Now is the time for Strong and Stable Leadership

June 8th was the logical time for a General Election within the next two years. Not only was it the right time, it was the only time to secure strong and stable leadership for the Brexit negotiations.

It shouldn’t be over-stated how important a larger majority would be for the Brexit negotiations. If Labour, the Lib Dems, and the SNP had sought to prevent the final Brexit deal being passed, the fate of Brexit would have laid with rebels: if it was a softer Brexit, hard Brexit rebels might have delayed it, and vice versa. A larger majority would give the Prime Minister much needed breathing space around the kind of deal that she negotiates, meaning she is free to negotiate the best deal for Britain.

Winning a General Election would also put to bed any claims that Theresa May’s government lacked the democratic legitimacy to enact one kind of Brexit or another. It would remove the (incorrect) claim that the Prime Minister is unelected and give her the mandate to get on with the job.

An election now, before negotiations would have started, gives Theresa May the chance to get on with the job in negotiations, and deliver strong and stable leadership in the national interest.

Advertisements

The NUS has Failed Students, We Deserve Better

Where the NUS belongs is at the heart of government fighting for improvements for students in areas like education, housing, public transport etc. It cannot do that job if it is shouting incoherent babble from the fringes of politics. The only time the NUS should be overtly political is as a facilitator of student campaigns. The whole point of a student movement is to be the mouthpiece of students, rather than telling them what they should think. If the NUS was an apolitical body amplifying the voices of all students, then it would be able to support the campaigns it does currently, but it would also be able to encourage those who feel marginalised within it to find their voices once more.

They claim to represent all students, they do not. They show students in the worst possible light. They are a major cause of apathy about student politics. Students on the ground don’t feel represented and, worse, know that whatever they do they cannot make a difference. So they don’t take part, they drop out of student politics, they stop listening, and the NUS continues to elect delegates who belong to the governing clique on ridiculously low turnouts.

The fact that someone elected on a ‘moderate’ platform is on record as having such a left wing position which will put her directly at odds with the Conservatives she represents is remarkable. How exactly a President with such beliefs will engage with Conservative Societies and the political campaigns that they may desire support from the student movement for is unclear. Perhaps she will follow the path of her predecessor, and not bother?

If the NUS believe that kicking out the Tories is a suitable agenda for the student movement, then they should hand back the money that Conservative-supporting students send them every year through their Unions. That’s my challenge to the NUS: if you seriously believe that you represent students with these sorts of policies, offer them the chance to prove it. If you won’t reimburse dissatisfied students, then perhaps the best way to show that you represent them would be by letting them vote directly, with a One Student, One Vote system. We all know that that is not something that you’ll do.

The time has come for a new movement. The student movement cannot be reclaimed from within the NUS – Tom Harwood’s fantastic campaign for real change securing only 35 delegates showed us that much. The systems and the structures simply prevent anyone beating the out-of-touch elite who build careers off the back of gesture politics and pointless protests. Outside the NUS though, there is a way.

Non-NUS Unions are much more capable of reform. Building a student movement that works for students is not a short-term process, but if we can show NUS universities that there is a better way outside of the NUS, then we can play an active part in facilitating a better student movement. So lets. Let’s set an example by building Unions which do not vilify you for having an opinion, but support you.

Unions should lend their resources, their expertise, and their support to student campaigns, even where those campaigns are conflicting. Most importantly, we should facilitate actual change, working pragmatically with local government and with any politicians who will listen to us to pursue an apolitical agenda that seeks to improve the outcomes for students in policy-making. If we can work in politics without being political, then we can ensure that our Unions do not alienate those who they represent, and by delivering real change we can show our members that there actually is a point to SUs.

SUs aren’t better together all of the time. The NUS is a formalised version of a set of relationships that should be much more informal. Its existence numbs the voices of individual SUs where they disagree with the overarching power structure – because it speaks for us, no one is interested in hearing us speak for ourselves. Yes, student unions should work together on important issues, but we don’t need a formal body to do that. The NUS hears the words ‘student politics’ and believes that the most important word is ‘politics’ – if they stopped playing politics and started representing students, we’d have a much better student movement.

One of the best things about university is discovering that not everyone agrees with you. That the NUS doesn’t reflect that is why it is no longer fit for purpose. One of the best things about Unions are their power to amplify the voices of their members and tackle apolitical issues on their behalf. That the NUS only tries to represent one small group of students is why it is not fit to represent all of them. The NUS is obsolete, the time has come for a new movement.

