Playing by Queensberry rules isn’t how an opposition party should operate

THEY used to say that football was a game for gentlemen played by ruffians and rugby a game for ruffians played by gentlemen!

How that stands now, with the women’s game in both sports rapidly gaining ascendancy, I am not so sure. However, that old bon mot was going through my head when I considered the weak-kneed behaviour of the opposition parties to the current travails of the Conservative and Unionist government.

Politics is meant to be the ultimate bloodsport where no quarter is asked or given, whether the players be ruffians or gentlemen. How do we explain, therefore, the rather genteel attitude of the SNP and – to some extent – the Labour Party, to the current crisis of Toryism? It is almost as if the opposition parties were intent on helping their bleeding opponent off the canvas before squaring up for another polite go, always abiding by Queensberry rules.

Let’s take Labour first. Apart from half-hearted – and totally futile – calls for a General Election, what are Labour actually doing to prise the clammy hands of the Tory party from the levers of power?

Parliamentary tactics alone are to no avail since a vote of confidence would merely reignite the Tory instinct for self-preservation. But how about extra-parliamentary initiatives? This last weekend could have seen 100,000 minimum marching through the capital demanding a people’s ballot.

Let the Tories feel the burn. Instead, a few thousand pro-EU campaigners paraded to Parliament Square while a handful of Just Stop Oil protesters clogged the streets and invaded TV studios. Unfortunately, by the time the welcome Politics4You Guy Fawkes day initiative gets underway, Rishi Sunak will have his feet well under the Downing Street table.

Of course, Sir Keir Starmer has an aversion to the great unwashed, even when they are not on picket lines, preferring to plod his way to Downing Street by ultra-respectable inches. He may be in for a shock. Starmer carries all the conviction of an apprentice trapeze artist on a high wire. He is so busy looking at the safety net he might not make the other side.

His long game is no sure thing. Never mind the headline opinion polls – look at the head-to-head leadership ratings. Even after the greatest political implosion of modern times, Starmer is but a handful of points ahead of the new Prime Minister and even less ahead of “Dick Dastardly” Johnson.

In the beckoning snore-fest that Prime Minister’s Questions will become between the two most boring men in the House of Commons, it is by no means certain that staid Starmer will ultimately triumph over solid Sunak.

But at least Labour have a defence for their ultra-cautious approach. After all, it has served them well to date. But what is the SNP alibi? All I’ve heard from SNP spokespeople over the last week has been to echo the Labour calls for a General Election or, even more bizarrely, offer to table a vote of confidence which would merely serve to unite the warring factions of the Tory party behind their second-choice Prime Minister.

The vote of confidence ploy is obviously silly, but what use would a General Election be right now to the SNP or Scotland?

AN immediate General Election could take place on Thursday, December 1 and thus, in all likelihood, before the Supreme Court ruling on indyref2. It would not then have been the promised “plebiscite poll” but just another election and just another mandate.

The result would have been a Labour landslide and thus the replacement of one Tory government implacably opposed to a Scottish referendum with another red Tory government implacably opposed to a Scottish referendum.

Even the SNP’s secret hopes of holding the balance of power at Westminster would have been kicked into touch. Just as well, perhaps, because the balance of power politics is high risk and high reward. For the smaller party to be successful, it requires political guile and strategic nous.

So what on earth have the SNP been playing at while the Tories played Russian roulette? The answer is wasting their time on empty threats which, even if successful, would have advanced Scotland’s cause not a jot.

The task of a nationalist MP is not to seek the glittering prizes of opposition at Westminster but to advance the cause of independence for our country.

The real battle is for Scotland, and the initiative should take place in the home ground of the Scottish Parliament.

That is where a Scottish referendum bill could still be tabled this week, and the new undemocratically selected Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could be confronted immediately with a democratic demand from Scotland’s elected representatives.

Scotland does not need more political jousting played by the Queensberry rules but politics in the raw. Because if you always play Westminster games, you will always lose.

First published in The National 26/10/22

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