The Brief, powered by bp – Vanity before victory

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/ROBERT PERRY]

At the start of the year, Scottish independence looked more likely than ever before. Opinion polls consistently suggested that a majority of Scots would vote for independence should a second referendum be held. The EU, meanwhile, might soon be restored to 28 members.

Meanwhile, the conditions for winning a referendum could scarcely be better: Scotland has been taken out of the EU against its will by a Conservative government in Westminster, whose leader, Boris Johnson, is roundly disliked by most Scots.

Now there are signs that the Scottish National Party, which has governed Scotland for the last 14 years, is fragmenting – but because of personalities, not policies.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has survived two sexual misconduct cases, the handling of which has prompted a confidence vote in Nicola Sturgeon – which she survived – and allegations that she misled parliament.

Salmond has now set up his own pro–independence group, known as the Alba party. Alba is the Gaelic word for Scotland. Salmond, who would give Boris Johnson a run for his money in the ego department, says that his party wants to build a “supermajority” for independence, and a handful of SNP lawmakers have already defected to his party. Others suggest that he has set up the party purely to spite Sturgeon after years of internal feuding over control of the SNP.

While the SNP squabbles, the wider picture is clear. If the SNP and nationalist forces fail to win decisively in Scotland’s parliamentary elections in May, that would give Johnson, who insists there will be no rerun of the 2014 referendum, plenty of reason to block a so-called Indyref2.

It’s very early days, but Alba is currently polling at around 5%, enough to perhaps give it a couple of seats in the Scottish parliament and, quite possibly, deny the SNP an overall majority. There’s little sign that Salmond’s party will have any traction with Conservative or Labour voters.

The trouble with one-party states is that they eventually go rotten. That is what happened to Scottish Labour, whose dominance of Scottish politics in the 1990’s and 2000’s was as complete as the SNPs is now. Just as the SNP’s dominance had appeared likely to result in it securing the ultimate prize, a combination of ego, vanity and the complacency that comes with the presumption of power could now bring it down.

In politics, truly, it’s better to be lucky than good. And Boris Johnson, once again, appears to have an inexhaustible supply of fortune. His opponents, once again, are choosing vanity before victory.


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The Roundup

A group of 73 MEPs have sent a letter to the European Commission expressing concerns about hundreds of millions of euros spent on consultancy firms and their involvement in policymaking in the wake of an exclusive report by EURACTIV.

Leaders of 23 countries and the World Health Organisation backed an idea to create an international treaty that would help the world deal with future health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic now ravaging the globe.

The Olympic Games to be held in Paris in 2024 will be the “first sporting event in the world” to have a positive impact on the climate, according to the Paris 2024 board of directors, which approved its climate strategy in mid-March.

Little progress was made in the fifth round of negotiations on the European Climate Law, despite growing time pressure to have the bill agreed by mid-April, according to people involved in the talks, which are being held behind closed doors.

France, Spain, and Portugal launched the joint Cetambicion marine project to protect cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay, but researchers and civil society campaigners say it is a waste of ‘precious’ time.

The EU is gearing up to slash the use and risk of pesticides in half by 2030, on the back of an increasing body of research pointing to their harmful effects. In Poland, the biggest eastern member state, alternatives are currently expensive and poorly promoted.

Facebook told Irish lawmakers to hold off on going ahead with proposed rules to regulate online political advertising until the European Commission presents its own legislation in the field.

The European Parliament’s culture and education committee endorsed an opinion calling for a framework to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) in order to “reduce gender, social or cultural bias in technology”, and the Commission is expected to propose a legislative framework on the matter in April.

Look out for…

  • Commission VP Frans Timmermans holds a call with representatives from Fridays for Future
  • European Parliament on External Parliamentary Activities 

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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