I am up on the far north-west coast of Scotland, where the weather is changing every five minutes under vast skies and huge seascapes. Go to the beach and look left, and it’s a sparkling Mediterranean scene, bright white sand and opalescent turquoise water, what you might call Rossini weather. Swivel your gaze right, and vast dark clouds tower up, obliterating mountain ranges — Bruckner weather. Me? Like Isabel Hardman, of this parish, I just walk straight into the sea and swim. The choppy water is certainly cold but the whole experience is elating, and good for clearing the head.
Which is, of course, what we need this summer. August politics is changing faster than the August skies, and this autumn looks set to be the most politically dramatic in my lifetime. (I’ve just turned 60.) Before Wester Ross, we were at the Edinburgh festival. I’ve never known so many people talking so vehemently about politics — conversations everywhere about governments of national unity, Dominic Cummings, Article 50, you name it.
For what it’s worth, for more than a year I have been expecting a no-deal Brexit. I still do. That’s because the government has formidable powers, and I can’t see any deal to be done in the remaining time that Boris Johnson can strike which doesn’t finish him. Of course, there might be a no-confidence vote in the Commons within a few weeks. Curiously, he may well find himself in a stronger position if such a vote goes against him.
How so? Because if he loses, then under the law he can call a general election for after Brexit day. With Britain out, the threat of the Brexit party is much less. Yes, there may be post-no-deal chaos, not the ideal backdrop for an election campaign; but the no-dealers are united while, almost inevitably, the Remainers will be badly split.
Electorally, it’s his best bet. But if he sees off a vote of no confidence, according to the current law it’s then harder for him to call an election on a date that suits him. With an election off the agenda, the Commons alliance against no deal will pivot towards a further referendum. I don’t expect a government of national unity to happen. But I do think MPs may find a way to force Johnson to ask Brussels for a further delay, to give time for a referendum. That would be unbearably humiliating for him… without the alternative route of an election. That, I suspect, is his nightmare.