Wednesday, 19 April 2017


Theresa May yesterday called for a snap General Election on 8th June.  She has to get a vote of two-thirds of MPs in the Commons to make that happen, but since Jeremy Corbyn has announced that his MPs will be whipped to support it, it's pretty much a racing certainty that it's going to happen.  So why now?  I think there are several reasons.

The first and most obvious one is that polls are showing a strong lead for the Tories, making it the right time to try and get a large majority in Parliament rather than the razor-thin one Ms May has at the moment.  Ms May herself says that she wants to ensure that she has a strong mandate for Brexit,  The right time for an election would therefore be before the economic consequences of that really start to bite.  A large majority would allow her to pass whatever legislation she feels she needs to without any serious opposition.  This should ring alarm bells for anyone who has observed Ms May's authoritarian tendencies in her previous post as Home Secretary.

The less publicised reason is, however, that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have told Channel 4 that they have prepared cases against more than 30 individuals for breaching the law on electoral expenses. This includes MPs as well as their election agents.  Since the current Tory majority is only 17 MPs there has to be a possibility of this being reduced, if not lost altogether, if MPs are found guilty.  This would have two consequences.  One is that this would reduce Ms May's ability to force through her Brexit programme.  The other is that there could potentially be a large number of by-elections to be fought.  Best grasp the nettle now would seem to be the thinking.

Another reason for the snap election is, I think, an attempt to thwart Nicola Sturgeon in her push for another referendum on independence once the details of the Brexit deal become clear.  This may seem a bit tangential, but bear with me.

At the moment Ms Sturgeon is pressing Ms May's government for a Section 30 order. which would be required for the result of a second referendum to be recognised as legally binding by Westminster.  So far Ms May has refused to respond to this. So why would a General Election help?

Most obviously Ms May would be hoping that the SNP would lose a large number of the seats they won, mainly from Labour, in 2015.  She could the use this to claim that the SNP do not have popular support for another referendum on independence which would then justify a refusal of the section 30 order.  Less obviously, it is very likely that, in the event of winning by a large majority, the Tories will start to dismantle the devolution settlement, which they have never been in favour of, thus preventing any further attempts to regain Scottish independence.  This would then make their bargaining position with the EU much stronger, as they would be able to use Scottish resources such as fishing and farming as bargaining chips.  Under current circumstances the EU negotiators would simply point out that these things might not be Westminster's to bargain with under current circumstances.

What should Ms Sturgeon do about it?  In my opinion it's time to go for broke.  The SNP should include in their manifesto a pledge that if more than half of the MPs returned by Scotland as a result of the General Election are SNP, this should be taken as a de facto vote in favour of independence.  This would cut through the need to gain 'permission' from Westminster to hold a referendum and would, I think, satisfy bodies such as the EU and UN that the Scottish government has a mandate from the people to declare independence (with the usual disclaimer that I am not a lawyer of course).

We are entering a high-stakes game of poker.  Do we feel lucky?

No comments:

Post a Comment