Echoes of Velvet Divorce being heard in Scotland

I DIDN’T make many plans for this week, largely because I, like everybody else, didn’t know what was likely to be happening. I even, partly, believed the bluff and bluster from Boris Johnson – time and again I watched his speeches and thought he really was setting himself up for a fall if he didn’t deliver.

First published in The National, 30 October 2019

Yet so he has. It turns out he’s just a chancer after all. This week was always going to be a long one, and so it has already proven to be. Tomorrow we have my fourth non-Brexit day. Hard on the heels of March 29, April 12 and May 22, I can now add October 31 to my list. But it has been tough. We left Strasbourg last week not sure even if we would ever see Brussels as MEPs again, but we received an email from the finance office yesterday that we can indeed book travel to Brussels and the job continues. Good. Another extension gives us more time to find solutions and, crucially, keeps us in.

It’s safe to say Westminster is a mess, and I have nothing but admiration for our SNP guys working away down there in awful circumstances. But I’ve been spending a lot of time on the doors in and around Stirling lately and I’m noticing a few interesting things.

There is a scunner factor with politics, absolutely. People are sick of Brexit and “make it work or make it stop” is a regular line. But that anger is not attaching to us, and nobody seems to be falling for the Tory “let’s get Brexit sorted” line – which, I’ll be honest, I thought would be quite appealing. Mr Johnson’s deal is nothing of the sort, it is only an 18-month postponement of the cliff-edge and people are smart enough to see that, even through the tsunami of partisan hackery we’ve seen from parts of the media.

I’ve also noticed an interesting change in people who would usually be Tory voters – they’re a lot less keen on these Tories. People that might have voted for Michael Forsyth and One Nation Tories don’t like this lot. One thing that has been raised with me a number of times is Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging on the green benches like he owns the place. Lately, Ruth Davidson’s second job has caused real and genuine offence. Any detoxification she might have managed is now assuredly a thing of the past.

There’s also an interesting dynamic at play that proves who gets selected to fight a seat is so important. Davidson achieved the success she achieved by targeting a specifically Unionist vote, which had been out there but had not been cultivated, so many of the people elected are less conservative and more Unionist. Beyond the constitution, there isn’t actually a lot of ideology there. So there isn’t much of a track record of actual achievement, and they’re falling back on vacuous platitudes when people want real answers.

Also, beyond a smaller and smaller group of red, white and blue fans, the people of Scotland are pretty pragmatic on the constitution and open to a discussion about what works best, especially in the face of Tory chaos inflicted on us by a Government that clearly does not respect Scottish interests.

I was struck by the comments of Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, in his joint press conference with Nicola Sturgeon: “I’ve come to believe in the end it is the Unionists who will see off the Union because of their carelessness about it, their unwillingness to give the time, attention and thought that needs to be given to how the UK will operate the other side of Brexit.”

Coming from him that’s quite a statement. I’ve gone back to my books on the Czechoslovakian Velvet Divorce lately, I was lucky enough to study in Warsaw in the mid-90s so studied it closely at the time. There was a moment in Czechoslovak politics when too few people thought maintaining the Union was worth the candle, because they were increasingly clearly two different places. On issue after issue, Scotland has made different choices, especially on Brexit but not just Brexit – our sense of ourselves and our place in the world. We’re a Northern European social democracy, like all smaller countries keener on multilateralism and co-operation. The UK isn’t, or at least doesn’t feel like it, at a time when Ireland has given us a master class in what independence in Europe looks like. We want different things, the rest will follow.

So on Thursday I’ll be doing what I’m doing all week, working on MEP constituency issues and going out campaigning. But I’ll also spare a thought for the victory we have won over this chaotic shower of bullies that calls itself the UK Government. The thing about the SNP many people don’t understand is that we’re not just a party, we’re a cause, and the big prize is yet to come.