the people they represent, turn crucial political decisions into matters for professionals. The price of cross-party unity is the depoliticization of those very political problems that move people to associate with parties in the first place, their classification as accidents that must be averted rather than as products of human will.

This leads to the third contradiction in the idea of a Brexit-stopping national unity government: the government part of the formulation. A government is an agent that uses executive power to make decisions in the name of the people. Its actions are supposed to be rooted in an organic web of democratic processes and institutions that enable the people’s will to be articulated in an intelligible way. This is why parties have conference debates and decisions, leadership campaigns, electoral manifestos. This is why they are chosen to represent citizens, and how they are held accountable for their performance in government, and in opposition. This is why popular sovereignty is the soul of the body politic.

A government of national unity led by backbenchers rather than the current Leader of the Opposition would not only suspend party democracy in the present, it would destroy confidence in it for the future. Just like the denial of authority to the seventeen million or so citizens who voted Brexit, the denial of dignity to the half-million Labour members represented by Corbyn reveals the enduring inability of pro-Remain elites to comprehend, let alone relate to, opinions they oppose. Both are treated as some kind of disease from which we will be cured, provided the right treatment is found. Both display the same thoughtlessness vis-a-vis the process that led to these decisions, and the likely consequences of further ignoring their rationale. This is the way not to solve Brexit but to dig the sick man’s grave.


Note: the above was first published in The Independent.

About the Author

Lea Ypi (@lea_ypi) is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of The Meaning of Partisanship.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Concerns raised over Erasmus student scheme as no-deal Brexit looms

Scottish and Welsh governments seek answers about programme’s future from UK education secretary

The Scottish and Welsh governments have written to the UK education secretary to raise concerns about the future of the European student exchange programme after Brexit.

The joint letter to Gavin Williamson has been signed by Scotland’s further and higher education minister, Richard Lochhead, and the Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams.

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Brexit: judge fast-tracks challenge to stop Johnson forcing no deal

Hearing in Edinburgh to block suspension of parliament backed by more than 70 MPs

A Scottish judge has fast-tracked a legal challenge backed by 75 MPs and peers to prevent Boris Johnson proroguing parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.

The cross-party group, led by the Scottish National party MP Joanna Cherry QC, alleges it would be illegal and unconstitutional for the prime minister to suspend the Commons to prevent MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit before 31 October.

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Is Scotland finally set to bid farewell to the union?

Boris Johnson’s do-or-die Brexit has pushed even reluctant Scots into the pro-independence camp, among the voters in one bellwether town

When Boris Johnson, as editor of the Spectator, published a poem in 2004 calling the Scots a “verminous race” that deserved “comprehensive extermination”, he may not have imagined it could come back to haunt him 15 years later in his first weeks as prime minister.

“The Scotch – what a verminous race!” begins Friendly Fire by James Michie. “Canny, pushy, chippy, they’re all over the place / Battening off us with false bonhomie / Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.”

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No-deal Brexit spells calamity for union, warns Gordon Brown

Former prime minister says UK is ‘sleepwalking to oblivion’ as Sadiq Khan says he is open to a unity government

Growing nationalism is pulling the United Kingdom apart, driving it towards an unprecedented economic calamity and unleashing the most serious constitutional crisis since the 17th century, Gordon Brown warns on Sunday.

In his most dire warning about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the union, the former prime minister states that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are “devoid of a unifying purpose” capable of holding together amid the threat of crashing out of the EU.

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