Are all the Brexit Tories rock solid for the “precious union”?

Theresa May was in Wales this week, talking of “our precious union.” I imagine she is genuine in her wish to maintain the United Kingdom, if for no other reason than avoiding her place in history as its last prime minister. Enough of my cynicism. Better we assume history’s verdict is not her prime motivating factor. That it is indeed “our precious union.”

I wonder though if Mrs May’s proclaimed dedication to the UK is held with the same conviction and commitment by her hard-Right colleagues. If the presence of the 56 SNP MPs in the Commons were to frustrate the Tory Right’s dreams of a fundamental remodeling of the UK state what then would they do? We are told that on top of the Great Repeal Bill, at least 15 other EU-departure Bills will have to go through Westminster, and that’s before the Brexiteers start to seek reform to laws contained in what will have become the Great Repeal Act. Fluid alliances of SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, the Green’s Caroline Lucas and some Tory rebels could scupper some of the Right’s dearest wishes. If it chooses, the SNP could greatly upset the parliamentary timetable.

Some of the additional EU-exit Bills, if not all, will require the agreement of the devolved legislatures. Mrs May’s unmoving position on Scotland gives the Holyrood parliament and SNP Westminster members plenty of reasons, and the means, to frustrate the government whenever it can. Tory irritation with Scotland will grow. It’s media friends can be counted on to assist. Whipping up bad feeling has never been a stranger to The Daily Mail.

“Scotland out” may begin as a whisper then a cry, then a shout, then a demand. Westminster Labour, with one seat in Scotland, may be impotently pulled along in the wake of little Englander politics writ large.

Consider too that the English public is growing bored with Scotland and negative about the desirability of continuing with the ancient union. Politicians are not averse to following public opinion. If the Right thinks there is fertile electoral ground in dumping the union it may not shed many tears for Auld Caledonia. The narrow nationalism that has attracted UKIP votes in Labour heartland constituencies might easily transfer to a Tory party shouting, “England first.” It’s not difficult to imagine UKIP and Labour perhaps fatally injured and the SNP going home to create the new Scotland.

The vision of a Tory England forever, and free of troublesome and expensive Scots, might have serious appeal to the Brexit extremists. Explaining the end of the UK to The Queen becomes much easier for Mrs May if she can say it is the will of the people of England, even if it’s less clear what Scotland wanted.

A year ago, I would have said that a Tory party seeking the breakup of the UK would itself split wide open. Now I doubt it. Brexit and its foreign, economic and social enormity has hardly troubled Tory unity. Scotland might be shrugged off with similar ease.

Maybe I’ll end up a foreign national in England, where I’ve now lived for half my 65 years.

I was going to list some obvious Brexit suspects. I imagine you could name a dozen in less time than it takes to say, “a one-way ticket to Glasgow Central please.” I thought better of naming names. Better not encourage them. In any case, the hard-Tory Right will swear unswerving loyalty to the “precious union.” Whether they are willing to see lifetimes of political effort stymied by people from a place that has for 30 years rejected them and their values, only time can tell.

The obvious place for the Liberal Democrats in such a chaotic polity is to be the voice of reason, tolerance and moderation. Staying well clear of being sucked into Tory-led pro-union campaigning might also make sense. From what I read and hear, No10 has already sidelined Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, and Tory Secretary of State, David Mundell. Nick Timothy, one of the PM’s chiefs of staff, has become chief orchestrator of the pro-union effort. I’ve no idea how well he knows Scotland, its politics and moods. He might win the day, though if he gets it wrong he’ll soon be known as Toxic Tim.

In the meantime, keep a weather eye out for Tory voices prepared to dish Scotland.

* Martin Roche is a member of Canterbury Liberal Democrats

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