Ramping up the rhetoric

February 2, 2018

By Peter A Bell - Scotland

Scottish Government tells UK: ‘We’ve had enough of secret documents’

I’m sure I’m not alone in being delighted to see the SNP administration playing hard-ball at last. Nobody can sensibly deny that Scottish ministers have behaved with almost saintly patience in the face of, not only confusion and incompetence, but blatant disrespect on the part of the UK Government. It has been evident from the outset that the intention was to cut the devolved administrations out of the Brexit negotiations completely. They were to be sidelined and ignored and, if necessary, misled. Now, it appears that our elected representatives have had enough. About time!

The forbearance exhibited by Mike Russell has, of course, been quite calculated. He’s not just being nice. And he certainly wasn’t being intimidated. He and his colleagues are well aware of the old adage about not interrupting the enemy when they’re making a total arse of themselves – as Napolean Bonaparte famously said.

Options are the valuable commodity in politics. And one of the most precious is the option to do nothing. Politicians generally feel that they have to be seen to be doing something. They are always under pressure from opponents and the media to take some action or make a statement. Less competent players succumb to this pressure and do or say something that causes them problems at a later stage of the game. More astute political actors just let their opponents get on with it. They pick their moment to act. They choose their words with care. They keep open as many options as they possibly can. When the game is going your way, it would be daft to interfere.

What we are now seeing from the Scottish Government is a timely, gradual, measured ramping up of the rhetoric. The leaked Brexit analysis provides an opportunity to be more confrontational. It’s an issue on which Mike Russell knows he can count on public sympathy. People don’t like secretiveness on the part of politicians. He has an easily defensible position. Being able to cite the public’s ‘right to know’ is generally pretty safe ground. He may even get some support from the media. They too are aware that stubbornly withholding information from the public is never a good look. Certain newspapers will go with outraged headlines about the ‘irresponsibility’ and ‘treachery’ of the SNP threatening to reveal information that might aid the enemy in a time of war. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? SNP politicians risk such accusations simple by saying “good morning”.

The direction of travel is plain to see. There is now a clearly discernible path leading to a new independence referendum in September. At any point in the next few weeks, Nicola Sturgeon can justifiably claim that we now know enough about the economic and constitutional implications of Brexit to warrant the people of Scotland exercising their right of self-determination. Some would say that we know enough right now. What is certain is that it will happen. As Angus Robertson declared at the SNP Conference, there will be a referendum!

You can follow Peter A Bell at IndyRef2 and at Scotto Voce

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