There is no good position for the opposition parties in the House Of Commons to take on the impending Brexit deal vote this coming week.
It’s a terrible deal, and voting for it – as Labour will do – makes you look like an idiot, especially when it completely fails the “six tests” you swore never to vote for it without. On the other hand, time is absolutely up and were it to be somehow defeated the only alternative left to the deal would be a no-deal exit, which is the only thing worse.
Which makes this look simply pathetic.
Because the SNP voting against the deal is the exact opposite of “principled”. It’s the most cynical, cowardly sort of grandstanding virtue-signalling imaginable. They’re doing it precisely because their votes don’t matter. They know that the deal would be guaranteed to pass on Tory votes alone, let alone with Labour supporting it too, so they can make a big show of voting against it without fear of consequences.
And if you’re not sure about that, take a moment and honestly ponder to yourself if the SNP would be voting against the deal if their votes DID matter.
Imagine they held the balance of power. Imagine that the Parliamentary arithmetic was something like it was before last year’s election, and so the way the SNP voted would determine whether the UK left the EU with a bad deal, or with no deal at all.
Look into your hearts, readers, and honestly tell us that a single one of you believes the SNP would have the courage to vote with their “principles”, condemn the UK and Scotland alike to the ruinous catastrophe of no-deal, and face up to the media storm on both sides of the border that would assuredly result.
Of course they wouldn’t. A little over a year ago they didn’t even have the bottle to vote for the general election that they’d just spent weeks on end loudly demanding. They abstained (behind a pitiful fig-leaf of a three-day disagreement over the date) and let others take the responsibility for what unfolded, exactly as they’ll be doing next week by NOT abstaining.
(What readers may not recall, incidentally, is that they did the same in 2017.)
This site by and large loathes abstaining. We’ve criticised Labour at length for it, quite properly in the circumstances involved, and the SNP for doing it over the elections. There are very few occasions when it’s justifiable for an MP to refuse to express a view either way, but this is one of them.
The government is obviously obliged to vote for its own policy. Labour’s position is at least honourably defensible as being in the interests of the country, the least worst of two awful options. And there’s no escaping the fact that the country in question clearly voted for Brexit, not just in the referendum but also in that election last year.
Now, the SNP represent Scotland, not the UK, and the people of Scotland have voted overwhelmingly and repeatedly to remain. But because of the SNP’s utter failure to take a single step towards independence in the last four and a half years, Scotland is still in the UK, and that means that a no-deal exit would be every bit as disastrous for Scotland as it would for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (if not more). Remaining is no longer on the table. It is not an option. It’s this deal or no deal.
So there is no way on Earth that the SNP would or should have been voting against this eleventh-hour deal if doing so carried any risk of defeating it and bringing about a no-deal Brexit by default. But that means their “principles” are a shameful lie, because their vote will have absolutely nothing to do with principles and is in fact an empty gesture that’s everything to do with cheap and grubby politicking.
Ironically, by acting in such a dishonest, self-serving manner they’ll be demonstrating that they truly belong at Westminster. And for those of us who once believed there was something fundamentally different about them – who genuinely thought they’d gone to London to settle up, not settle down – the reality is heartbreaking.
We wish we could end with the famous Orwell quote from Animal Farm about not being able to tell the difference between the pigs and the men. But the truth is that it’s worse than that. On this occasion the SNP have ceded the moral high ground to Labour, and that’s a thing we hoped never to live to see.