Since clearly no one cared about the EU until this ‘will we, won’t we’ Brexit charade started, the European elections were formerly marked by painfully low voter turnout—the last time they rolled around in 2014, the voter turnout stalled at 35.6 percent, compared to a turnout of 66.1 percent in the following year’s general election. However, with Nigel Farage rubbing his hands in glee as his Brexit Party dominated, without even having a manifesto, all eyes were focussed on this year’s European elections.
There’s a sense that the elections are a crucial turning point in British politics—a moment where voters either give in to populism or reaffirm what has become an inefficient two-party system. In Scotland, the winds of change are particularly strong. The ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) has dominated politics up north since 2014’s failed independence referendum, jumping from 6 seats in the 2010 general election to 56 in 2015. Presumably, this is because Scottish voters felt that, once the independence agenda was off the table, they would be safe to vote for a party that truly did represent their best interests. Yet Brexit has emphasised that, despite devolution and SNP rule, the wishes of the Scottish populace are being blocked by Westminster.
62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the U.K.—well above the 48 percent U.K. average—but Scotland is being dragged out of the EU alongside the rest of Britain. Understandably then, simmering resentment towards the British government is about ready to hit boiling point. SNP is keen to capitalise on this: their slogan for the European elections was the pointed ‘Stop Brexit’ and their incendiary campaign material urged the Scottish people to send a ‘clear message’ to Westminster, declaring that a vote for SNP is a vote for a People’s Vote.
Yet it doesn’t stop there, SNP is capitalising on Scottish Brexit disillusionment to resuscitate its independence agenda. Speaking in Holyrood in April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explicitly said that, should Brexit actually happen, she would begin pushing through legislation for a second referendum in 2021 and has expressed ambitions for placing an independent Scotland within the EU. Yet this seems a rather ambitious plan—the U.K. government would need to grant a Section 30 order to make this happen and, in light of the prolonged Brexit mess, all efforts are going to be made to avoid similar upheaval by shutting down any mention of a second independence referendum.
Regardless of whether she can obtain the result she wants, Sturgeon’s efforts to stir up Scottish nationalist feelings are interesting—seemingly mirroring tendencies elsewhere in Europe, yet with some crucial differences. Parties like Germany’s AfD, the country’s third biggest party and a harbourer of Nazi sympathisers, or Italy’s Lega, which has taken particularly vindictive and dehumanising actions against refugees, have become the representatives of a nationalism swept Europe. Scotland has been at pains to distance itself from this racism and xenophobia, not just in words but in actions. Under SNP rule, Scotland welcomed around 20 percent of the Syrian refugees granted asylum in the U.K. This is notable against the backdrop of the U.K.’s state-sanctioned hostility towards refugees, and is particularly striking when you consider that Scotland only comprises around 8 percent of the British population.
Yet this more humanitarian response to the refugee crisis is characteristic of SNP’s broader nationalist strategy. Concretely, it seems that Scotland is trying hard to present itself as some kind of liberal haven, distanced from toxic nationalist discourses across Europe and the U.K.’s Conservative government’s punishing austerity measures. Increasingly, it seems like Scotland is styling itself on its Scandinavian neighbours over the North Sea—an aspiration that becomes much more visible when you consider that Scottish law-makers are (rather inadvisably) considering the implementation of a Nordic model for sex work legislation.
Scotland has always had socialist leanings, traditionally being a Labour stronghold, and SNP has confidently played into these allegiances. Sturgeon’s party has revolutionised the experience of living in Scotland, as well as the way Scotland is viewed at an international level, introducing measures like free sanitary product initiatives to tackle period poverty, LGBTIQ+ teaching in schools (before England’s botched attempt) and basic income pilot schemes. Whilst Scotland had been written off for years as a ‘problem’ for the rest of the U.K. to deal with—a hub of addiction, crime and poverty—SNP governance has allowed Scots to take a sense of pride in the knowledge that their country leads the way in terms of liberal legislation.
While the government is making strides to transform social policy and improve its standing on the international stage, SNP’s ambitions for an independent Scotland within the EU seem a long way off. Not only will Westminster do everything in its power to block a second referendum, but the EU is also not going to welcome an independent Scotland with open arms. As leaders in Balkans can confirm, EU accession talks generally drag on for years, and attaining Scottish membership would not be as easy as Sturgeon likes to make out. Moreover, Spain is sure to be hostile towards any attempts by Scotland to enter the European bloc—with Catalonia’s botched independence bid, Prime Minister Sánchez will undoubtedly use his EU Council veto to fend off Scottish membership and send a warning shot to Spain’s separatist factions.
