LAST week was, in some ways, quite a big week in the twists and turns of Brexit. The anniversary of the vote not long past, I was tickled to have so many folk wishing me a happy Sherkaleg day, the anniversary of my own speech in response to the vote. A year on, yet even after so much heartache we’re all barely further forward.
First published in The National, 5 July 2017
The Scottish Government, and the SNP, have been principled and pragmatic throughout. Right from the very get go we looked at the idea of a referendum as a dangerous gamble to try and placate the extremes of the Tory party and UKIP who should be consigned to the fringes where they belong. Our MPs were measured and proposed, to no avail, to extend votes to 16 and 17 year olds, to EU nationals, and to impose a double majority that any decision needed to be across all four home nations as well as a majority of the UK. Democracy matters, and disenfranchising EU nationals who now face losing their rights was grossly offensive. Any of these changes would have tipped the vote, but sadly were rejected by a Tory Government whose ignorance was matched only by its arrogance.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. A year later we have another hapless Tory Prime Minister in hock to hardliners, this time the DUP. The impact of this grubby deal will be ruinous. The money is one thing (not that I grudge the money) — it is beyond incredible that a Prime Minister and party who have been preaching austerity for years can suddenly after all discover a magic money tree to save their own skins.
But it is the Northern Ireland peace process, still fragile and still work in progress, that is in real danger from the vandals and nihilists who seem to be presently in charge of the Westminster government. Just as bad, it also tips the Brexit talks into even more chaos, because Dublin has the total backing of the other EU member states, yet the UK government depends upon hardliners from the North of that island for its very existence. How can it possibly end well?
So faced with all this, it was only right that the Scottish Government takes the idea of an independence referendum off the table, for now. There is too much going on, there are too many things moving too fast, lets do our best to support those we can at home and across the UK to bring some sense to this madness. First things first. We just had the bizarre spectacle of a Westminster election campaign where the Tories were able, with some success, to galvanise votes against a hypothetical, unscheduled and un-agreed independence referendum, but in doing so entirely distract from the dreadful consequences of their own referendum that actually happened and is a clear and present danger to all our interests. Well, sorry guys, we’ve just killed your process story. Brexit is yours, you did this, now tell us how you’re going to fix it.
We are looking for the best of a bad deal. The first step is getting the fantasists in check so we can have a debate on the reality of our situation, not in the day dreams of David Davis. Where there are things we can work upon, let’s do that. Last week I was in Wales meeting Mark Drakeford AM, the Welsh Finance Secretary who co-signed a letter with our own Michael Russell calling for Wales and Scotland to be given their seat at the table for the Brexit negotiations. We can work across borders and party lines. Where there are things that we need to fight, let’s do that too and be sure to pinpoint who is to blame.
Let us not forget Corbyn and his vision for the Labour Party, the other half of the nihilistic chaos to engulf the Westminster parties for the last year. In his case at least, he had a good campaign with a manifesto with some actual policies in it, so he would be forgiven for having a spring in his step, for now.
But be under no illusions, (and read the EU section of that manifesto) he’s as anti EU as any Brexiteer, and for even odder reasons. The “Lexit” (Left-Brexit for this uninitiated in the jargon) is every bit as wrong headed, and worse, entirely against the interests and wishes of the young people he claims to be fighting for.
I respect democracy, and we have a conundrum to fix. Part of that process is giving people the ability to change their mind, notably on government every four or five years springs to mind! The SNP is not going to shy away from the difficult conversations. Yes, a second indyref isn’t going to happen immediately but all options, including the UK as a whole changing course away from Brexit, must be left on the table.