Theresa May should have read Faust before offering a Faustian bargain

Theresa May should have read Faust before offering a Faustian bargain

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Friday 17, March, 2017

This week the Prime Minister spurned Nicola Sturgeon's advances on a second independence referendum with the one of the worst arguments to moderation, "Not tonight dear, it's not the time".  This has immediately opened up the question as to when the next referendum will be rather than if. Centrism is the school of false compromise, of arguement to moderation, and at its worst the inevitable Faustian bargain. 

It is a great pity so few in British politics have read Faust by Goethe. There are plenty of abridged English versions about that offer a great insight into dealing with the devil. In the end it concludes you simply must not, because the devil will always decide to keep the bargain because he is eternal and Faust is mortal. In return for temporarily receiving the gift of knowledge Faust trades his soul for eternity.

Faust's lament is his most famous quote and it could easily sum up how Westminster feels about its dealing with the SNP.

I have pursued, alas, philosophy, Jurisprudence, and medicine, And, help me God, theology, With fervent zeal through thick and thin. And here, poor fool, I stand once more, No wiser than I was before.

Every Prime Minister since Blair has seen unionism as simply the programme by which we manage the inexhorable rise of nationalism within a European framework. That programme, in case people haven't noticed, died. We have a legacy of mortal Prime Ministers against an immortal tendency. If unionism is to survive it too must be eternal and not countenance giving ground to separatism for the sake of a little peace and quiet for a season. We need to wisen up. The socratic gadfly in Holyrood is not going away and giving ground only encourages it. So too it seems does God as is evidenced by his fireside chat with the devil,

Of all the spirits of negation rogues like you bother me the least. Man all too easy grows lax and mellow. He soon elects repose at any price. And so I like to pair him with a fellow to play the deuce, to stir, and to entice.

The UK is growing lazy in regard to the union and also in thinking of solutions to the SNP. Poll after poll say we do not want another divisive referendum. Will anyone offer me 50 pence for the notion that maybe the Unionist government would ballot the Westminster electorate of Scotland directly and just ask us if we even want a referendum?  A snap plebiscite would be far less divisive than a referendum with all the debate and shananigans. If we don;lt want one, and we clearly don't, then the SNP will be humiliated. Crucially for good governance it would end the power of the SNP to hijack the UK and ransom it over any arbitrary policy change that doesnt suit it's narrative, whatever that may be in the moment.

What on Earth are we supposed to say in 2021? No a second referendum? It's pretty clear a Nationalist majority is likely and that Westminster will grant one. The Westminster government just overturned an increase in NI contributions because it broke a manifesto pledge. Now we have, pointlessly and without reward, conceded another referendum after Brexit we can hardly stand and make it's refusal conditional on electing a Tory FM. Scots will see that as blackmail.

We do not seem to be thinking very far ahead. Vote No to keep Scotland in the EU....well that worked well and the SNP are beating that one hard. The idea that we can advance by isolating the constitutional issue and working it leaves us tripping us to agree with the SNP on other things. This isn't wise. Vote for us for no second referendum.....now it looks like we might be getting one anyway. 

Against a guerilla force with only one goal Dien Bien Phu like showdows are a very good way of losing ground very quickly. There was no need to hint and be clever about a second referendum and there was no rush to make any statement now. We wait nine months for Article 50 and we can't keep it in our undercrackers for a week when the SNP do their entirely predictable stunt. 

Westminster spox and wonks are writing now how shrewd the whole thing has been, how we have wrong footed Sturgeon and saved the day. I can;t help thinking the FM went out asking for a quicky referendum, expecting one after Brexit anyway and ending up with exactly what she wanted with lashings of grievance on top for the delay. There's clearly a long term plan here but I can't work out what it is. 

Faustian bargains are not shrewd. They are not neccessary. Making a deal with the devil brings you a whiff of hell for a long while after a quick fix. We do not need quick fixes. The ecstasy of ambiguity over Scotland's future looks increasingly like disinterested dithering followed by essay crisis. The press conference with the Scottish Secretary of State and Ruth Davidson whispered unity but it screamed Tory. No other interested parties from Holyrood were there. That was a shame and it would have been worth deplaying any presentation until after Holyrood convenes next week; this will only stir nationalist fervour and won't change the mind of any unionist. 

The false compromise has left the union truly compromised now in a way it was not yesterday. I only hope someone up there thinks this was worth it.

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