Scotland is lost to the United Kingdom.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the governing Scottish National Party, is calling for a second referendum on independence within the next two years. This time – which will be five years after the Scots narrowly voted to remain in the UK – the result is likely to be more decisive. This time, I suspect, it will be to leave. What else could it be?
From Scotland’s point of view, the timing is as perfect as it is ever likely to be. Three years ago, in the referendum on Europe, the Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, only to be thwarted by their southern neighbours. That alone would be enough to stoke the fires of rebellion, but the British government, in such a state of disarray that it has virtually ceased to function, the Cabinet wracked by internecine fighting, not only over the future of Brexit, but also over who should lead the party, provides another incentive. Theresa May is likely to be ousted, one way or another, before the end of the summer, but her successor is bound to be a Brexiteer, someone who in that and all other respects will be anathema to the Scots.
Even the English, disillusioned with their politicians of all stripes, and determined to punish them for their perceived incompetence, are likely to vote overwhelmingly for fringe parties, most of them on the populist right of the spectrum and all adamant that Britain should leave the EU. In the upcoming council elections in England, candidates representing local interests, such as preserving those slivers of countryside that fall within so-called green belts, are likely to prevail. Politically, the country is not so much divided as fragmented. Commentators talk increasingly of the end to the two-party system that has prevailed for a century or more.
Such developments are not confined to Britain. All across Europe the political centre is crumbling. Collectively upset with mainstream parties, from countries as diverse as Germany and Spain, centrists are dismissed as irrelevant, even reviled. The word ‘moderate’, like ‘media’ is fast becoming a pejorative. For ‘moderate’ read indecisive, wishy-washy.
The SNP, to which opinion polls give a commanding lead over all other parties combined, has been watching the British government make a complete hash of the Europe issue with breathless anticipation. Now, it has decided, in a vote of its membership, is the time to strike.
The pity is that none of this needed to happen. The Conservative leadership called for the vote on Europe in the confident expectation that a substantial majority to remain would follow. David Cameron, the Prime Minister at the time, did not call it to resolve a national emergency but to quell a rebellion stirred up by troublesome elements on the right-wing of his party and the threat of wholesale defections to Nigel Farage and his UKIP party.
UKIP has since self-destructed, after embracing policies that appeal to extremists, racists and other far-right loonies, but Farage himself is still at-large, this time with a new party that plays to malcontents from both ends of the spectrum. That someone as irredeemably divisive and muddle-headed as Farage, a loud-mouthed, rabble-rousing, smooth-talking, opportunistic lounge-lizard, should have become the key political figure of the times, is testament to the crushing ineptitude of the two main political parties and the troubled, confused state of the nation.
If a general election were to be held this year, in the absence of a clear parliamentary majority for either of the main parties, Farage would probably emerge as a king-maker. Given the present state of political diffusion, he might even find himself being called on to form a government. Such are the murky depths into which British political discourse has descended.
No wonder the Scots want out. I suspect that I would be far from alone in wishing I could follow them.