Over the last two years and twists and turns of Brexit one of the things I have most struck by is how some politicians have risen to the occasion, put the badges to one side and worked across the traditional party lines to bring some sense to all this. Also, how some have proven themselves to be venal cowardly blawhards.
I have learned a lot about myself over the almost 15 years I’ve been elected, and the two main things are that you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar, and get a lot more done when you focus on where you agree than where you don’t. The European style of politics is built upon what the German Federal President called a “revolutionary idea...that your opponent might have a point.”
First published in The National, 9 February 2019
I have been proud to work alongside MEPs and others from all parties, united around the one fact we agree on and frankly the only fact that matters right now: that any sort of Brexit will be bad news for the people we serve.
So I was all the more sad to watch the debate last week in the House of Commons, because I think we have now seen how Brexit could happen. And my Labour friends should look away now, because I think Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour will betray Scotland’s interests.
The House of Commons has united around a nonsense proposition that the Irish backstop should be replaced with “Alternative Arrangements” but not actually done the heavy thinking to decide what those arrangements might be. But another, I think more significant, amendment also passed, the Spellman/Dromey Amendment which is not binding on the UK government but commits the House of Commons to avoid a No-Deal scenario.
In the closing statements of the debate, which I inflicted upon myself in full, Jeremy Corbyn explicitly put an olive branch Theresa May’s way, agreeing to talks. She reciprocated, specifically mentioning the rights of workers.
It is not just the extremes who can unite around unicorns. Mrs May’s Brexit means Brexit and Mr Corbyn’s Jobs First Brexit, if you squint and look at them from the right angle, look pretty much the same.
Where much attention has been put to the Northern Ireland backstop and the Tory rebels in the ERG, and the DUP votes on which the government depends, there’s another considerably bigger bloc of votes - Labour. The Tories are split, this we know, but so are Labour. We saw different majorities for each proposition the other week, and I think there are enough Labour folk all too ready to find ways to help Mrs May get something through. There’s also the 35 SNP MPs, imagine if Mrs May had actually engaged with us to try and find solutions, or at least even on a base political level to make it more awkward for us to vote no. Imagine if we were talking about an Irish-Scottish backstop? All the issues with the border would not be across the island of Ireland but at Carlisle, and our problem albeit also easier to fix given the smaller and simpler border we have. A joint backstop would be an entirely different political proposition. Not without its problems of course, but we did not need to be backed into this corner. There’s no good brexit for Scotland, we voted to remain and that is the SNP’s instruction, but we tried to find solutions to the chaos she has tipped us into and at every time she ignored and belittled us.
But where much of the commentariat is focused upon the ERG and DUP, if Mrs May can give enough of Mr Corbyn’s Labour an incentive to come over or even to abstain, she doesn’t need the DUP any more and can hang her own rebels out to dry. The clock is ticking on brexit, they’ve had their fun, I think it beyond argument that she will sit her own side down, look them in the eye and say that her deal is the purest brexit going, but if they don’t support it she’ll do a deal with Labour on some sort of Customs Union and where’s their Global Britain then? Equally, if she can find a form of words that brings Mr Corbyn over the line then I could all too readily see him selling us out. Scottish Labour MPs therefore have a choice - vote for the interests of their constituents in rejecting brexit altogether, revoking Article 50 and calling a halt to all this, or for short term personal advantage sing along with the Magical Mysterious Mr Corbyn and his Magic Brexit. My friends in Labour have told me for years that he was playing a long game, that he will ‘pivot’ and that he was just letting the Tories own brexit. I’ve seen no evidence of it myself, and think he is meeting with Mrs May not to find ways to stop brexit but to find a way to make it happen so that as little of the mess when it hits attaches to him.
He is meeting the captain of the Titanic not to change course but because he thinks he will manage the sinking better once she’s gone. The SNP’s position is clear, Labour’s is not. The Tories have already proven they’ll put party before Scotland and they will rue those consequences. But where stands Scottish Labour? Because Scotland will not forget.