Let’s stop playing politics with students, let’s start listening to them.

The Conservatives are the Only Viable Party on June 8th

On June 8th, the country will have a choice. It will be a choice between a strong, united Conservative Party with a plan for Britain and the capacity to deliver a stable Brexit; and a Labour Party divided and led by a leader completely unfit to occupy 10 Downing Street.

The only thing that unites the Parliamentary Labour Party is their loathing of Jeremy Corbyn – they are not fit or able to govern this country. Their policies are limited and poorly thought through. Free school meals for middle and high income pupils, funded in such a way that they would have to ensure enough pupils went to private school, which combined with their opposition to grammars shows once again that Labour are not the party of opportunity, seems to be the only thing of any real note.

Not only do Labour not have any policies, but they couldn’t deliver them if they did. They are a party of ideological division, gesture politics, and personal ambitions. Corbyn isn’t strong enough to control his MPs or stand up for Britain on the world stage. He u-turned on his long-standing opposition to the EU for political gain – he shouldn’t be trusted to keep short term policy positions if he can’t even stand by his long-held beliefs. He won’t stand in the way of Scottish independence and stand up for our Union. He can’t keep a Shadow Cabinet together, let alone a government. He couldn’t even get a seat on a train, on June 8th don’t let his MPs get a seat in your area.

The Liberal Democrats won’t listen to the people. In 2010, the people trusted the Lib Dems not to raise tuition fees, they did. In 2016, the people told us they wanted to Leave the European Union, the Lib Dems didn’t listen. If you vote for them in 2017, can you really trust them to deliver what they promise? They want this election to be Remain vs Leave, stirring up the division of the last year once more – on June 8th, reject the Lib Dems’ politicking with the will of the people and don’t let them prop up an incompetent Corbyn government.

UKIP are divided and obsolete. They are a protest party without any credible political figures and an inability to keep the ones that they do have. If you want to see what a UKIP presence in Parliament would look like, look no further than their European Parliamentary group – disorganised, prone to (literal) infighting, and with a poor attendance record. A vote for UKIP on June 8th is a vote against Brexit and against a strong government. It is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

This election will define the future of our country. For a strong, stable, united United Kingdom vote for a Conservative Party who will stand up for Britain in the Brexit negotiations and who will stand up to the Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh. It is time to put aside division, and petty politicking and come together behind the Prime Minister to deliver a solid mandate for this country’s future.

Theresa May has shown that she is able to represent Britain on the world stage. She is a proven statesperson with a solid record in government. The Conservative Party has a strong platform of policies and a record of delivering on our promises. If you wanted to find a direct contrast to Labour’s incompetence, you needn’t look much further than Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

A vote for the Conservative and Unionist Party is a vote for a strong and united United Kingdom. A vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for a proven government filled with experienced legislators who can continue to build a strong economy and a fair society. A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a party who will listen to, and work for, the people of this country at home and abroad.

Now, more than ever, we need a strong and stable government working for this country. Labour and UKIP can’t deliver, the Lib Dems won’t deliver – on June 8th let’s continue building a country that works for everyone.

The Death Throes of UKIP

It’s over. UKIP has had an exceptional rise and fall. Coming from nowhere to coalesce voters from the right and the left behind a populist, anti-immigration party, UKIP became the third largest party by votes in the UK and won a nationwide election (albeit, an European one). Its rise was particularly significant when Clacton MP Douglas Carswell exchanged blue for purple, and the party reached its zenith when the referendum called to combat their rise led to the achievement of their ultimate aim. Yet UKIP’s pulse has seemingly been ended in fittingly symmetric fashion by the departure of their sole MP.

UKIP’s main problem has been in its very nature. In order to suppress gaffes from low level members and politicians, Nigel Farage carefully groomed his and his party’s image to the extent where it became the Nigel Farage Party. Farage’s exit has thrust the party’s problems onto centre stage, and has lessened their ability to ride out problems. Previously, a visit to the pub, a quick statement, and a tour-de-force of personality were sufficient to convince voters to keep voting for UKIP – Diane James and Paul Nuttall have lacked the political ability to follow in his footsteps. Without Farage, UKIP lack both direction and a clear spokesman.

