The paradox in the United Kingdom’s generally eventful constitutional history could scarcely have been sharper. In the span of 24 hours, Theresa May’s Brexit bill surmounted hurdles in both Houses of Parliament, a development that clears the way for the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. While this affords a shot in the arm after occasional uncertainties, she will in parallel have to countenance the renewed bout of jingoism in Scotland with its First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, shrilling for a referendum on Scottish independence as early as next year. The government has achieved its ambition of passing a “straightforward” two-line bill that is confined to the question of whether ministers can trigger Article 50 and start the formal Brexit process. In legislative terms, the House of Lords has accepted the supremacy of the Commons after MPs overturned amendments aimed at guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and giving Parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. Not that the decision was unanimous; there was a certain yo-yo during the proceedings as the momentous legislation oscillated between the two Houses, a reflection of the inherent disagreement. In the context of the peers agreeing to allow the passage of the bill unamended, Britain gets posited on what the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has called “the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation”. With the trigger on Article 50, the Conservative government is in a position to forge new trade links. While further comment must await developments in the intervening fortnight ~ till the end of March ~ the government cannot but be unnerved by Ms Sturgeon flagging the demand for a second vote of Scottish independence… after voters in Scotland had opposed Brexit on June 23 last year.
Monday night’s forward movement for Ms May gets neutralised by her immediate criticism of the fresh initiative of the Scottish National Party (SNP) ~ “The party had a tunnel vision on breaking away from the UK. This is deeply regrettable. Politics is not a game. The Scottish government should focus on delivering good government for the people of Scotland.” Arguably, there could be substance in Ms Sturgeon’s cavil that London had failed to address Scotland’s desire to remain in the single market after Britain leaves. Though the compulsions are different, the economic factor is the common grouse against the European Union and UK… of both Britain and Scotland. The country’s First Minister has been no less robust in her counter-criticism, saying that “our efforts at compromise have been met with a brick wall of intransigence”. Politically, it may not be easy for Ms May to refuse another Scottish referendum for which the two Parliaments ~ in Britain and Scotland ~ will have to extend their approval. Virtual certainty over Brexit has been balanced by the renewed uncertainty over Scotland.