First came the Scottish referendum, then the Brexit referendum; then come the shadows of two future referenda – a second Scottish referendum, and a second referendum that some are asking for on the terms of Brexit. It is perhaps to head of the two possible future referenda that the Prime Minister has called a snap general election for June 8. That way it can all be settled then – at least in theory.
If Mrs May wins a handsome majority, and it looks that she may well do at present, 21 per cent ahead in the polls as her party currently is, then the Brexit question is definitively settled. Brexit will mean whatever she wants it to mean: she will have the mandate of the people, and no one will be able to argue with that. The only drawback with this strategy is that Mrs May will have to tell the electorate just what she is planning, and she has so far been loath to do so – and with some reason: why give away your negotiating strategy before negotiations begin?
As for Scotland, should the Conservatives, along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, manage to rob the Scottish Nationalist Party of its commanding position in the popular vote, should they turn back the separatist tide, then the pressure for a second referendum might well evaporate. Given that the SNP scored such a stunning victory in the last general election, some decline in their fortunes is a reasonable bet, one might imagine. An SNP that loses seats and votes in the June will be an SNP much less keen to press for Indyref2.
The announcement came out of the blue, but while it may have taken us all by surprise, we can be quite sure that Mrs May has been plotting this move for weeks if not months, and she will have considered all the factors, including the forthcoming local elections next month. It is a gamble, but one she must believe will pay off. Right now it is hard to see any other result than an increased Conservative majority on June 8th. But when Jeremy Corbyn falls on his sword on June 9, as he surely must, the Conservatives will have lost their best friend ever. And there is also the prospect, not dear to Tory hearts, that June 9 may see a greater number of Lib Dem MPs than at present. Presumably these are things that Mrs May and her closest advisers have taken into account.
What they may have failed to gauge is the simple fact that, political junkies apart, we are all sick of voting. Too many of us have been scarred by the referenda, and the fractured friendships they have left in their wake. There again, low turn outs tend to help the Conservatives.
The bishops will no doubt be making phone calls this afternoon, wondering just what they are going to say about the election. An election always means a document from the Bishops’ Conference on what is at stake, and advising people of the issues when they come to cast their votes. Given that this election is going to be about Brexit more than anything else, barring accidents, the content of the documents is going to be a headache for their Lordships. I don’t envy the team that is going to have to draught it.