One claim is that UKIP’s decline in some polls and their failure to up their vote in recent by-elections is that, with Brexit, the party has become a victim of its own success. This is partially true, but it’s a wider issue. The problem that UKIP have is that prior to the referendum, they failed to diversify their party message by focusing on other issues. The public simply had a lack of clarity on what UKIP stood for other than Brexit, and so the implementation of Brexit will see the point of UKIP decrease – not because they are victims of their own success, but because they failed to present a broad spectrum of policies. Likewise, it is also due to their failure to react to Brexit. Short of their insistence on strict controls on immigration and a commitment to a ‘Hard Brexit’, it is unclear what policies might incentivise someone to move to UKIP now from another party.

Failure to diversify their message has also meant that they have allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred politically. With the Conservatives committed to delivering Brexit, it seems a logical disconnect to say that only voting UKIP can ensure that it gets delivered. Likewise, with Theresa May’s willingness to go down the Hard Brexit route, UKIP’s ability to campaign on that is weakened. If a mainstream party are adopting a similar set of policies to a less well established party’s entire platform, that will severely weaken the newer party.

Infighting (literally in the case of Steven Woolfe) has also seen the party shed recognisable figures and credibility in recent months. Woolfe, Diane James, Aaron Banks and now Carswell are the main figures who’ve left UKIP, which combined with Farage’s departure from party politics has left UKIP rudderless and without much claim to the personal votes of its leaders. Just two high profile figures remain, and they represent a sense of why UKIP are falling behind: Paul Nuttall, who proved less popular (by a margin of 12%) than a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country, at a time when Labour are at their least popular; and Suzanne Evans, who was much less popular with UKIP members than a man who was 12% behind a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country. This, at a time when Labour are at their least popular.

Not only has infighting summarily rid UKIP of its most well-known and experienced politicians, it has also made them appear amateurish. Rather than a party that could successfully hold the government to account, they look like a squabbling fringe party. Carswell’s loss is a blow in this regard. As a sensible, appealing, moderate voice he gave UKIP a chance of seeming electable and professional. Without him, and with the party membership’s general animosity towards him, that feeling has evaporated. The loss of Carswell also has a more location-specific effect. Given his success in 2014 and 2015, Clacton seems unlikely to return to UKIP’s hands in 2020.

Clacton directs our attention to another interesting point: UKIP’s inability to win seats. Whether it is their campaigning, the lack of a concentrated group of supporters, or a lack of credible candidates, UKIP have made a habit of snatching 2nd place finishes in winnable seats. If they had won more MPs in 2015, UKIP would probably have gone from strength to strength and may even have ended up in a coalition government. Yet their failure to win seats prevented a core of MPs emerging to offset the impact of the loss of Carswell et al. Likewise, it made UKIP’s relationship with its parliamentary delegate (Carswell) seem like an inability to manage a Parliamentary group, weakening its professionalism.

Finally, their lack of electoral success speaks to a third problem: if UKIP prove unable to convert support into MPs, then seats where UKIP are currently viable may see voters who have switched to UKIP from mainstream parties return, so that their second preference has a shot at winning the seat. This loss will begin in seats where there is a smaller presence, but UKIP should be wary of the potential for a massive shift away from them towards the established parties, as a result of tactical voting.

So, do UKIP have any hope? Simply, yes. They have built an impressive base and a strong political image, and if they wish to remain relevant, they must build on that. Other single issue approaches might be possible: becoming the party of English nationalism might be a viable option – particularly in a growing era of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish nationalism. Generally, a wider platform is needed for UKIP to become relevant in the long term. Two potential solutions seem to emerge here: the nativist, anti-globalist party, representing a push back against free trade and pushing for the protection of British values; and the libertarianism represented by likes of Carswell. The former seems a more likely route, but unless they act soon, there may not be a credible party left to rescue.

PSHE: How to Deliver the Skills Education Does Not Teach

We all remember PSHE. That lesson no one really cared about; where you learned “important” things like how far a paper aeroplane made out of a leaflet about drugs could fly, how to put a condom on various items of fruit, and, most crucially, that some girl with appalling acting skills was crying in a petrol station café because they had done x thing that you were being advised against (and yes, it was always the same video). Did anyone ever learn anything useful in PSHE? Anything that helped with life in the real world? Most people did not.

PSHE is an awkward, cumbersome mixture of a group of students who don’t care, a teacher who (for the most part) does not want to be there, and a series of embarrassing topics that most teenagers think they already know everything about. The topics covered in PSHE are the sort of stuff that schools should be teaching, but if we really care about our young people then we need to accept that there are more pieces of information they need than can be taught in that environment.

