The focus has all been on a Trump presidency, but the prospect of Hillary Clinton ascending to the Oval Office, vacated 16 years ago by husband Bill, is not one that Scottish politicians like Nicola Sturgeon should necessarily welcome, believes commentator Bernard Thompson. Here he explains why.
I’m not sure what would have been the more disquieting news for Nicola Sturgeon last week – the fact that Alex Neil revealed that he had voted for Brexit or that he claims that several MSPs did likewise but, for their own reasons, “don’t want to broadcast it”.
The SNP’s famed “discipline”, which saw every one of the party’s MSPs vote to retain the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – described by John Mason as “poor legislation” – while the other four parties voted against it could be seen as a triumph of party management.
On the other hand, when elected members feel unable to reveal their true voting intentions on matters of profound national concern, there is room to question both their moral courage and the level of tolerance within the Holyrood and Westminster parliamentary parties.
The referendum debate was one of mainland Britain’s ugliest political episodes in living memory.
Both sides apparently took their lead from the victorious Better Together campaign in a crass, tawdry affair often appealing to voters’ most base instincts. Truthfulness was not the most highly prized of ideals on either side, with lies about redirecting EU fees to the NHS and Nigel Farage’s monstrous immigration poster amongst the most offensive appeals.
But Remainers who claimed that Brexit was the vote of choice for Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and the leader of Daesh did little to rise above the rhetoric of political desperadoes.
The Brexit campaigners sowed irresponsible political hot air. Post-Brexit Britain is reaping a social whirlwind, with numerous reports of violence doing nothing to quell the right-wing diatribes that the pro-Brexit press now vomits forth daily.
Perhaps it is little wonder that disgruntled Remainers should ignore the many strands of Brexit argument, viewing them instead as a single “bundle of rods”, holding an axe head. Much of the Remain side, like its Brexit counterpart, appears so hostile to measured debate that elected representatives of Scotland’s most popular party appear too fearful to defend their views.
Yet there are evident dangers in the politics of tribalism, caricature and personality, which may soon become evident with catastrophic consequences for the aspiration of an independent Scotland.
And two decisions over six fateful November days may well bring short-lived celebrations for those who failed to grasp the thistle in 2014.
The first was Thursday’s High Court ruling that Theresa May must consult parliament before activating Article 50 to begin Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Hailed by Remainers and Tory opponents as a bloody nose, there is no such thing as a bad Tory defeat, goes the logic (ostensibly a good enough reason to vote against Heathrow expansion) and it is easy to sympathise with that view. This particular defeat, though, seems ominous for Scotland. But more of that later.
Secondly, on Tuesday, voters in the United States will elect their 45th president, with Kezia Dugdale and Nicola Sturgeon attempting to compete for the status of Hillary Clinton’s best pal in Scotland.
Dugdale’s estimation of her worth may be the more unfathomable but her motivations easier to understand. The beneficiary of US-funded “leadership training”, which she accepted without any apparent appreciation of irony or fear of self-parody, it will be no surprise if Dugdale eventually goes State-side.
(Think of a cut-price Louise Mensch, capitalising on a meagre political career in Britain to charge large fees to American clients willing to pay her for anything at all.)
Sturgeon, on the other hand, has no need of a new career opportunity. Yet, while it is not difficult to share her and Dugdale’s espoused revulsion for all things Trump, the First Minister has some actual responsibilities to the Scottish nation to consider, as opposed to attention-seeking posturing.
Which is why her comments in the Press and Journal coming out, yet again, for Clinton who she thinks “will be a great president,” seem ill-advised.
While every vote counts, according to cliché (even when many of them clearly do not), it would be naive of anyone in Scotland to think that they had any measurable influence over US voting intentions.
Sturgeon nailing her saltire to Clinton’s mast will have a negligible impact on the outcome, so how is it in Scotland’s interests to have the leader of its government comment on another country’s election?
Sturgeon may well believe that, “whatever the result, Scotland will continue to have close ties of friendship and family with the US,” but, if a victorious Trump is as unreasonable as the evidence indicates, his feelings towards the SNP are unlikely to be warm, given their shared history.
This may only extend to matters of prestige – invitations to the White House, meeting the First Minister on trips to the UK, etc. but, to my knowledge, the US has never had a president who was personally irritated by his dealings with Scotland.
