I don’t know how many times I have said it in recent years but the only thing you can expect in politics these days is the unexpected. Despite this, the unexpected continues to happen and it continues to surprise it when it does.
So when Theresa May emerged from Ten Downing Street to stand behind a lectern and tell the world’s media that she was calling a general election we were all caught completely cold.
For months the Prime Minister has been telling us that this was the wrong thing to do. On that she could not have been much clearer. Suddenly, however, everything has changed and it is not just the right thing to do but is essential.
You can understand why people are sceptical.
I can understand why she feels the need to have her own mandate for what will be an enormously complex and difficult negotiation. I would have thought that the time to seek that mandate, however, would have been when she was first elected as leader of the Conservatives. At the very least she could have done it before she triggered Article Fifty and started the clock ticking on the two year (effectively eighteen months) in which the negotiation must be concluded.
It is difficult not to conclude that, looking at the weakness of the Labour Party in particular, she just could not resist the temptation to take advantage of it.
I suspect, however, that the reasons for calling the general election will be pretty quickly forgotten once the campaign is under way. Mrs May has told us that she wants the campaign to be about Brexit and it is difficult to see how that will not be the case.
Theresa May is determined to pursue a so-called “hard Brexit”, taking us out of the single market and customs union with all the risks to the economy and job security that comes with that. It is a position for which she currently has no mandate. It will be interesting to see if she can claim to have one at the end of the campaign. Once the debate focuses on what it will mean for the important pillars of our economy, from the financial services sector and banking to farming and fishing, the risks of her strategy will become apparent.
In Scotland there is a further dimension to consider – Nicola Sturgeon’s wish to hold a second independence referendum. All the indications are that this has not been well received. Even many supporters of independence do not want it to happen. So in Scotland the debate will not just be about the position of the UK in Europe but also about Scotland’s position in the UK.
For my part, whatever the reasons for calling it, I welcome the coming of an election. All my adult life I have believed that politics was the most important thing of which I could ever be part. It matters now more than it ever has. More than ever, it is essential to have strong liberal voices in our politics. The starting pistol has been fired and the race is on. It is a race that matters more than any one that we have ever seen in our lifetimes.