TO hell with this nonsense. I thought the UK could be saved from itself, but even I have to accept that it’s now a ship speeding towards the rocks and they’re not changing course. Since the EU Referendum on June 23 it has been a daily struggle to keep cheerful, but I have been kept going by a belief that, yes, we have a challenge, but I think there are solutions, so let’s find them.
First published in The National, 14 March 2017
Brexit is not some interesting academic exercise, it is real-life politics and will impact directly and immediately on millions of people, and indirectly on everyone as the economy suffers and our rights are lost. The emails I’m getting on a daily basis would break your heart: people who have made their lives in Scotland, or elsewhere in the EU, now terrified that a knock on the door might see them removed from their communities. Businesses with wages to pay and decisions to make and no idea whether they will still have access to markets. Academics from the rest of the EU making plans to leave the UK because they don’t feel welcome any more. Charities looking at their balance sheets and unable to see what will replace the EU support for their projects. Farmers heartbroken at the real prospect of selling up because EU financial support will end. Fishermen concerned they’ll be sold out by a UK Government that has previous for it.
I’ve been able to provide little reassurance beyond the fact that I’m working on it.
I’ve found myself at the epicentre of the biggest issue of our times, with a real expertise and profile on everything everyone wants to talk about. So I can say, absolutely without fear of contradiction, it is going to go really badly. Worse than many realise. Not because it has to but because too many people are allowing it to, and not challenging those in charge. I fear by the time enough people do realise this it will be too late.
The Tory party has lost its reason. Now run by a clique of born-again Brexiteers so terrified of Ukip and their media mouthpieces that they are competing with themselves for who can appear toughest, a breezy panglossian “it’ll be alright on the night” delusion coupled with a vicious attitude to anyone who says otherwise. There are decent people in the Tory party aghast at what is going on, but with a few honourable exceptions like John Major, Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine they’re keeping pretty quiet about it, “enabling” those in charge. For those who might be feeling brave, Heseltine’s sacking was a lesson. We’re in charge, we’re doing this, be quiet if you know what’s good for you. And that’s how they treat their own guys.
The SNP at Westminster tried to bring some scrutiny to the process, to no avail. The UK Labour party has been posted missing at the most crucial moment in decades. The worst of all worlds, deep unhappiness at what the Tories are doing, but no gumption to actually stop them. The sum total of the change we’ve witnessed is more like a coup than a democratic process. The UK Government, remember, wanted to activate Article 50 under the prerogative power Theresa May as literally Acting Queen stripping 40 years of accumulated rights from each and every one of us.
And never mind Article 50. The Great Repeal Bill is shaping up to be a Tory power grab on an unprecedented scale, with Scotland all but powerless to stop it. The European Convention on Human Rights is next, they’re not pretending otherwise. There is going to be a new devolved settlement, there will need to be as WTO rules and trade deals replace EU structures. It won’t be to our advantage. We’re dealing with people who have cheerfully thrown the constitutional order of the UK up in the air, undermining the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, with Gibraltar thrown to the fringes.
The Scottish Government has tried, hard, in good faith, and proposed a workable compromise, seeking to keep the UK in the single market or, if not, then at least a differentiated status for Scotland. They have barely even paid it lip service. They’re treating us like fools. I can only guess they think we’re bluffing, so uninterested are they in solutions. The UK ministers are spending more time establishing a "punishment narrative" that the pending failure of talks is the EU’s fault rather than their own. Boris Johnson isn’t talking about punishment beatings for nothing, he’s getting his excuses in early. They’re steering the boat towards rocks and trying to kid the passengers the rocks are out to get us.
The reaction across the continent is utter bafflement, but reluctant acceptance and, increasingly, impatience. If you’re going, get on with it, we’re busy. There’s not much goodwill left; the Brexiteers have seen to that.
So Scotland needs saved from this, while we can actually save ourselves, because it will soon be too late. Scotland can choose a different path, and there’s goodwill aplenty across the EU for us. The alternative is to let a small clique of people harm our interests along with their own for their own idealogical fixation. Other parties in Scotland will need to examine their consciences. Come and work with us, or accept the role of apologists, enablers, aiders and abettors for a Tory government we didn’t vote for and refuses to listen.
Brexit needn’t be a disaster, but I’ve lost patience trying to save these people from themselves. Scotland can do better.