Life skills education is sorely lacking in our schools. Yes, you may be able to write a perfect Shakespearian sonnet. Yes, you may know all of the stages of a star’s life. Yes, you may be able to differentiate in a million-and-one different ways. But can you do the important things? Did school ever teach you the best way to do an interview? Did it ever teach you how to balance a budget, or even make a budget for that matter? What about signing up for a local doctor, or registering to vote, or renting a house?

Our schools fail to deliver life skills because they can’t deliver them. If PSHE taught us one thing, it’s that skills need to be delivered in a way that is fun and interactive and innovative, and not through meaningless embarrassing role plays that will be forgotten the instant they are over. It also taught us that learning about life skills issues shouldn’t be compulsory, because the thing that derailed the lessons for those who were interested in learning was the behaviour of those who weren’t.

So, if schools don’t deliver these skills, and if it’s not as simple as just adding extra topics into PSHE, what is the solution?

In short, the solution is to provide those skills in a non-compulsory, informal session: life skills workshops. Imagine an after-school club which delivered life skills – if you wanted to learn about the topic that was on offer that week then you would be able to go, if you didn’t feel like that was something important to you, then you would not have to. It would be an environment conducive to learning, to trying new things, and to delivering the crucial skills that all young people should have when they leave school. Workshops where, rather than one of your teachers issuing a boring diatribe about how important something is, passionate, enthusiastic volunteers and experts would give real, practical, hands-on tips, advice and guidance.

There are a vast array of subjects that could be covered. Everything from everyday skills like cooking, cleaning, managing your money, to bigger civic issues like learning about politics and how to impact the society around you. It simply isn’t the case that young people are disinterested in learning about life skills, but the fact of the matter is that we, as a society, are failing the next generation by providing them with an education system that sees them leave school without the skills they need to take on life’s realities. Life skills workshops would offer a solution to remedy that problem – delivering skills in voluntary, informal, useful sessions that most young people might actually want to attend.

The problem may lie in our education system, but the solution lies adjacent to it; bringing workshops that make a real difference and deliver real skills to schools, in such a format that every child who wants to participate can, and those who do not want to can choose not to attend. This is a solution that could work nationally, but we can make it work in Southampton first. Delivering these workshops successfully on a local level would be a great first step towards getting them delivered nationally, so that every child, in every town, city, and country of the United Kingdom can have the opportunity to learn skills that will make a real difference to them. We, as a generation who didn’t benefit from receiving this kind of workshop, owe it to the next generation to make that happen.

Today Marks the Dawn of a New Britain

Today after many (literal) trials and tribulations, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on Brexit. In the next two years, we will get more of a glimpse into what Brexit will look like, but here is a quick take on what Brexit should actually mean for Britain.The first (chronologically) and easiest thing for the Prime Minister to achieve in the negotiations is a guarantee that British citizens living and working in the EU27 will be allowed to remain, and that EU citizens living and working in the UK should be guaranteed the same. This is an important first step to securing peace of mind for the thousands of citizens in both areas who are deeply concerned about their right to stay in the country they now call home. Both sides seem to be committed to this principle as an early goal for negotiations, and so it should be achieved without too much strain.

Another important issue for the Prime Minister is to ensure that we created a globalist, outward-looking Britain, which matches both the desire of Leavers, and of the Remainers who support free trade and other liberal values. We should be aiming for free trade with the European Union after Brexit, but we must ensure that we are not tied down by the Customs Union. The regressive isolationism of tariffs on non-EU states has prevented Britain from harnessing the power and growth of emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, as well as inhibiting our ability to conduct trade with our traditional allies: particularly Canada, Australia and the United States.

Securing global free trade deals is an important aim of Brexit, and was something heavily pushed for by Vote Leave and mandated by the 17m people who voted for it. A global, free trading Britain is the future for this country, and becoming a beacon for trade can only bode well for our economy. Particular focus once trade restrictions with non-EU nations have been lifted should be securing deals with our traditional Commonwealth allies and other countries where there are fewer non-tariff barriers to entry, as well as ensure that the economies of tomorrow are included in any such deals.

