Johnson, the Wannabe Dictator

Here’s what I wrote just a few short weeks after Johnson became the latest, and hopefully, the last UK Prime Minister (pretty please, SNP).

As I write, Boris Johnson has been PM for just 33 days, but during that time he has made his intentions quite clear.  Firstly, he appointed what is easily the most right wing UK cabinet in modern times, further to the right than Genghis Khan as the old saying goes.  Secondly, he has set 31st October as the date when the UK leaves the EU, no matter what.  Next, he has dropped a few hints that, unless the EU simply fold in any discussions and say ‘Yes, Boris’ to his every request, he is prepared to leave without a deal with the EU.  With a couple of exceptions, and they’ll probably get very little attention, each member of his Cabinet is a known Brexiteer, and in Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, there is someone who is known to be a supporter of a No Deal Brexit.

A lot has happened since then, little of it good, and most of it showing that I was probably more generous than I should have been in describing Johnson as a wannabe dictator.  I won’t go through everything that has happened; it would take too long and most of you won’t want reminding, but the main events were the change of date to the 31st of January and the surprise(?) general election, a surprise only because Johnson could only get it through Parliament if he got the support of other parties.  As it happened, he was supported by the third and fourth placed parties, both expecting to make big gains.  Though that worked out quite well for the SNP, who made 13 gains to 48 seats (controversial, eh), the LibDems probably wish they hadn’t been quite so optimistic as they’re now smaller than they were in the last parliament, even before the defections (the Jo Swinson effect?).  Whether both parties should have taken a more long term view, rather than seeking short term party advantage, is another question altogether and is a discussion for another time.

Since becoming PM, Johnson has shown a complete inability to compromise to achieve his ends and has the same messianic belief in Brexit as his predecessor Theresa May.  In both cases, was their belief in Brexit anything to do with what they thought is good for the country or is it more to do with what they thought is going to be good for them.  Who knows?  Unlike May, Johnson has managed to unite the Tories behind his withdrawal deal, perhaps down to the difference in personality.  While May could hardly be described as likable and failed to get colleagues to back her deal, Johnson is (sometimes likeable), and those he can’t persuade by telling them a joke or two, he can persuade because they know that behind the affable facade is someone who will do whatever it takes to get his own way.  This is a man who lies, a man who cheats, a man who conspires to get journalists beat up, a man who intends to prevent the judiciary having any say on his actions: and these are his better points.

Ironically, Johnson’s deal is virtually identical to May’s, except in one tiny little area, the involvement of Westminster.  Whereas May included some oversight of the negotiations by Parliament, Johnson has no need to as he has apparently got the unbounded support of the Tories in Parliament and probably beyond.  But the impact of Johnson’s attempt to acquire absolute power will be felt by all of the parliaments of the UK. 

There has been much talk in Scotland about the impact of the Withdrawal Bill on Holyrood though not so much in the largely foreign owned press and the unfriendly broadcast media or by the English based political parties masquerading as Scottish. The impact could be quite severe as it gives Johnson carte-blanche to ignore Holyrood in the negotiations with the EU and to overrule any decision taken by the Scottish Parliament, but that’s largely what happens now, so no one will be surprised.  That the other devolved administrations are affected in a similar way is not surprising as by virtue of their numbers and their interests, English MPs dominate Westminster debates.  As an aside, there’s a rule that non-English MPs can’t vote in Westminster on what are ruled by the speaker as matters that only affect England, though no such rule prohibits English MPs from voting on Scottish only matters.  Wonder why that is?

Anyway, back to the point.  As the Withdrawal Bill removes all oversight on the Brexit negotiations from the Westminster Parliament and provides the executive, i.e. Johnson and his cronies, with power to ignore or overrule the devolved administrations, which leaves all decision making in the hands of the executive.  Is this how modern democracies work or it just the UK?  Is the UK still a democracy?  There’s a word for countries which are run by a small group of individuals with no influence from anyone else and it’s not democracy.

Now although what’s described here only applies to the EU negotiations, it’s not a long stretch of the imagination to see the same rules being in place for other trade negotiations, including particularly those with the US.  Imagine Johnson, Gove and Raab being the only ones to decide on the import of chlorinated chicken.  It’s beyond belief.

But there’s more.  Using the same precedent, is it not a short step to see the same rules applying to other political decision making, foreign affairs (by the way, I don’t mean Johnson sleeping with a woman from another country), control of the NHS, military deployment, police regulations, human rights, food hygiene, the environment. etc., etc., etc., all under the total control of a small group of politicians with no input from anyone else.  Is that not a dictatorship, because it sure seems like it to me.

So come on Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland, surely you don’t want to live in a country run by a narcissistic dictator like Johnson.  If you don’t, get off your collective arses and do something about it.  NOW!

Democracy, Tory style

No government, no matter the size of its majority, can expect a completely problem-free period in office.  For one reason or another, all governments will face a number of mini or maxi crises during their period in power.