Could Sturgeon’s intervention be motivated by the SNP’s embarrassment at having courted Trump so energetically and for so long before finding they were trying to reason with a man who tilts violently at wind turbines? (Presumably he was considered a good and virtuous man in those days.)
No politician should be expected to cosy up to Trump – a man whose entire repertoire of redeeming features seem to be contained in his hitherto refusal to antagonise Vladimir Putin. That, for which he has been accused (without credible evidence) of being a Russian agent, may be his only saving grace – but it could be the most important one of all.
Indy supporters would do well to the hesitate before crowing about either Theresa May’s High Court defeat or a Clinton victory.
And, as ever, it is a mistake to focus on personalities and rhetoric instead of considering policy implications.
Alex Neil, the latest bogey-man of Scottish politics, has argued that Scotland remaining in the EU is not as clear a vote-winner as many believe and, like Jim Sillars, believes Scotland should consider a range of options.
That is a reasonable position to take, for which he does not deserve to be denounced as a saboteur, motivated by personal grudges, though many disagree with him. But focussing on personality and inferred sinister motives only serves to divert attention from a nuanced appreciation of political choices.
While many have lauded the Law Lords’ verdict (and the implementation of just law should always be sacrosanct in any democracy), should it be confirmed by the High Court, it is difficult to see how a Yes campaign could be successful before a final picture had emerged as to what, if any, Brexit will take shape.
In the run-up to an early referendum, No campaigners would be able to obfuscate the whole issue of Brexit should Westminster MPs, as expected, complicate and delay the process through amendments and procedural devices. Even Sinn Féin are hinting that they may take their Westminster seats for the first time, to oppose Brexit.
And the No side would be able to put forward a nightmare scenario for many Scots Yes voters – a Scotland on the outside of the EU while Westminster discards the Brexit vote and a hard border being erected between Scotland and England.
There will also be room for considerable doubt as to whether, via the same parliamentary process, a Yes vote could be discarded on similar grounds.
Bearing in mind the substantial number of Tories who oppose Brexit (as well as the Labour MPs who oppose both Brexit and anything their party leader supports) there is every chance that the SNP contingent will have enough votes to swing any division to Aye or Nay.
Nicola Sturgeon continually reiterates her position that SNP MPs will not vote for anything against Scotland’s interests, therefore they will presumably do all in their power to resist Brexit, even though they would thereby legitimise Westminster refusing to enact legislation to allow Scotland to be independent, after a Yes vote.
Those two positions – a Westminster SNP contingent committed to keeping Britain in the EU by hook or crook, while the party in Scotland campaigns to have Scotland withdraw from the UK and have the same parliament accept the result seem impossible to reconcile.
There is also every reason to believe that Westminster would reject a Yes vote, particularly with Labour’s only hope of overturning a Tory majority depending on keeping Scotland in the UK.
But Westminster’s interest in preventing Scottish independence is likely to be overwhelming should the “smart choice” of Clinton be successful on Tuesday.
While Trump’s rantings have offended virtually everyone possessing either empathy or moral decency, the “moderate”, “progressive” pro-Clinton constituency seem untroubled by any questions pertaining to her honesty, character, political positions or judgement.
Her past warning of her willingness to “obliterate” Iran could be seen as a mere trifle from one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the US’s proxy war with Russia in Syria.
But what should intensely focus international stakeholders in the direction of US policy – like Nicola Sturgeon – is where Clinton’s policies with regard to Russia may lead.
The concerns raised come from diverse sources, few of whom enjoy widespread mainstream media coverage.
Craig Murray recently noted:
“Clinton has made no secret of her view that Obama has not been forceful enough in his dealings in Syria, and within her immediate circle she has frequently referred to the Cuban missile crisis as the precedent for how she believes Russia must be faced down. It is her intention to restore US international prestige by such a confrontation with Putin in Syria early in her Presidency, and perhaps more to the point to restore the prestige of the office of POTUS and thus enhance her chances of getting her way with a probable Republican controlled senate and congress.
“The problem with a game of nuclear armed chicken is we might all end up dead. The Americans do not read Putin well….