With resistance from Westminster and the EU, Sturgeon’s plans for Scotland are most likely logistically impossible. However, that won’t keep the SNP or Scottish nationalists from trying, even if they know their efforts are futile. Perhaps it’s better that this political goal is always just out of reach, encouraging the SNP to challenge the U.K.’s political hegemony and fight for the Scottish people yet avoiding the turmoil that secession would undoubtedly unleash. As with all dreams, the fantasy of Scottish independence would be tarnished by the messy reality of trying to put it into practice.
The Trump administration recently launched a campaign to support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, spearheaded by openly-gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. That’s how it’s been framed, at least.
It was announced that Grenell would meet with eleven European activists in Berlin to coordinate a plan to eventually decriminalise homosexuality worldwide. 73 countries still have laws against same-sex relationships and sexual intercourse, particularly in Africa and the Middle East; several countries impose the death penalty for gay sex. It was reported that this new campaign was sparked by the recent execution of a gay man in Iran.
This isn’t an entirely new policy, however. The support of global LGBTQ rights was initiated under Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as Secretary of State. Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, Robert Palladino, confirmed this when he was asked about Grenell’s ‘new’ campaign soon after the story broke: “It’s – this really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.” Adding, “I would say that this is a good opportunity to listen and to discuss ideas about how the United States can advance decriminalization of homosexuality around the world, and that’s been our policy.” Yet, right-wing news outlets are already touting this as a progressive Trump initiative, arguing that he is following through on his empty campaign promise to be a pro-LGBTQ president.
What’s interesting about this story is Trump’s reaction to the news when it was brought up during a recent Q&A with reporters. When asked, “Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality, are you doing that? And why?” the president had no answer: “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports. Anybody else?”
This therefore seems like yet another example of Trump’s administration—rather than President Trump himself—doing something productive and progressive. In fact, his administration is managing to push for the support of LGBTQ rights despite Trump, rather than because of him, exploiting his lackadaisical and ignorant style of governance. Meanwhile, House Republicans are happy to placate him, despite this, fearing that otherwise they might lose the support of Trump’s core base. No doubt he’ll be happy to claim ownership of this move if it proves successful, or readily dismiss it entirely if he needs another liberal cause to throw under the bus in order to gain support amongst his base.
There’s also a problematic hypocrisy to this campaign and the right-wing media’s spin on it—specifically with regards to international LGBTQ rights. Many places that still criminalise homosexuality, particularly throughout Africa and the Caribbean, do so because of colonial-era laws exported by evangelical Christians. Activist Eliel Cruz explains this succinctly in a recent tweet: “This administration is focusing on decriminalization abroad while being chummy with the evangelical groups whose colonialist imported theology is the foundation for many country’s support of criminalization.” There’s a level of doublethink going on here. Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too. His administration wants to support international decriminalisation of homosexuality while supporting extreme Christian groups who advocate conversion therapy in the United States—a practice which is slowly, and thankfully, being outlawed state by state, while The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban the practice on a Federal level, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Ted Lieu.
GLAAD—the American non-governmental media monitoring organisation founded by LGBTQ people in the media—runs an ongoing Trump Accountability Project (TAP), a catalogue of “the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of President Donald Trump and those in his circle.” “94 attacks on LGBTQ people in 767 days,” reads the headline (at time of writing). Examples include the scrapping of any information about LGBT identities from the White House website on the day of his inauguration, through to the consideration this month of “dissolving the ‘disparate impact’ regulation, which grants marginalized communities (including LGBTQ Americans) legal protections from unintended discrimination in housing, education, and other ways of life,” as reported by GLAAD.
Trump’s inconsistency and ignorance is not just lazy governance, it’s downright dangerous. The President is unaware of significant policy being touted and enacted by his administration—policy that he himself may not necessarily agree with. Obviously, this campaign, in particular, is a positive initiative. That said, while those of us who vehemently disagree with Trump might be glad that his staff are going about their jobs in a productive manner, it sets a worrying precedent. What else might be going on that Trump doesn’t know about?