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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Hillary Clinton points the finger at Russia over damage done to presidential bid

This week saw some very welcome news that the UK Electoral Commission is, finally, going to carry out an investigation into some of the more “curious” elements of the Leave campaign. This is not old news, nor fighting old battles. We won the EU Referendum handsomely in Scotland but, as I did upwards of 40 public meetings, published countless letters, articles, tweets and the rest, I was adamant that there was something shonky going on. 

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First published in The National, 23 November 2017

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Brexit has already started to hurt Scottish NGOs ... and the most vulnerable suffer

THE UK hasn’t even left the EU yet but there are already serious negative effects rippling across non-governmental organisations.

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First published in The National, 15 November 2017.

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Scotland knows that Brexit is bad news, but Tory nihilism will bring us disaster

I WAS in Hong Kong earlier this week. I’ve landed a new role in the Parliament of drafting a report on the 20th anniversary of the handover of sovereignty back to China, and how the “one country, two systems” commitments are working out. I mention that because being eight timezones away from Brexit gives a sense of perspective as we enter what could be the most crucial moments of the saga, between now and Christmas.

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First published in The National, 10 November 2017.

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How Cameron’s first capitulation in 2005 set us on the path towards Brexit

MANY of the issues the Brexiteers now face are because they are attempting to deliver the impossible. Voters were promised things that were not possible – so how is it that the Tories ended up supporting a referendum with no clear vision for the future in either a Remain or Leave scenario? Having got here, why is that those in charge of the party seem to be so distant from reality and those amongst them so spineless?

The answer lies in a long and illustrious history of the Tory leadership appeasing the hard Brexiteers.

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First published in The National, 01 November 2017.

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