In the end, we were spared a wholly unnecessary, and in the present circumstances, wholly unacceptable protracted leadership contest. The ruthless, unforgiving Tory party machine chewed up and spat out the various leadership hopefuls, producing a new leader and prime minister in comfortably under three weeks. Dave’s swansong was shorter lived than he’d intended, just like his final term in office.
Instead of what could have been a gentle reshuffling of the pack, Theresa May opted to get her ‘safe pair of hands’ dirty, and set about a wholesale clear out and reordering of the pack. No one would dispute, that the principal casualties of Mrs May’s cull are George Osborne and Michael ‘Mick the Knife’ Gove. Osborne’s banishment to the backbenches was all but inevitable, he and Dave were very much the double act, and it always seemed unlikely that one would remain standing if the other fell. As for Gove, he can be said to have reaped what he sowed, you might say poetic justice has been served upon the now former Justice Secretary.
Undoubtedly, the trump card to emerge from the reshuffling of the deck, has been the instalment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. What at first seems a bizarre move by Mrs May, could in fact be a masterstroke. In accepting the lofty position at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Boris the buffoon is forced to own Brexit, along with fellow Brexiteers David Davis, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom, all of who’s new departments are inextricably linked to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. If it all goes horribly wrong, and it probably will, those who helped bring about Brexit will be largely responsible. In other words, if the Brexiteers want to see their unrealistic expectations met, it’s up to them to deliver it. Osborne and Gove could well be better off out of it.
What does all of this mean for Scotland? The Prime Minister had barely finished the first sentence of her first address out side 10 Downing Street before she ominously declared: “the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. And that word unionist is very important to me.”. Her decision to place the union so prominently in her inaugural speech can be viewed in one of two ways. Either, Mrs May was throwing down the gauntlet to Nicola Sturgeon, or she was offering an olive branch, demonstrating that she is willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the union, even if that means thinking outside the box, as Sturgeon would prefer.
If newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond’s words are anything to go by, the signs are not great. It seems Mr Hammond cannot envisage a situation where Scotland’s relationship with the EU differs from that of the rest of the UK. I would suggest that Mrs May and Mr Hammond need to to start using their imaginations, assuming they have any, and quickly. Mrs May digs her leopard print heels in at her peril. David Cameron who professed to be a defender of the union, has done great damage in the time since the 2014 referendum. The ill thought out farce that is EVEL, a woefully watered down ‘vow’ and the EU referendum result itself, could yet prove to be the UK’s undoing. If Theresa May wishes to preserve her “precious, precious” union, she would do well to right those wrongs.
The Prime Minister may wish to consider reordering the UK with the same zeal and pragmatism she brought to her Cabinet reshuffle. Ideally, this would involve the setting up of a Constitutional Convention, to carefully consider a radical overhaul of the UK’s present arrangements which are far, far less than inadequate. Serious thought needs to be given, not just to replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate, but to bringing about a federal United Kingdom with an English parliament quite distinct from that of the UK.
A federal UK would have to recognise England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as equals, if this ‘family of nations’ is to have any real meaning or hope of survival. I would hope that it goes without saying, that the primary concern of a Constitutional Convention should be to ensure that whatever arrangements are settled upon, are enshrined in a written constitution. That the UK, in the 21st century, does not have one, simply beggars belief. The argument that Britain is steeped in tradition, and that our time honoured traditions make for a great democracy, might have held water a hundred years ago, now, it is plainly risible.
Significantly, Theresa May is expected to visit Scotland tomorrow, less than three full days into her premiership. She is due to meet the First Minister, with a view to laying out the role of the Scottish Government in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. The tone May and Sturgeon strike at the meeting, could well come to define the future of the United Kingdom. Tomorrow we’ll know if that tone is fractious or conciliatory.