Think politics can’t get any more chaotic? Close your eyes and picture this scenario.
TV cameras and Press photographers are camped out in Downing Street, their relentless flashbulbs sending a dazed Larry the Cat fleeing for cover. The air is tight with anticipation and Number 10 aides peer from the windows for any signs of the visiting dignitary.
Suddenly, a black limousine sweeps into the street, miniature flags fluttering either side of the bonnet, and comes to a halt at the red carpet. Number 10’s steel-reinforced lug of a door swings open and out shambles Jeremy Corbyn in crumpled corduroys and a threadbare donkey jacket, a ‘Free Palestine’ badge on one lapel and a ‘Troops Out’ ribbon on the other.
The car door flies open and a pair of tartan heels click meaningfully as they connect with the pavement. She strides up to the new Prime Minister and past him, straight into Number 10.
‘Nicola, how lovely to see—’ he begins.
‘Hurry up, Jeremy,’ she snaps. ‘I’ve got a long list of demands to get through.’
The very idea was once so far-fatched, if you pitched it to the BBC drama department they would have redirected you to the science fiction desk. These days, it’s altogether more plausible. Nicola Sturgeon has raised the prospect of bringing down Boris Johnson’s government and installing Corbyn as a caretaker Prime Minister. That way, the theory goes, he can ask Brussels for another extension on Brexit and buy the Remain Parliament more time to find a way to keep the UK in the EU.
Opponents of Brexit should think long and hard before jumping on this bandwagon, for its ultimate destination is obvious. This would not be a ‘government of national unity’ but an unholy alliance between Sturgeon and Corbyn, a Sturbyn government that would first and foremost serve the interests of its principal architects.
Liberals who believe a Bennite sect that has spent three decades trying to capture the Labour Party and the institutions of the British state would agree to give it all up after a week or two are risibly naive. Once in power, Corbyn and his Stalinist acolytes will cling on for dear life, knowing it may be their only chance to remake the country in their ideological mould. When they do, those who put them in Number 10 will have few options for evicting them that don’t deepen the sense of crisis.
The biggest beneficiary of this scenario would be Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister does not give the impression of thinking very highly of the Labour leader and I doubt Corbyn thinks much about her at all, but personalities would place second to cold, hard politics.
If Labour found itself in power, either leading a caretaker administration or a minority government after another deadlocked general election, its short-term interests would align neatly with those of the Nationalists. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s prevarications on the Union are a good indication of what inducements they would dangle before Sturgeon in exchange for her 35 votes at Westminster. (Let’s dispense with the fiction that SNP MPs decide these matters for themselves.)
Labour, the SNP and assorted fringe parties might struggle to sneak a second Scexit referendum past the Commons but if they settle on a seemingly more modest goal — such as devolving the power to hold referendums to Holyrood — they stand a better chance. True, there is nominally a majority at Westminster opposed to Scotland leaving the UK but don’t underestimate the lengths parliamentarians will go to to stop Brexit.
Sturgeon would be in no position to reject such an offer. Her impatient grassroots would not allow her. Told the alternative is the return of a Tory government committed to Brexit, enough MPs could crack and go along with it. The democratic will would be stifled — Brexit may be a terrible idea but ignoring referendum results you don’t like is worse — and the future of the Union would be hanging by a thread.
This is just one scenario but there are various others with the same outcome: Corbyn’s Labour propped up by the SNP.
That Nicola Sturgeon would consider putting someone like Jeremy Corbyn in power for even just a second is testament to her faulty judgement. His party is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for antisemitism, 86 per cent of British Jews believe the man is personally antisemitic and he invited an Islamist hate preacher who claims Jews eat children’s blood to tea on the Commons terrace. The next time Sturgeon delivers one of her rhetorical flourishes on the virtues of equality, we will know there is one group that doesn’t factor into her egalitarian vision.
The parliamentary arithmetic is such that the Tories and their DUP allies hold 298 seats, whereas Labour, the SNP, the Welsh nationalists and the Greens combined are on 287 (assuming all Labour MPs would vote for Corbyn as PM). The balance of power lies with Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats and the bloc of ex-Labour and ex-Tory independents.
The Lib Dems have indicated they would not put Corbyn in power but Swinson has taken a firm stance on the Labour leader before only to reverse under pressure. The stakes are so much higher now. If she sticks to her guns and refuses, as Independent Group leader Anna Soubry is doing, to back Corbyn as a caretaker PM, it will be all but impossible for the SNP to instal him.
Delivering such a defeat to Nicola Sturgeon could be a defining moment in the future of the Lib Dems in Scotland. They would have proved their pro-UK bona fides handsomely and could credibly challenge the Tories as the main anti-nationalist party.
If, however, Swinson buckles again and signs up for Team Sturbyn, not only will the Lib Dems dilute their message as the only mainstream anti-Brexit party, they would be seen as enabling the SNP and its campaign to take Scotland out of the UK. The Lib Dems should have learned by now that being the junior partner in a coalition means you get much of the blame when things go awry.
Whatever your views on Brexit, the answer is not to lurch from crisis to anarchy, or to compound thwarting the outcome of the 2016 referendum by overturning the result of the 2017 election. Scotland being dragged out of the UK is not a price worth paying to stop the UK leaving the EU.
If the image of Corbyn and Sturgeon outside Number 10 ever becomes a reality, those responsible will come to sorely regret it.
I was reading the new David Hume Institute report on immigration — it keeps me off the streets — and nodding along to its findings. Scotland’s population is getting older, birthrates are sinking, more people are needed to staff and fund public services. But I could sense it coming a mile off: the authors want Holyrood to have more say over immigration.
Downing Street and the Scottish Tories should recognise the danger that lies down this path. Concede a separate immigration regime and you undermine the case that Scotland benefits from a UK single market. Besides, Scottish Tory voters would rather set their blue rinses on fire than see any more devolution and, if their party doesn’t listen to them, the Brexit Party will.
We need more immigrants but devolving control would only hand the SNP another wedge to drive between Scotland and the rest of the nation. The tragedy of devolution is that it has been captured by its enemies and turned into a juggernaut for their cause.
Spare a thought for Israelis as they look set for their THIRD election of 2019 after the previous two resulted in a hung parliament. Then again, maybe they’re onto something. That’s almost a year without a government, parliament, or any new laws, and you can go entire days without hearing the words ‘Brexit’ or ‘referendum’. Sounds like bliss.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Stephen at email@example.com. Feature image © Rwendland by Creative Commons 4.0, Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.