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The Chuck Berry doctrine of politics

By GARY KENT 20/3/2017

The great R&B artist Chuck Berry has just died. He may not have avidly followed politics but the fast rhythms and deep blues of modern politics are summed up in the chorus of one of his songs, featured in Quentin Tarantino's classic Pulp Fiction film: 'C'est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.'

The Chuck Berry doctrine applies to just the last week of British politics. The Scottish National Party lost its bid for independence three years ago and declared it was a once in a generation decision. Its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon seems to have decided that a generation now lasts about five years and is demanding a new referendum from the British government, which decides these matters. Sturgeon argues that the UK's decision to leave the EU provides a new reason for a referendum given two thirds of people in Scotland rejected Brexit.

She also seems to have dumped the cautious rule that the SNP would favour a new referendum if they were ten points ahead in the polls for a year and could guarantee victory. But polls show that Scots are evenly divided and the economics of independence look bad as oil revenues run down and have halved. The debt of an independent Scotland would require crippling austerity and there is no guarantee that Scotland could seamlessly stay in the EU. It would have to reapply and face a veto from Spain, worried that it would set a precedent for Catalonian independence.

But all is not as it seems. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May has rejected a referendum because it would conflict with Brexit but significantly does not reject it in principle, seeking refuge in one of her gnomic slogans - now is not the time. She may calculate that a later referendum would come when the SNP is weaker and has lost seats in the Scottish Parliament. She can also live with the anger of the SNP, a useful mobilising device for their seeking to be insurgent while in government. Furthermore, allowing the SNP this card may keep Scottish Labour in third place and shore up the Conservatives in Scotland as the official opposition.

May also seemed to rule out an early election when she took over unexpectedly last June. But newspapers are reporting a surge in recruiting Conservative officials beyond what would be normal for the local elections in May. May has no popular mandate of her own but is very popular in the polls and hemmed in by a small majority. The government's error in raising taxes despite manifesto promises at the last election not to do so also damage the May brand and she was forced by her backbenchers into an unprecedented and humiliating U turn within a week. Given all this, why not organise a snap election which one commentator works out could be done in time for an election in early May.

Yes, you never can tell but Labour is so far behind it seems likely that May could increase her majority from 12 to maybe 100 and have an unalloyed mandate to carry out Brexit. She would no longer be forced to follow the whims of her own right-wing which seeks Hard Brexit. I cannot shake the notion that the SNP is less interested in independence at this stage than providing the countervailing pressure that Labour cannot muster to push for a softer Brexit in which the UK, including Scotland, could remain part of the EU's single market or a customs union. I recently mentioned this to an SNP MP, who said that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was doing a great job - for the SNP.

Change is coming thick and fast and the often quoted extract from WB Yeats' classic poem, the Second Coming, has soared in media use. The relevant lines are 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/... The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.'

Tony Blair has established the Institute for Global Change as a platform where the best thinking on the key issues of the day is curated and turned into politically realistic strategy and policy. He wrote last week that 'all over the Western world the political landscape is changing. New parties are being formed – left, right and centre. But the centre ground, if marginalised in the mainstream traditional parties, finds it harder to get traction,' and struggles to be heard in the traditional party machines.

It all reminds me of the chorus of the classic Stealer's Wheel song featured in Tarantino's film, Reservoir Dogs which reads: 'Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,/Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.' Time will tell.

Gary Kent is the director of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


pre-Boomer Marine brat | 20/3/2017
The Yeats quote is disturbingly accurate, especially the second stanza.
god let us keep ringo | 23/3/2017
first fidel...and now chuck!! it all started with john lee hooker and james brown follwed by ray charles. end of the world as we know it.
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