Robin McAlpine: Unionists, you've had your fun with polarisation. Now it's our turn

CommonSpace columnist and Common Weal director Robin McAlpine says the independence movement is the only thing that can rid Scotland of 'Total Tory Rule' 

NONE of this is how I'd like it to be. I don't want Scotland's future decided in animosity. I want a genuine, open, considerate and positive national discussion about our hopes and dreams and all that stuff.

I want my side to recognise how we could have been better – a touch less paranoid-sounding from time to time, more willing to admit that we've still got legitimate questions to answer, accepting that some concern about SNP dominance is not unreasonable.

But I really want the other side to accept that there was an enormous amount of merit in the last independence referendum, real, big questions raised for the first time in generations, people plugged into politics with an enthusiasm we've not seen for ages, much more mutual respect than is accepted.

Unionists stopped trying to talk to independence supporters a long time ago. Their whole strategy is based around polarisation – write off the 'Hateful Nats', split off everyone else and try to drive these two groups as far apart as possible.

Alas, fear and anger have been the fuel of unionist strategy since 2011. The single-minded determination to paint the constitutional debate as poison and hatred and awfulness is unwavering.

Unionists stopped trying to talk to independence supporters a long time ago. Their whole strategy is based around polarisation – write off the 'Hateful Nats', split off everyone else and try to drive these two groups as far apart as possible.

It's not what I want. It's not how I want it. But it's where we are. And now unionists are going to find out what a campaign of polarisation looks like.

The announcement of a General Election changes things substantially. I have a feeling that Labour's collapse in this vote won't be quite as bad as some are expecting, but still we're going to end up with something we've not had since 1987.

We're going to end up with a rightwing, un-modernised, ideological Tory government with a 'fuck you' majority. The opposition won't be able to do anything. The centrists in the Tory Party won't be able to do anything. The media and campaign sectors won't be able to do anything.

It's not what I want. It's not how I want it. But it's where we are. And now unionists are going to find out what a campaign of polarisation looks like.

Unless you're hardcore Brexit, you'll soon get quite used to what a 'fuck you' majority sounds like. Especially if you're Scottish, it's going to sound a lot like 'fuck you'.

I've been mulling this over in my head for a day or two now and I'm afraid I just can't see any option for the independence movement but to return fire in the 'polarisation wars'. For the next decade at least, unionism is Total Tory.

Assuming the Daily Mail gets its way and all 'saboteurs' (anyone democratically opposed to hard Brexit) are 'crushed', the 'Britain Project' really is pretty extreme, pretty right wing and deeply ideological. Good luck persuading Scotland that that ideology is about 'pooling and sharing'.

And that seems to me to be the shape of the battle in Scotland between now and 8 June. On one hand, you've got Murdo Fraser implying Scots should vote Ukip to 'save the union'. On the other, you've got an independence movement offering to save Scotland from permanent Tory rule.

Labour is in massive trouble in Scotland anyway. Now it will have to persuade us that this isn't a binary choice (independence or Total Tory Rule) but a ternary one (independence or Total Tory Rule or another 'Labour Dawn' in five years' time).

The announcement of a General Election changes things substantially. I have a feeling that Labour's collapse in this vote won't be quite as bad as some are expecting, but still we're going to end up with something we've not had since 1987.

And the fact that I have only used the word 'ternary' a small handful of times in my life probably helps to demonstrate how well ternary strategies are regarded in political strategy circles.

Whether Labour holds its seat or even gains one is a minor subplot in this election. Whether the SNP loses a seat or two is a bigger subplot, but still a subplot. Will there be any Tories left in Scotland by the school holidays? Can Mundell cling on? That's our lead story.

As Labour watches this plot unfold, munching its popcorn in the cheap seats, who is it going to cheer for? David Mundell and Theresa May? Can it keep a straight face saying 'federalism' in a country where having a minority parliamentary opposition is seen as a step too far?

But if this election is terrible news for Scottish Labour, it's hardly a cheery prospect for Ruth Davidson, either. There was a reasonable chance the greatly over-hyped 'Tory revival' mantra would have been supported by a local election result in which a low turnout could mean some Tory gains.

That may all be forgotten by teatime if they lose their only MP and have to appoint an England-based MP as secretary of state for Scotland.

We're going to end up with a rightwing, un-modernised, ideological Tory government with a 'fuck you' majority. The opposition won't be able to do anything. The media and campaign sectors won't be able to do anything.

