BY EFFIE DEANS
It is now almost certain that Liz Truss will be the next Prime Minister. Unless something very strange happens, Sunak has already lost. Her first task is to protect the United Kingdom. Any Prime Minister whose action or inaction leads to the break up of the UK will be remembered for that and that alone.
The UK is threatened in two ways. One threat comes from the SNP the other threat comes from Ireland and Sinn Féin. Truss’s task is to neutralise both.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is an existential threat to the UK, not immediately but long term. This is why Ireland and Sinn Féin are so concerned to defend it.
Brexit means that the UK will gradually diverge from the EU. Indeed, ideally, we should diverge as much as possible and undercut the EU wherever we can.
This gradually makes Scottish independence harder to achieve, because it would mean Scotland would have to diverge greatly from the former UK in order to join the EU. This would make issues such as trade and the border between Scotland and the former UK more problematic than if the divergence were small.
But because Northern Ireland remains in effect a part of the EU and has to follow EU regulations, any UK divergence from the EU increases the divergence between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the UK.
At some point Northern Ireland finds itself so closely aligned with the EU and so divergent from the UK that it depends economically on its relationship with Ireland. At this point Northern Ireland de facto unifies with Ireland, because they each follow the same EU regulations. The next step becomes a matter of course.
The task therefore is to ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol. It must be treated as an existential threat to the UK and treated accordingly. Truss, I think understands this. Ireland and the EU will threaten and perhaps act on these threats, but it is necessary to realise that the British Government must fight on this issue or else lose gradually and completely in the end.
Ireland at least at the moment cannot afford Northern Ireland. The withdrawal of British money from Northern Ireland could not easily be made up by the Irish taxpayer.
Truss needs to explain carefully to the Irish Government that the UK Government would abolish the Common Travel Area if Northern Ireland ever left the UK and would put relations between Ireland and the former UK into the deep freeze. Any troubles arising from Irish unification would be the responsibility of Ireland alone and the former UK would see Irish unification as a victory for terrorism and that the Irish state had taken advantage of that terrorism.
It is an advantage that Truss spent part of her childhood in Scotland. Most English journalists and politicians have little understanding of Scottish politics, because they have only visited Scotland on holiday.
Truss will have experienced in Paisley the foundation of Scottish nationalism. As a little girl she would have been told by all of her friends that there is one preeminent quality “being Scottish” and you don’t have it.
She would have experienced that every adult, every official body and every television programme and newspaper was united in belief that the solution to every problem is to spend more public money on it and for it to be more Scottish.
Scottish nationalism doesn’t depend just on the SNP, it depends on the conformity of opinion in Scotland that there are only left-wing solutions and that the state is responsible for looking after Scots and that we are never to blame for anything because Tories are to blame for everything. Even the Scottish Conservative Party believes this.
Because she grew up in Scotland Truss will know that Paisley is not a bit like Oxford and that the mentality of the people in the prosperous cities of southern England is not a bit like the mentality of people in Dundee, Glasgow or indeed Paisley. It is because of this difference in mentality that these people are poorer, with less hope and fewer chances. It is why they kill themselves with drugs, or junk food or Buckfast. It is why life expectancy in parts of Scotland is worse than Syria and Sudan.
As a little girl Truss would have believed in socialism. Her parents were socialists. She therefore will understand better than most the attraction of left-wing thinking. It attracted her. She will also understand better how to counter it.
London and the South East are more prosperous than Paisley because the people there are Conservatives. They believe in working hard, getting good qualifications and being entrepreneurs. In Paisley and most of Scotland business is a dirty word. People who are successful and earn large salaries should have as much money as possible taken away from them by the state. No wonder Paisley is poorer than Palmers Green.
But Conservatives can only persuade people tempted by socialism if Conservatives make us richer. Truss’s first task is to rescue the economy. If two years from now we are no better off then why not give Starmer a chance?
Just as Northern Ireland is on the Liverpool Pathway to unification unless Truss revokes the Protocol, so too Scotland will inevitably at some point leave the UK if you continue down the present path of increasing devolved powers and eventually allowing an independence referendum when the SNP wants one.
Even Truss who is better on this than most is merely telling the SNP that you will have to wait a generation. But it’s already been ten years since the last referendum. After another ten we would be getting close to a generation. Ten years in the lifetime of the UK is little more than an instant.
Truss must do more than say not now, she must work on integrating the UK in such a way that it becomes practically impossible for Scotland or Northern Ireland to leave.
Use British public spending to integrate each part of the UK so that it depends on every other part. Make trade deals which it would be disadvantageous for firms in Northern Ireland or Scotland to ditch. Do everything you can to treat the UK as one country rather than four. It is for instance senseless that the UK has four teams at the Commonwealth Games. Scotland is not a member of the Commonwealth, neither are the other three.
Gradually Truss needs to change the political convention whereby it is seen as just that if the SNP wins an election that it eventually gets an independence referendum. If you do that for a hundred years you might win four times, but lose the fifth.
There is no democratic right to secession. No other country thinks there is. Nor should we.
The UK will never be fully secure until someone has the courage to state that we are one nation indivisible, just like the United States, and that we will use all means at our disposal to defend our territorial integrity. Perhaps, just perhaps, Liz Truss is the person with the courage and the insight to turn this statement into law and to face down those foes whether foreign or domestic who might try to break up our country.
The Excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.