“It seems to me highly improbable Hillary can make him back down over Syria. I am no more a fan of Assad than I am a fan of Putin. Nevertheless to risk nuclear war over a desire to replace Assad with rival swarms of vicious disjointed Saudi and Al-Qaeda backed jihadist militias, scarcely seems sensible.”
Murray’s remarks are reminiscent of comments by Michael Heseltine on Question Time some years ago, noting that viewing Russian policy in the simple, dismissive terms most often preferred by the western media is deeply misguided.
Reminding the audience that the Russians are “the most advanced chess players in the world”, Heseltine remarked that every step taken by the Russian government was meticulously and strategically planned.
To this, it is pertinent to add what is understood by virtually anyone who knows even a little about Russia or Russians – that what is valued above all in a Russian leader is strength.
Keeping this in mind, the judo, the bare-chested horseback-riding, the “gunslinger’s” walk, the motorcycle-riding with the Night Wolves, the facing down oligarchs on live TV, even demanding that one return his pen, can be seen as the actions of a man who knows his people and what they want.
Most Russians don’t want a baby-kissing president – they want someone stronger than the president of the United States. It is inconceivable that Putin would show weakness in the face of any US challenge.
But there is abundant evidence that Putin is shrewd, strategic and, perhaps above all, determined to demonstrate strength.
In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that a Putin who backed down to Clinton could find himself suffering a similar end to that Italian strong man, Benito Mussolini.
Unusually, such concerns are not limited to mavericks and suspected Russian agents but are shared by senior US military figures, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who recently said: “I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft.”
And just last week, Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov warned that it would shoot down any aircraft that it considered a threat to its forces in Syria.
Let’s not forget that the war in Syria has already resulted in a NATO ally, Turkey, downing a Russian attack aircraft, with “rebels” shooting a crew member parachuting to safety, just less than a year ago.
At that time, the world seemed relatively sanguine about the prospect of Russia retaliating militarily against a NATO member. Thankfully, Russia didn’t – perhaps proving NATO strength – preferring economic sanctions.
Nevertheless, within a heartbeat of Recep Erdoğan crushing the military coup against his leadership – before the coup had taken place, actually – Putin had accepted Erdoğan’s apology and relations between these two strategic partners had appeared to strengthen in a way not clearly consistent with NATO’s aims.
This rapprochement also came shortly after the Brexit vote that not only appeared to weaken the EU and potentially its partnership with NATO but which also followed a debate that had heavily featured disdain on both sides for Turkish aspirations to become an EU member.
If all this seems fanciful because we have been conditioned to believe that the unthinkable truly is inconceivable (for those who don’t remember the War to End All Wars), the Canary this week, noted the mind-boggling idiocy of UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who reportedly said that Britain was readying itself for war with Russia “within two or three years”.
It is now eight years since Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn declared that Poland had made itself a first-priority target for attack, due to its willingness to host NATO’s “missile shield”, a position from which Nobel Peace Laureate, Barack Obama, initially retreated.
But there is scant evidence that the leaders of the “free world” are heeding warnings or making decisions informed by the increasingly credible threat of a devastating war, promoted by Britain’s most valued friends in the “special relationship”, a threat that seems set to increase beyond comprehension, should the anti-Trump campaign send Clinton to the White House.
Giving any credibility to the threat of a massive general war, it seems trite to refer to its potential impacts on Scottish independence.
However, though we may hope that the fact of war is never realised, the heightened threat of conflict can only have ominous implications for an independent Scotland.
Scotland, with Faslane Naval Base hosting the UK’s US-controlled nuclear deterrent, currently sits in the treble-top position of Europe’s nuclear dartboard. A potent reason to get out of the UK – but, more pressingly, NATO in the event of the once-infamous Doomsday clock ticking towards midnight than its current three minutes to the hour.
Yet any process for relocating Scotland’s nukes would take years to realise – time that may not be available, in the context of Fallon’s comments and the predicted game of chicken which Hillary Clinton is said to be readying the United States military for.
Does it really seem conceivable that, even if Scotland were to vote Yes against a backdrop of looming war, that Westminster would allow that to happen with all the attendant security implications?
Is all this a price worth paying in the interests of personality politics, to see an obnoxious man, whose most pressing international crisis would be with Mexico, lose?
Do you really agree with Nicola Sturgeon that Hillary Clinton will make a great president?