With a globalist Britain in mind, we should also be looking to retain our cooperation on initiatives on important global issues, such as security and climate change. Britain should be a world leader in such areas and should retain its links with European nations to continue working to solve them – as was often repeated in the campaign: we are not leaving Europe, nor are we saying that we no longer wish to be friends and allies, we are simply leaving a political union. Cooperation within Europe should continue, and Britain should use the opportunity to build a new network of allies across the world to continue to tackle important issues.

Another goal of the negotiations should be an end to the automatic free movement of labour. Retaining free movement for tourism and for other leisure pursuits should be encouraged, but we must put an end to a discriminatory immigration system which weighs a person’s nationality more than a person’s personality. Our immigration system should be based on the person and not the passport that they hold, and everyone wishing to come and live in the UK should undergo the same process. If we accept that there must be some upper limit on immigration (whatever number that may be), then a system of free movement of people gives an unfair advantage to people from 27 nations over those from 169 – that is not just, not right, and not fair, and it must end.

Brexit also offers us a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. It removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead it brings back important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased powers for the UK Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level fall down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect you get made by a local government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by local representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It may also bring an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy.

Finally, it seems a given, but we should also use the opportunity to strengthen our Union, and not give in to those who seek to divide it. We share a common history and a common destiny. We share a common language and a common culture. This isn’t an English and Welsh Brexit, it is a red, white and blue Brexit, and it should work for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London and Cornwall.

Together, we take our first steps into a bright future.

University Without Freedom of Speech is No University at All

Irony (noun): banning a Student Conservative Society from using its social media accounts because it criticised your free speech record. Lincoln Students’ Union recently decided that the solution to criticism of its attitude to free speech was to take away the right to free speech of the people who criticised them. This sort of action is a microcosm of the attitude to free speech taken by too many SU’s up and down the country, and is a telling sign of the culture prevalent within the NUS and other bodies that view cracking down on views they don’t agree with as an acceptable measure to take. There is absolutely no point to university if students don’t get exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, and ultimately censorship achieves very little.

Firstly, we have to deal with the most common argument in favour of no-platforming: the right to free speech doesn’t equal the right to a platform. This argument is usually applied incorrectly, because it is used to excuse third party agents intervening to prevent speeches in cases where an organisation has offered a speaker a platform, and they have accepted it. This is clearly unacceptable: individual organisations have the right of offer someone a platform – if you disagree with them saying things and choose to take that platform away, that is inhibiting their freedom of speech. Indeed, the whole ‘right to a platform’ argument seems weak; if I put tape over your mouth, I’m not inhibiting your freedom of speech, merely what platform you can speak on. Yet that would be a very disingenuous argument. If your no-platforming involves simply refusing to invite people to speak, then that isn’t no-platforming and it isn’t a problem – if your no-platforming involves removing a platform that someone has been offered, then that is a freedom of speech issue.

Potential arguments in favour of inhibiting freedom of speech seem to often revolve around not giving extreme speakers publicity. This is obviously a logical fallacy, because no-platforming produces far more news stories than allowing people to speak. Likewise, there is a somewhat insulting notion that allowing extreme speakers to speak might encourage people to have extreme views. Let’s settle this once and for all: it is not letting people say extreme things that leads to extremism, it is not letting them say things. Extremists thrive on ‘us vs them’ scenarios, because they polarise debate and make people pick sides. When people have to pick sides you find moderates who believe that freedom of speech is sacrosanct, defending the rights of those like Milo Yiannopoulos alongside people who are much more extreme, and that is far more likely to cause a perpetuation of extremist values than simply letting a speaker speak. Furthermore, you give ammunition and credence to extremists’ views by not letting them speak; in essence, you inadvertently support them by opposing them in this way.

So, why is free speech ultimately good? Well, people learn far more about someone’s arguments by listening to them than by ignoring them. If you want to oppose a narrative, then exposing yourself to their points and understanding their nuances means that you’ll be better able to shape your arguments to prove them wrong. Furthermore, I find it much more difficult to beat someone in a debate if you never invite them to take part. We’ve been talking about extreme viewpoints, but a lot of the time Unions seem to simply oppose views they disagree with (see anything the NUS has done in the last two or three years). This is inherently illogical: telling someone they cannot express their views won’t change their mind, and if you want someone to agree with you, then finding out how they oppose your ideas is a good start in coming up with arguments they will agree with.

