I had the privilege of speaking at Pride on Saturday, Edinburgh’s annual celebration of equality, always a riotous colourful shambles of happiness. But Pride is not just a celebration, it is also a protest, against inequality. A remembrance of how far we’ve come, those who went before, and those elsewhere who do not enjoy the rights we do. Scotland has been ranked as the top country in Europe for equalities by ILGA-Europe, the Brussels based LGBTI charity. We have come a long way, and we have a lot to celebrate.
First published in The National, 5 July 2016
But this year there was a particular poignancy in the wake of the Orlando attack, attacks on Pride marches in eastern Europe, and even a sense of fear at what might be coming for us. My speech was that we reject the politics of hate, the politics of division, the politics of fear. That we are one Scotland, and Scotland will keep us safe. The speech had a good reception from the crowd, but we will all need to remember that in the coming weeks and months, because we live in troubled times, and I know from my inbox that there are a lot of nervous people out there.
We need to reassure them, and ourselves, that we will look out for each other, and that Scotland has a team of politicians who will step up to the plate; that we will, across the SNP team but the others too, be at our posts and do our duty.
It is all the more important because Westminster has descended into farce. However you define the national interest, it has been forgotten about. Labour and the Tories have been posted missing at a time when we could really use some cool heads. I have long thought the Westminster democracy is broken and dysfunctional, but after the dereliction of duty we have seen in the last week we can add nihilistic and unprofessional to the list too.
And I fear for the consequences, because there is one set of people who do have a plan, and did want the Leave campaign to win (unlike its leaders). The Tea Party had an impact on US politics, not by winning, but by terrifying an out-of-touch establishment into moving the centre ground. We are going to see the same in UK politics too, it is already happening.
On the very morning of Pride as we were getting ready for a celebration of love, Nigel Farage reiterated his call for “substantial parts” of race relations legislation to be repealed. Never one to be specific, or silly enough to write things on the side of buses, there are no great details of what he said, but the people taking most note will be the Conservative leadership contenders and it will colour their thinking.
The politics of “the other” is seductive, especially for the ambitious or cowardly. We have seen it through history, and it always ends badly. Blame the Catholics. Blame the Jews. Blame the blacks. Blame the Irish. Blame the immigrants. Blame the gays. Blame the poor. Blame the homeless. Blame the EU.
It is far easier, to pander to prejudice rather than face it down and inform it out of existence. We’ve seen a lot of it lately. Highest on my own karma list are those politicians who in the recent miserable EU debate were posted missing. There are plenty Tory politicians who pretended they were Leave in order to pander to their own grassroots, sure in their assumption that Remain would win and we would be back to business as usual soon enough. There are plenty of politicians in other parties who instead of facing down anti-EU and anti-migrant feeling simply did a Macavity and left us to it.
This lack of leadership has got worse, not better, since the vote. This week in Brussels there were two important speeches. My own, and thanks for the comments, but Nigel Farage spoke too, and I’d urge you to find it and read it. The pre-prepared plan is obvious. Goading the EU into turning their backs on us, an effort I rebalanced. But he has also successfully established himself as the ideologically pure independent voice of Brexit, resigned and free from the howler monkey knuckle-draggers of Ukip and ready at the head of an angry mob to goad the mainstream Tory/Labour politicians into still more acts of national self-harm. Whoever wins the poisoned chalice of the Tory leadership is going to need to compromise in order to get some sort of deal with the EU.
If anyone tries to roll it all back, imagine the frenzy he will be able to unleash. The Leave campaign made so many promises it cannot possibly keep them all, even if it wants to. There is an expectation that will not be met. There will be retribution, and Nigel will be right there ready to whip it up and capitalise on it. UK politics is going to be a shrill, ugly place for a long time yet.