The decision to call a snap general election by British Prime Minister, Theresa May, shows all the signs of a government in the struggle of an ongoing political crisis in the wake of last year’s referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union.
The Prime Minister’s reasoning for calling an early general election, set to be held on the 8th of June, is to give her the mandate required to take Britain into the long and drawn out period of negotiations with Brussels on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. But it should be pointed out that May was selected by Conservative Party as its leader, and therefore Prime Minister, after the results of the EU referendum and is still to receive a democratic mandate from the British electorate.
However, it is impossible to ignore the clear sense of opportunism in May’s decision to go for an early election. She clearly believes that in doing so, it will serve to hinder any last sign or indication of post-referendum opposition to Brexit, thus paving the way for the inevitable ‘hard Brexit’ (the exit that comes without any arrangements or trade deals being negotiated with Brussels).
In such a scenario, the potential impact on the British economy is rather grim, which is why Scotland’s First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon, has been demanding a second referendum on Scottish Independence. Therefore, the SNP’s vote in the upcoming UK general election will act as a barometer of support for another Scottish Independence referendum, even though recent opinion polls suggest that support for it is currently lacking.
Back in September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party. His supporters in Scotland believed that his election would result in a steep collapse in Labour’s fortunes in Scotland arrested. But there is no sign of it being reversed, even now.
Even more so, rather than having learnt from Labour’s collaboration with the Tories in opposing independence the first time round, Corbyn has now followed them through the House of Commons voting twice in succession, first over the triggering of Article 50, followed with a support of May’s call for an early general election.
May has pursued a clever strategy in calling the general election a second referendum on Brexit, with the Labour Party caught up in a inner-party squabble over Corbyn’s leadership and the latest opinion polls revealing a lack of support for another Scottish independence referendum. Clearly, the Prime Minister believes there is no better time to isolate the opposition and go ahead with the so-called hard Brexit.
The problem now, however, is that we have become accustomed to personality politics – and the 2017 incarnation is pretty eccentric, with the Prime Minister sending out leaflets that read “myself and my team” as opposed to mentioning the party, and the opposition leader looking to sail into Downing Street with 20,000 Libertines fans singing his name.
We are less accustomed to politics where personalities are sold as the diametric opposite to what they are. A man who hasn’t knowingly changed his mind on anything since 1983 presenting himself as a pluralist, the one who can listen, while a woman who changes her mind on everything, and days after she’s said something says the opposite, runs as the immovable rock in a turbulent world.
The typical restraints in the world of political talk, that allow politicians to soften or re-contexualise reality so that it better matches their story, has now been obliterated. Rather, to say the opposite of what is actually true has proven to be more of a core strategy. In other words, they are prone to just saying anything at all, true or false.
Then throw SNP into the mix. It can be said that Scotland’s First Minister’s call for a second independence referendum at this time is both needlessly divisive and disruptive in a period where her priority should be in bringing the country back together in the wake of EU referendum.
In addition to this, when Sturgeon attempted to compromise an arrangement with May’s government more problems arose. Sturgeon was clear in what she wanted (outside of another independence referendum): Scotland to retain membership of the European single market whilst at the same time remaining a part of a UK that sits outside the EU. It’s clear she believes that single market access is vital to the health of the Scottish economy in terms of employment, investment and the role that migrants have played in filling a skills gap.
However, failure to achieve an arrangement with May has posed the question of whether Scotland is a partner nation, or whether merely a region of the UK? No leader of the Scottish National Party, much less the First Minister of a developed Scottish parliament, could possibly appear to accept the latter status contained within that question.
Which could be a reason why she won’t drop pushing for a second independence referendum – even when it doesn’t seem as though people are currently in favour of it.
It is when you look at this issue in a broader sense that you see we are living through an age of constitutional crises, and it splits this general election into a British nationalism versus Scottish nationalism battle. This, mixed the nation’s sense of political homelessness gives this election a wild and unpredictable feeling.
There are loads of voters throughout the UK who feel politically homeless – soft left remoaners, centre left internationalists, right-ish left pragmatics. SNP supporters who don’t want another independence referendum, but want to remain membership of the European single market; Labour supporters who want security in the NHS, but don’t want to pay more tax; Tories who respect free markets, but like them fettered by reasonable institutions.
Tories who don’t miss the empire, for example, have no place in May’s rhetoric. Perhaps this is why she’s dropped “Conservative party” from her literature, choosing to say “myself and my team” instead – not because the brand puts off the wider public, but because no amount of nostalgia can disguise her radicalism.
It is this homelessness — on all sides — that makes this general election feel so different in this political turmoil. To be honest, all elections are, in theory, carnivalesque: certainty and sobriety step aside for riots of voices and ideas to play out where nobody knows which will prevail. However, in previous elections where neck-and-neck polls inch towards and away from each other, this time the polls are wild.
May’s double-digit lead that always seemed so secure suddenly dropped to single digits, and Wales turned from almost totally Conservative to Labour overnight. It’s this doubt that undermines every confidence.
This atmospheric sense of political homelessness gives way for voters to feel as though politicians are capable of making decisions with or without the voter. The best thing to come of this election is that on the 9th of June we create a political structure that any of us could happily inhabit, whatever the result is.