Democracy and Scottish devolution are being attacked by the UK

THE next few months are going to challenge us like we’ve not been in a while, and we’ll need to keep the heid. Those who want to see the UK leave the EU at all costs have had their orders – make this as scary as possible so that regular folks walk away. Anyone who cares about democracy, the rule of law, public service and public life in Scotland, or indeed our near neighbours, is going to need to focus on common cause with people from other parties and countries to defend what is good against what is coming.

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First published in The National, 8 February 2018

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The EU helps us learn the lessons of the Holocaust

I READ with interest Bryan O’Hanlon’s letter in yesterday’s National highlighting the extraordinary bravery of Jane Haining, the Scottish Christian missionary who refused to abandon the Jewish children in her care and in doing so was murdered in Auschwitz.

Inhumanity, malevolence or outright stupidity aside, can you imagine the sheer arrogance that it would take to believe that you’ve uncovered a vast conspiracy to “pretend” that the Holocaust happened?

As a general rule, Holocaust deniers go in the same “ignore pile” as spambots and people who believe the CIA is controlling people through their fillings, but they seem to have been more emboldened lately. It’s an uncomfortable, upsetting subject, and that’s exactly why we need to make sure we understand.

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First published in The National, 01 February 2018.

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Accessibility is great, but lose the jargon

EMMANUEL Macron, a refreshingly frank head of state, said at the weekend that France probably would have voted “Frexit” had there been a referendum last year.

Personally I’m not sure I agree, but it struck a tone with the debate, especially in England. If he had said “zut alors, we’re forever European” he would have closed minds, where he came across more as a sympathetic friend with an interest in fixing our problems.

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First published in The National, 24 January 2018

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Scottish Government is demonstrating the grown-up approach to Brexit

I’M all for optimism. I couldn’t do this job if I wasn’t. But on Brexit it becomes harder and harder to see an upside, or indeed to maintain a sense of humour.

This week’s report published by the Scottish Government – Scotland’s Place in Europe – is the latest in a series of serious, hard-headed assessments of what is at stake, and what sobering reading it makes. It analyses the likely impact of different possible scenarios as Brexit comes into view – none of them good, but some worse than others.

Hard Brexit is going to be a horror show, and no amount of red, white and blue flags, blue passports or Brexit Day stamps can disguise the fact that the implications are getting clearer and clearer and are nothing like the sunlit uplands the Brexiteers promised.

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First published in The National, 18 January 2018.

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SNP is fighting to stop Brexit – but protecting Scotland’s interests

IT has already been a busy time back in Brussels but I was able to read Tuesday’s National column by the excellent Dr Kirsty Hughes, director of the much-needed Scottish Centre on European Relations (SCER), our newest independent think tank. Her piece The SNP Is Opposed To Brexit, Why Aren’t They Fighting It? sets out some challenges that I think deserve to be answered properly. For transparency, I’m a member of the SCER advisory board but did not collaborate with Kirsty on her piece – she is an independent commentator and has quite properly set us some questions.

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First published in The National, 11 January 2018.

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It’s easy to be a cynic. What’s trickier is joining the fight for a better world

WHATEVER happened to empathy? It’s strange. As we become free to reach out and make connections all over the world, people instead seem to be withdrawing, throwing up the walls and lowering the barrier for Them. The self-defined and vague-by-nature Us is getting smaller, and meaner, and tighter.

First published in The National, 21 December 2017

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UK’s reputation for being serious and credible is being trashed by the Tories

IT is the season of goodwill apparently, but I’ll confess I have not been feeling much of that towards the UK Government. This week will hopefully see another milestone reached on Brexit’s long and winding path, with the European Parliament and member states in the Council giving their view on whether the talks thus far have made “sufficient progress” to move on to phase two.

I know, you’ve heard the harrumphing coming from Westminster and the massed battalions of the London media: Mrs May has returned and holds in her hand a piece of paper! Victory has been proclaimed!

According to the front page of one of the real headbanger newspapers: “We’ve got the EU where we want it!” Aye, by wasting months of negotiating time and then caving in on absolutely everything.

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First published in The National, 13 December 2017.

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The UK wants to avoid a hard border with Ireland? Easy – stay in the single market

It may shock you, but I have come to the conclusion that an assertion from David Davis might not be worth that much. He “did not accept” the UK was losing the two EU Agencies. The UK government encouraged five UK cities to bid for a European Capital of Culture Programme they clearly weren't eligible for. 

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First published in the New Statesman, 7 December 2017

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Imagine the clout Scotland would have in the Brexit talks if we were independent already

BREXIT finally got real this week. The clanging sound you heard around 4pm on Monday was a massive penny dropping because, and I can barely believe it myself, because with many of those supposed to be in charge of the UK negotiations with the EU, the irresistible force has started to make contact with the immovable object.

They’ve got away so far with wishing problems away, with weasel words, with constructive ambiguity, but it fell down this week, and it fell down on Ireland. Ireland has proven what independence in Europe really means — way more clout than the UK alone has. As always, we need to remember how we got here, lest we risk falling for industrial-scale Tory spin. The first thing to remember is that 27 is a bigger number than one, and that wanting to have our cake and eat it might just appear unreasonable to others.

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First published in The National, 06 December 2018

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Dundee’s City of Culture bid failure is a sign of things to come

AS everyone now knows, the European Commission took the decision last week to confirm that UK cities are not likely to be eligible for participation in the European Capital of Culture programme. In Scotland this was a bitter (and badly timed) blow to Dundee who had worked hard to put a cracking bid together. It was all the more unfair because Dundee voted to remain, as did Scotland, and the bid had unanimous cross party support from MSPs, MPs and MEPs. Four other cities are just as disappointed. And this is not some fluffy nicety – as well as a cash prize and huge prestige, a £128 million boost for the economy and around 16,000 new jobs were predicted to be generated by Dundee’s bid, as well as £40m of events.

So it is a real blow. But, as ever, there is a lot more to it than the headline, and I’m concerned this shows us where Brexit might take us all. Scotland stuck in a much smaller and meaner Union, something diminished, with a horizon that spans only as far as the white cliffs of Dover, presided over by a crumbling palace by the Thames.

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First published in The National, 29 November 2017.

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