Ultimately you need a breadth of ideas on a university campus to actually make progress. If no one ever challenges your worldview, then you’ll never see the need to improve it. If you never hear a dissenting opinion, then you’ll never know how to challenge it. Having a number of different and nuanced political positions means that there will be better policy outcomes, more scope for engagement in politics, and generally more cross-spectrum collaboration on things that you agree on. At Southampton, we benefit hugely from having a variety of dissenting viewpoints and opinions, with worthwhile debates, discussion and campaigning on issues.

Alex Hovden, the Union Southampton President, explained: ‘As a Union, we have a responsibility to represent every student’s viewpoint, regardless of political leaning and or affiliation. The reality is that a wide scope of opinions is part of what makes the student body diverse, which on one hand makes my job harder, but on the other hand it enables me to challenge the University and other relevant decision makers from a wide variety of perspectives, which can only be a good thing. I’d encourage students to continue discussing your ideas and opinions, and keep challenging me and the other full time officers to represent you as effectively as possible.’

The whole purpose of university is to be a place to air and challenge views, and question, challenge, and criticise prevailing elites. If a Union decides that it doesn’t want to be challenged, then it undermines the nature of university. Lincoln SU is just one example: they cited a criticism of their free speech record as a means of bringing their organisation into disrepute, but by seeking to ban, rather than accept the criticism; by seeking to restrict, rather than debate, they brought their institution into more disrepute than any criticism possibly could have.

Finally, the issue of offence is a common excuse for censorship. Here’s the thing: not liking something doesn’t give you the right to stop it. If you are seriously offended by the views of a speaker, don’t go to the event they are at. If we prevent everything that might conceivably cause someone offence, we’ll end up preventing everything. Instead of teaching young people ways to prevent offence, why not come up with strategies to help them deal with it? It’s not nice, but offence is a part of life, and university seems like a good place to learn how to respond to it. In all honesty, if you are offended by something, that’s probably a good thing. Being offended is a mobilising force that gives you the drive and determination to change things and fight for what you believe in.

Very little gets changed when everyone is happy, it takes someone being offended to really drive them to fight for their beliefs. I am offended by censorship and restrictions on free speech, which is why I oppose such measures with every fibre of my being. To those Unions around the country who would seek to follow the Lincoln approach and oppose freedom of speech, those of us who support it say to you: we find your opposition to free speech offensive, and by your own logic that mandates you to ban it.

Lessons from the Dutch General Election

The far right Party for Freedom came second in last week’s Dutch general election, but lessons should be taken from their last minute collapse.

The often euphoric reaction from moderates to a far right political party with one member and no government funding coming a distant second in an election in a Benelux country – just over ten years after the aforementioned party was founded – seems out-of-place. There are now resilient far right movements in many European nations, and the fact that one of them has now become the second largest party isn’t something to celebrate – even if there was a chance they might have become the largest. The rise of the PVV is a sign that mainstream parties need to sit up and take notice of the far right, and ask themselves why these movements are gaining so much traction.

Article continued on Leonards Review.

The Scotland Question: Theresa May’s Four Options

The announcement that Nicola Sturgeon thinks a generation lasts five years was an unsurprising one, and it leaves the UK in an interesting position. With it seeming inevitable that the SNP minority government will be able to force their referendum demand through Holyrood, here’s a look at the four options that faced Theresa May yesterday at Westminster, before she ultimately decided to delay until at least 2020.

1) Don’t allow Scotland to have another referendum.

The surest way to guarantee that Scotland doesn’t vote for independence would, on the face of it, seem to be simply saying no to letting them vote. Sturgeon’s argument for a second ballot seems weak – coming 907 days after Scotland last voted, it doesn’t seem particularly justified to say that Scotland hasn’t been given the choice on independence – and the opinion polls have shown opposition to both independence and a second ballot remains stronger than support for them, meaning that the political implications behind rejecting Sturgeon’s proposal seem to have a net positive. Furthermore, it is certainly an achievable policy: three-line whipping the Conservative and Unionist Party’s MPs would produce a Westminster majority capable of vetoing the referendum.

However, the long term implications of preventing a vote could be significant. Blocking the SNP would incense nationalists and might lend some credence to their traditional ‘Westminster aren’t listening to us’ rhetoric. If the SNP become more determined and are given ammunition, then a Holyrood majority in 2021 seems likely, and by then SNP rhetoric will have had time to convince swing voters.

Verdict: Potentially not desirable, as it energises the SNP’s ranks and gives legitimacy to their arguments, but it would solidify the Union in the short term.