But more importantly, Davidson has faced a very generous media narrative on the basis of what seems to me a fairly limited skillset ('she's a bit different from normal Tories' and 'she sounds plausible').

The next few years of Total Tory Britain means Ruth may wish she could get back to the good old days when she only had to justify the 'rape clause'. Soon she's going to have to justify everything.

And make no mistake, even if the Tories don't choose to do anything really provocative in the first few years of real majority government, it won't make any difference. I've been doing a series of meetings with people on trade issues and Brexit technicalities inevitably come up.

Let me put it like this – May isn't rushing this election out because what is going to happen in 2018-2020 is going to look smooth, effective or possibly even sane. She's trying to buy a couple of years so that the worst of the madness might settle down a bit.

Unfortunately for the Scottish Tories, the constitutional question will probably be at is peak when confidence in Tory Brexit is deep in a trough. How are they going to deal with that? I'm not sure Davidson has enough kickboxing in her to distract the media that much.

Unless you're hardcore Brexit, you'll soon get quite used to what a 'fuck you' majority sounds like. Especially if you're Scottish, it's going to sound a lot like 'fuck you'.

Perhaps there is some way to sell this Tory future to Scotland in a way that progressives can swallow. All I can say is that I've been thinking about it for 48 hours now and I don't know what it is.

My guess is that of the overall Scottish population there simply isn't more than one in five people who will vote for Tories. Given the traditional higher likelihood of Tories turning out to vote and Scotland's lower election turnouts, it might not be that high. Anecdotally, fear of the Tories is the one thing that might move enough over-65s to a pro-independence vote.

At a UK level, May sees this as the moment to capture the benefits of a current Tory majority. I rather expect that she's going to expose just how far the opposite is true in Scotland. Then May will capitalise on her power, and Scotland isn't going to like it.

Now this election isn't all good news for indy supporters. We could do without the 'voter fatigue' to be honest and unfortunately it's likely that the Greens will stand against the SNP in some seats and both sides will start acting intemperately.

(A desperate plea from me – zero friendly fire. Anyone who thinks that internal conflict in the indy movement doesn't matter is foolish and I suspect knows little about the reality of the collaboration needed in the years to come.)

Theresa May took a chance this week. She decided that it was in her best interests to define Britishness as Brexit and Conservatism.

In fact, it would be a dream outcome if the SNP would offer to put a unity, non-party, anti-Tory candidate up against Mundell backed by both Greens and the SNP (and perhaps against Murray and Carmichael as well) and in turn the Greens didn't stand candidates. But I'm always the optimist...

But overwhelmingly, this election is good news for supporters of Scottish independence. It is going to throw into sharp contrast the reality of the immediate future of life in the UK, going to squeeze Labour out of a friendly coalition with the Tories and going to saddle Ruth Davidson with the job of answering for Theresa May in Scotland.

(Plus is it only me or does May seem increasingly nuts to you? Earlier this week she actually had to answer a question on whether she accepted the principle of parliamentary opposition. Strange days indeed.)

I shall repeat that I don't really like polarisation campaigns as a matter of principle – I'll be fighting to keep the indy campaign positive. Polarisation may win wars but it screws up peacetime.

The 'anti-Nats' strategy has been both nasty and may have been temporarily effective – but it has been absolutely nothing in comparison to Scotland's track record of anti-Tory campaigns. That's a much more powerful weapon – and it now belongs to the independence movement.

It may well work for her, in the short term. But when the history of the demise of the United Kingdom is written, this General Election may be as significant as Brexit.

Indeed, Kezia Dugdale is barely two elections short of her P45. That's only 50 days in 'British Politics Time'. If whomever replaces her decides enough is enough and softens or reverses the party's position on independence, it's all over for unionism.

Theresa May took a chance this week. She decided that it was in her best interests to define Britishness as Brexit and Conservatism. It may well work for her, in the short term. But when the history of the demise of the United Kingdom is written, this General Election may be as significant as Brexit.

So Tories, could you get back on with the day job of demonising the weak, hurting ordinary people, sucking up to Trump and dictators, hating foreigners, pandering to the rich and prioritising London at all times? Then we can get on with the day job of saving Scotland from you.

Or words to that effect. From now on. Forever.

Picture courtesy of Documenting Yes

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