The Brexit 'bad guys' are in London, not Brussels

I’M trying to not allow this column be a weekly wail about Brexit, but it is difficult to find many chinks of light in the fog, and, except for campaigning, I’m doing little else. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that the penny does seem to have dropped for some Brexiteers, and they have ramped up their rhetoric accordingly, trying to kid people that the EU is the enemy.

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First published in The National, 4 May 2017

If a deluded captain turned a ship you were on towards the rocks, then told you the rocks are being unreasonable, would you a) blame the rocks? or b) try to make her change course? Tortured metaphor, I know, but it is pretty much where we are.

The UK Government and its cheerleaders are trying desperately to pretend Brexit would have been great but for those beastly foreigners. It is as much an exercise in deception as Theresa May’s “grassroots campaigning”. (I’ve been doing loads of that lately and call me old-fashioned but I’ve always thought the idea was to meet voters, especially the undecided ones, not hide from them).

It is telling that Ukip have polled their lowest ratings in ages this week. The Tories have obliterated them by becoming them, now the parasite can die, having taken over the host. Sadly the Tories seem hell-bent in implementing their policies in all their horror to prove their ideological purity.

So hear me Scotland: the EU is not the problem, and the EU is not against us. It is the UK Government that is doing a bad thing, and doing it badly. Triggering Article 50 – starting a two-year countdown which can only extend if the other member states agree – and then calling a UK election is absurd, never mind tactically inept.

The UK expectations from Brexit are wholly unrealistic, or, in the words of Angela Merkel, not known for hyperbole, “illusions”.

There are also two entirely different styles of government clashing. At home, the devolved administrations are far more transparent than Whitehall, and Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are, to an extent, working together and sharing information publicly. Likewise, the EU has a far more transparent way of doing things – it has to, given the number of players involved. It is often portrayed as opaque but that is by people who don’t know how it works, and it is easier to denigrate than educate themselves.

Anything and everything in these negotiations will be in public, sooner or later, despite the general Whitehall style and Mrs May’s personal MO that it will all be done with as little scrutiny as possible. That is good for Scotland, we have more allies in Brussels than we do in Whitehall.

Another example: the two EU agencies based in the UK, the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority are prestigious, big employers and important in their fields. They’re also leaving the UK because it is patently obvious that EU agencies can’t be located in outside countries.As recently as last week, David Davis did not accept that. He does now.

Then there is the question to the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. Even this was misrepresented. The status of these millions of people needs to be sorted out, now, and that is quite rightly a priority for the EU. The negotiating position proposes a way to do this, on the basis of reciprocity, but was presented in the Tory press as “Brussels demands”. 

   So the EU is being calm, measured, organised, efficient. The UK is not. Mrs May’s desire for a bigger majority is nothing to do with Brexit, it is entirely about her own position in the Tory Party. Yet it is the SNP who are being accused of using Brexit as a pretext when we have been principled and pragmatic throughout. We’ll do what is best for Scotland, and we’re planning for all eventualities. That means some things are not as black and white as we would like but that’s the world we’re living in.

It is also telling that the Tories and their cheerleaders are desperate to talk about independence when the referendum is not even organised yet. They’re trying to distract from their own chaos, flailing about, throwing up straw men and hoping nobody asks difficult questions.

I see the Greens in England and Wales have launched their Brexit pledge, that there should be a ratification referendum on the actual reality of Brexit with an option to remain. Good on them, it actually mirrors SNP policy.

We’re committed to giving the people of Scotland a choice once the reality of Brexit is clear, a second referendum not just on independence, but – and it amazes me everyone seems to have missed it – on EU membership. The reality is that part of the UK, by a vote of our national Parliament, is already committed to a second EU referendum. The difference is we accept Scotland cannot reverse Brexit for the UK as a whole. Instead the reality of Brexit will be contrasted with independence, the only other choice the Tories have left us. The UK Tories are being outmanoeuvred at home and abroad, and they are starting to realise it.