2) Call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold a referendum in autumn 2017.

Support for independence and for a second referendum is low, meaning that the likelihood of a referendum victory for the Union is significantly higher if we hold the ballot sooner. If Theresa May had decided to call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold the vote early it would catch the SNP off guard and wouldn’t give them the time required to convince voters around to their cause. This is particularly the case given the difficulties the SNP have had making clear what exactly an independent Scotland would look like.

Furthermore, an early referendum has some major benefits to the UK. It would reduce the effect that the threat of Scottish independence has on Brexit negotiations and a vote to remain in the Union would strength the PM’s hand immensely. Moreover, it would contain uncertainty and prevent a more significant period of uncertainty impacting on the economy between now and 2019. Lastly, a defeat to a Unionist campaign led by Ruth Davidson would increase pressure on Nicola Sturgeon and potentially topple the SNP minority government, leading to a Holyrood election between a delegitimised SNP and a resurgent Tory Party, and the potential for a much more significant hung parliament in Scotland.

Verdict: Desirable, victory seems much more likely sooner, but may impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

3) The Sturgeon option: referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

This is a terrible plan.

To elaborate slightly more, Nicola Sturgeon has played a very clever game with this particular option. Any move to hold the referendum at a different time will strength Sturgeon’s argument to an extent, as it will be seen as Westminster dictating Scottish policy, but in this case it is a much more desirable option than any other. If it is held at the end of the Brexit process then there are a whole manner of negative implications for the UK – the threat of Scottish independence if the UK gets a bad deal will significantly strengthen the EU’s hand, as it inserts an increased significance into Theresa May’s ability to threaten to walk away without a deal. The EU will know this, and if ever there was a bargaining chip that the UK cannot afford to allow the EU to hold, it is one as significant as secession.

It would also raise a further dilemma: failing to provide detailed information on the nature of the Brexit deal will increase uncertainty around Brexit and may push swing voters towards Scottish independence; on the other hand, providing detailed information would severely reduce the timeframe that the UK government has to complete a complex series of negotiations, and would involve the deal being finalised before the referendum, reducing the ability of the UK to secure a good deal.

Finally, it gives Sturgeon over a year to whip up nationalist sentiments and change the course of current polling. It provides a longer period of time for economic fluctuations to make the result more uncertain. It also increases general uncertainty and flattens markets at a time when we need uncertainty to be as minimised as possible.

Verdict: Political suicide.

4) Make Sturgeon wait for a mandate.

Agreeing to hold the referendum in 2021 would seem a logical move from the Prime Minister. Brexit negotiations will be long done by then and the UK will have borne out any uncertainty caused by it and be in a stronger position – additionally, other than option 1, this seems to be the option that would have the least impact upon the aforementioned negotiations. Furthermore, strengthened by a likely general election victory and the probability of some more Tory MPs in Scotland, it will enable the 2021 Holyrood election to be an essential referendum on the referendum – if the Scottish Tories can position themselves as the credible Unionist alternative to the SNP, then we could see a strong showing for them and a decreased mandate for holding the referendum in the first place.

The problems of leaving it until 2021 are largely ‘what if’ scenarios. If Brexit has a larger economic impact than expected, it could decrease the power of the economic pro-Union arguments. If the SNP are able to increase support for an independent Scotland (or simply get their act together), a 2021 referendum might produce a tighter result. But these are largely unpredictable – overall, it seems likely that this will be the option chosen, giving the SNP an opportunity to prove they have a mandate in a Holyrood election, and providing a solution which does not impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

Verdict: A generation seems much more likely to be 7 years long.

Overall

Options 2 and 4 seem to be the most likely to maintain the Union, while allowing Nicola Sturgeon to have her needless ideological pontification. Of the two, option 4 seems more favourable, given that it will have the least impact upon Brexit and the future that Scotland voted to be a part of in 2014. That reflects the decision the Prime Minister seems to have come to – if there is still demand for a referendum in 2020 and beyond, then it seems likely that it will be held in 2021 after the Holyrood elections. With a primary concern being the Brexit negotiations, options 2 and 3 have been ruled out so as to prevent the potential for an independence referendum to cast a shadow over the PM’s hand. Whether the PM ultimately chooses option 1 or option 4 is as yet unclear, but when making her decision this week she seems to have fallen down on the side of the latter.