I'm actually quite ambivalent about the prospect of an election this autumn. At the moment it looks like the SNP would clean up big time, but conditions also looked exceptionally favourable for them in 2017 and we all know what happened next. We should always remember that Westminster elections are 'away fixtures' for the SNP and that things can spiral out of control very quickly. Imagine, for example, if the broadcasters try to stitch up the SNP with three-way Johnson-Corbyn-Swinson debates, or even four-way Johnson-Corbyn-Swinson-Farage debates. That would be impossible to justify given the SNP's total dominance of politics in one of the four constituent nations of the UK, but just suppose they were brazen enough to actually do it. The election campaign would become a London-centred conversation in which it would be very hard for the SNP to be heard. That's exactly what happened in 2010 - three-way debates between Brown, Cameron and Clegg produced the Cleggasm, which changed the trajectory of the campaign in Scotland as much as anywhere else. It wasn't Alex Salmond's fault that he didn't do what Nick Clegg did, because he simply wasn't given the opportunity. The playing field was not remotely level, and I'm afraid it's a fact that the BBC, ITV and Sky were to blame for the undermining of the democratic process. Elections in the UK may be free, but they're not always scrupulously fair.
However, I think we're past the point of trying to work out whether we want an election to happen, because it now looks highly likely that it's going to happen whether we want it or not. Boris Johnson has set an unmistakable course for No Deal, and we have a parliament with an anti-No Deal majority. That means, I would suggest, that one of two things is going to happen...
1) MPs will conclude that a vote of no confidence is the only way to prevent No Deal, and will bring the government down in time for an October election.
2) MPs will find an alternative means to prevent No Deal, which Boris Johnson will have no option but to preempt by calling an election himself. (If he doesn't, he'd instantly become a lame duck leader.) I doubt if the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would prove any more of an obstacle for him than it did for Theresa May two years ago.
In case anyone still thinks it's not even plausible that a vote of no confidence could be passed, it's worth refreshing our memories about what the parliamentary arithmetic actually looks like...
Conservatives + DUP: 322 seats
All other MPs: 320 seats
Even with the DUP's help, the government have a majority of only two seats, which may be reduced to one next week if the Liberal Democrats win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. On paper, it would require only one Tory MP to vote with the opposition for the majority to be wiped out. In practice it's not quite as simple as that, because Charlie Elphicke will continue voting with the government even though he's technically no longer a Tory MP, and the odious independent MP Ian Austin (formerly of Labour) may have been bought off with his new job as a trade envoy to Israel. But it certainly wouldn't take many Tory rebels to bring the government down. The Lib Dems are now gung-ho for an early election, only a few months after saying that would be "irresponsible" (amazing what a difference an opinion poll surge can make). I'm not sure what Change UK's current position is, but they must know it would be a PR catastrophe for them to be the only opposition party to prop up a No Deal government.
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As regular readers may be aware, I'm blocked on Twitter by the Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter, because - and I quote - "I don't want to be mentioned on his blog". (That's working out well for her, then.) However, I gather that she was once again banging the drum yesterday for the idea that there is no route to a vote on independence that doesn't require permission from Westminster. So what do we do if Westminster says no? "We campaign some more for an independence referendum" says Mhairi. And what do we do if Westminster still says no after that? "We campaign some more for an independence referendum" says Mhairi.
This reminds me of the early 1980s Doctor Who story Full Circle, in which a group of people from the planet Terradon have been stranded for many generations in a crashed spaceship on Alzarius. They devote their lives to repairing the ship, with the promise from their leaders that if they work hard enough, it will be possible to return home in a few more decades or centuries. "Towards the embarkation!" is their mantra. But it turns out at the end of the story that the ship has been in perfect working order for a long time, but that nobody knows how to fly it. The leaders were just using the pointless 'repairs' to keep the common people busy and to prevent any awkward questions being asked.
It's not 'populism' to say there needs to be a Plan B if Westminster's obstructionism continues. It's simple, hard-headed pragmatism. "Campaign even harder for an independence referendum!" is only an honest exhortation if a credible plan exists to bring a vote on independence about. I made a point along those lines when I was interviewed for Sputnik yesterday - you can listen to the interview HERE.
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UPDATE: Apparently it's possible for individual SNP members to express support for discussion at conference of the McEleny/MacNeil amendment (calling for an election to be used to seek an outright mandate for independence if a Section 30 order is refused) by emailing the National Secretary of the party. I'm not sure what the procedure is - presumably you'd just give your name and possibly your membership number and explain why you're writing? The email address is: email@example.com