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Don’t be distracted by the sound and fury around Brexit

I’VE been doing politics a long time but I can’t recall navigating such an angry political environment. Some days it feels like the air is bubbling away with little pockets of fury. Even during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, there was more hurt and less fury. But perhaps that’s because the 45 percent who voted for Scottish independence were still represented, via the Scottish Government, independent-leaning publications such as The National, and a sense that this energy would be focused into something more positive. 

The National

First published in The National, 5 April 2017

Who speaks for the 48 per cent who voted to remain in the EU? The UK Government is busy ostracising Scotland, Gibraltar and the North of Ireland, pushing on with the hard Brexit that very few Leave supporters seemed to want, and managing to offend our European neighbours with all the panache of Basil Fawlty.

Meanwhile, Scotland is having to do the geopolitical equivalent of “Err, he’s no’ with me”.

We didn’t vote for the Tories. Scotland didn’t vote to Leave. Yet here we are, being dragged along with this ideologically- driven nonsense, shouting to make ourselves heard over the frantic sabre-rattling from Westminster.

Meanwhile, the politicians who tipped us into this mess are whistling merrily around the croquet hoops. David Cameron, whose arrogance and recklessness took us into a referendum few of us wanted, has walked away from the mess. Throughout the campaign, it could only have been more obvious that his priority was keeping the Conservative party together if he’d printed it on the side of a bus. But worse, much worse, are the Brexiteers.

There were, I daresay, a few men and women of principle in the Leave campaign. But the rest were shysters who lied and lied and lied some more, and who now think that someone else is to blame for their failings. They’ve kicked us off the cliff edge and are shouting at us to flap harder.

So, I understand why there’s so much anger. I understand why some voted Leave to give the establishment a kicking – if you feel nobody’s listening, you want to hit back. In a democracy, your vote counts as much as anyone else's. 

But so much of this is misdirected anger. All the referendum dogwhistling directed at immigration was ugly and inaccurate because immigrants aren’t taking your job – robots are. And robots should be making our lives easier by cutting down the safety risks and working hours, not making folk scared for their livelihoods. And immigration has been great for our economy and our society. So any politician trying to “other” folk here deserves nothing but scorn.

Of course, there’s plenty to be angry about. I’m angry that we haven’t jailed bankers for their greed and incompetence, instead of bailing them out and handing over more public cash. I’m angry that so many folk are struggling week to week, but instead of a safety net or a leg-up, the state is a mean, thuggish enforcer, cutting benefits to the most vulnerable, encouraging food banks to pick up the slack, and slashing workplace protections. And I’m furious that this is all being done in our name. A UK that turns away refugee children, that is more keen on selling arms than promoting human rights, and is actively undermining international co-operation when the world desperately needs that productive solidarity – that’s a UK that I don’t want speaking for me.

Not only did the Brexiteers fail to read the fine print, they didn’t take the time to learn the basics. Except now they need to accept they won, that they are the establishment now, and they need to keep those promises.

Except, they can’t. They didn’t actually mean it. For example, the fishermen are going to be betrayed. I’ll work hard to see they’re not, but Scotland’s fishing grounds are up at the top of the UK Ministers’ “things to trade” list.

Instead of leading the world in international co-operation, we’re stuck in the echo chamber of the Empire.

What the Brexit-led UK Government is doing is throwing up a vast load of chaff to try to distract us. Look at the furore over the weekend about Gibraltar. The Spanish state has ensured that the situation on its border is part of the EU plans for Brexit, and the other EU states are backing the Spanish in, you know, solidarity. Michael Howard, former Tory leader, then makes an odious crass and staggeringly ill judged intervention harking back to the Falklands war, remarkably quickly backed up by a big puff piece in The Telegraph, and the crowd goes wild. 

Politics has moved on from “good days to bury bad news” - now you can manufacture a Twitter storm to mask it.

There’s going to be a lot of sound and fury ahead, but don’t be distracted. It is going to come down to one choice. A choice between two countries and what sort of country both are likely to become.

I really don’t like the look of Brexit Britain. To an extent of course, I would say that. I’m a long-standing supporter of independence. But I bear the UK no ill will. I want our nearest neighbours to do well and be happy. But if they choose to tolerate this hateful nonsense, enough is enough.

The recent months have moved me from a view that Scotland would do better independent of the UK to the certainty that we really need to escape this crumbling Union. Contrast the two realities today. Our First Minister on a trade visit to California, signing climate change accords with the Democratic governor and software investment contracts with businesses; and the UK Prime Minister, on a trade visit to Saudi Arabia, flogging arms for illegal use in an illegal war in Yemen and turning a blind eye to every human rights abuse possible.

When it starts in earnest, Brexit will be the ultimate process story, and as Tory plans fall apart they’ll need to fill the papers with something else. Don’t be distracted from the big choice that is ours to make. Stay angry, but stay focused.