For example, what happens when you don’t win an election that you expected to win and it mucks up all your plans to convert your country into a tax haven for the very rich.  Do you talk to the opposition and come to an agreement about the policies you’ll put before your parliament and give up on all that tax haven nonsense?  Well,  not if you’re the Tories, you don’t.  You just pretend you really did win, say it will be business as usual, then sneakily try to change the rules to make sure the result doesn’t matter.

We have already been given a good idea of what democracy in Scotland will look like if the Tories get their way and if we hang around long enough as a part of the UK to allow it to happen.

While all political parties might exaggerate their potential achievements before an election, the difference between what they promise and what they deliver is generally small enough to allow them to explain it away before the next election, or they won’t get re-elected.  However, in the case of the 2014 referendum, the difference between the promises, like the Vow, like “don’t leave the UK, lead the UK”, like all the rest, and the delivery, no you can’t get home rule, but you can get EVEL to reduce the status of your MPs to second class, would have made chalk and cheese embarrassed.  Of course, the difference here is they thought there would never be another one.  As one after another of the proposed transfers of power from Westminster to Holyrood was voted down in Westminster by both the Tory and Labour MPs (including the Scots), they just laughed at us for believing them.

Following the result of the EU referendum, the Tories have now given us the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, or the Great Repeal Bill as it’s more commonly known.  The Government propose to make the Great Repeal Bill subject to the so-called “Henry VIII rules” which would allow them to make whatever changes they like after the bill is passed by Parliament by the use of “statutory instruments” with no parliamentary scrutiny.  Effectively, it becomes government by proclamation.  This means that the Government is free to make any changes it wishes to EU laws being transferred into UK law.  While some of these changes will be benign, for example to change a reference to a European institution into one to a British equivalent, there will be nothing to stop the Government introducing changes which fundamentally alter the original EU law,  or remove it altogether.  The Tories have promised they won’t do that (honest, they have), but is there anyone in the UK who really believes they won’t take the opportunity to make changes to any EU laws that they would rather hadn’t been introduced.  What are the chances of workers’ rights, environmental regulations, consumer rights or trading standards coming through the process unscathed?  Would that be no chance, or perhaps less than that?

Looking at what the Great Repeal Bill doesn’t say, it tells us what political life in Scotland is going to be like following Brexit.  Powers will all be reserved to Westminster, even in areas which are currently devolved, such as farming and fishing.  Trust us,  they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  Unfortunately, later, the Government will be able to change the rules in any area without consulting the Scottish Government (or any of the devolved governments).  They will be able to overrule the Scottish Government, even in areas of devolved responsibility.  They can take back powers, reduce the Scottish Government to an impotent shell or even close it down altogether, though even the Tories may consider that a risk too far.  Trust us, they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  But who is brave enough to forecast just how far the Tories will go to rid themselves of the annoyance that the Scottish Government represents.  Devolution was never intended to create Westminster’s conscience, Westminster’s Jiminy Cricket.

But aren’t the Tories a democratic party?  Surely, whatever they might do, can’t you always depend on the Tories to act democratically?  Well, if anyone still thinks the Tories are committed to democracy, just think for a moment about the replacement Scottish Tory MEP and the reason for there being a need for one.  When Ian Duncan, Scotland’s only Tory MEP, tried and failed to win a seat at Westminster in Theresa May’s snap election, his efforts to get into the UK government looked to be over.  But ignoring the verdict of the electorate (doesn’t that ring a bell?), Duncan was given a peerage and appointed to the post of Deputy Scottish Secretary, under Fluffy McFluffyface.  As a Peer, Duncan couldn’t retain his position as an MEP, so he had to resign from Europe and that meant a replacement was required.  The expected replacement should have been the person who came second in the ballot for the Tory list for the EU election, but the Tories (or do I mean Ruth the Mooth) decided to ignore the result of that ballot as well (surely not another one?) and instead gave the job to Baroness Mobarik, who was third in the ballot, and who then had to take leave of absence from the Lords to take up the position.  And this was just a relatively unimportant internal ballot.  How many more times will the Tories just ignore the result of an election because they don’t get the result they wanted?

For their latest trick, even though they have no Commons majority, the Tories plan to push through a rule that says the Government (even a minority government just like today) will always have an effective majority on all Public Bill Committees (formerly called Standing Committees), those which debate bills and have the power to alter them.  Currently, the makeup of Public Bill Committees is required to reflect the relative number of MPs in the Commons for each party, which means a minority government would not have a guaranteed majority in committees.  The change means the Tories will be completely in charge of the content of all bills brought before Parliament.  Pity they hadn’t thought of this idea before they offered a £1.5bn bribe to the DUP.  They could have spent the money on something more important, like offering tax rebates to their mates.

Theresa May had called the election to give her a big enough majority to steamroller all the Brexit changes through the Commons with no real opposition.  When that didn’t work, she’s now changing the rules to give her the majority that the voters refused to provide.  So we see that, if they don’t get the “correct” result from the electorate, the Tories are quite happy to ignore the result and make up their own.  That’s Tory democracy!  Or do I mean Tory dictatorship?

What’s next, I wonder?  Perhaps, next time, the Tories will just miss out the inconvenient part of an election, the asking the voters part, because, if you can give yourself a majority by ignoring the views of the electorate, why bother asking them in the first place.