THE UK as a political entity is notoriously difficult to change.
Progress is often by inches not metres and in small drips rather than flash floods. Thus the House of Lords is reformed but unelected and the House of Commons is only elected by an unreformed system.
The coming of the Scottish Parliament and its sister assemblies in our neighbouring nations are the exceptions which prove the rule.
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However, within 24 hours of calling the election Theresa May managed to dump two of the most recent reforms to political practice in the UK. They were modest and only had made a small scratch in the mould of Westminster politics but they were progressive and have now been junked.
The first was the Prime Minister’s circumventing of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This measure introduced by the Coalition Government was not particularly principled in its origins.
It existed to give comfort to the Liberal Party who were fearful that they would be stabbed in the back by David Cameron exercising the traditional Prime Ministerial prerogative and dashing for an election. In the event, the Tories waited until 2015 and George Osborne stabbed them in the front instead.
However, in limiting that Prime Ministerial power, the Fixed Term Parliament legislation did allow an element of rebalancing the UK power structures and indeed the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.
Of course, Theresa May has been greatly assisted by Her Majesty’s loyal opposition in achieving her aim of restoring the ancien regime, when elections took place at the Prime Ministerial convenience. All that Jeremy Corbyn had to do was to instruct his troops to sit on their hands last Wednesday and Prime Minister May would have been left high, dry and short of the two thirds majority of the whole House which she required to have her way.
Even if for some insane reason he still wanted the election he could then have moved a motion of no confidence in the Government.
This would have left Theresa May with the unpalatable choice of having to back it to have the election she craved or move her own motion of no confidence in her own Government!
When the full story of the 2017 election is written then this act of self destruction by Jeremy Corbyn will be one of the most difficult to interpret or explain. There have been kamikaze pilots with a keener sense of self preservation than the Labour leader.
Indeed, if he had wished, Corbyn could have used his leverage over an election entirely within his gift to prevent Theresa May junking a second constitutional reform. In the first days of the 2017 contest she has tried to end leaders’ television debates.
The idea that such debates would and could be refused in the 21st century is staggering. They have been part of the Scottish political scene since the Usher Hall debate of 1992.
They were introduced in 2010 to Westminster elections only because Gordon Brown was a Prime Minister who needed a game-changer to have any hope of retaining his position and David Cameron was caught having previously campaigned for them. Whatever the motivation they were a small step forward in public accountability.
In the event, they were both hoist on Nick Clegg’s petard and the result was a LibDem performance strong enough to enable a coalition government. As an aside, Tim Farron’s disastrous refusal to rule out a another coalition with the Tories in the debate on Wednesday under a pincer movement from the SNP duo Stewart McDonald and John Nicolson is the most underrated blunder of the campaign so far. When will they ever learn?
It was generally assumed that once the precedent was set then there would always be television debates in future elections. However, Theresa May’s refusal to take part can be explained in three words – Sir Lynton Crosby.
She has hired Cameron’s “Wizard of Oz”, that master of the darkest of political arts. Lynton’s highly paid instruction to the Prime Minister would be simple but probably delivered to the Vicar’s daughter having deleted his usual expletives! It would be something like: “You are 20 points ahead Prime Minister – take no risks whatsoever.”
And so two modest reforms to the unwritten glorious constitution have gone in the first two days of this election campaign and this process of reversion leads to a wider lesson.
This is a Prime Minister who finds dissent inconvenient; even irritating. A case in point is her extraordinary diatribe outside Downing Street aimed at all the opposition parties for opposing. This posed as the pretext for having an election she had solemnly pledged seven times not to call.
Theresa May is facing the weakest opposition in living memory. Still she is not satisfied.
Total compliance with her way is required – or else. Well, we have six weeks to demonstrate that resistance is not futile and Scotland will not bend the knee to Prime Ministerial diktat.
In doing so, the SNP will be performing a service to Scotland, certainly, but also to all those who believe in progressive and diverse politics across these islands.