I TWEETED over the weekend that this week is going to be tough, and I’m afraid it is. We’ll need to look after each other in the next few weeks. I know from my own inbox and being out and about that for a lot of people Brexit s not just a news crisis far away, it is real life and folk are anxious.
First published in The National, 15 January 2019
I am myself if it is any consolation. I’m also seething that with all Scotland’s resources and capabilities we are having to rely upon a Westminster that is clearly broken and a personnel that appear at times to be bordering on nihilism.
Today we should (note conditional tense) see the vote on May’s Withdrawal Agreement. How the vote will go remains to be seen, and we should beware minute-by-minute hot takes.
A few things are clear. Scotland voted to remain, and the SNP in all parliaments and chambers since that star crossed vote has worked to that instruction. We have tried to find compromise with a UK administration that has talked much of a Precious Union yet done damn all to respect it.
Scotland’s views, indeed a cross party consensus at Holyrood with everyone minus the Tories on board, has been comprehensively ignored and belittled.
May, having taken a narrow 52% mandate as an excuse for the hardest possible settlement and to ignore and belittle all others, is now desperate for unity, having done nothing to create it. Politicians need to realise, we’ll all need some goodwill in the bank at some point, it is wise to build some up before you do.
May deserves no sympathy, she did this. She could have reached out to try and build consensus, she could have opened a big tent to try and find solutions, she did not. She enthusiastically played along with “Crush the Saboteurs” and “Enemies of the People”, “Citizen of Nowhere” and “Queue jumpers” rhetoric, and now finds herself without allies. She has spat more bile into the debate than most.
Her deal is an awful package, the worst of all worlds, nothing to nobody. It is also important to know that it only deals with the exit, the rights of citizens, settling the UK’s financial obligations and the situation in Northern Ireland. That’s it, nothing about the future worth the ink.
The big thing to remember about the Withdrawal Agreement is that if it is agreed it will trigger a two-year transition period where we will be outwith the EU, but EU rules will still apply. So the UK will be a vassal state, but on the plus side nothing will change overnight for most people, and the can will have been kicked two years further down
But we’ll be out. And once we’re out, the doors close. We will lose access to the top tables in Brussels, we will lose MEPs with legislative power, we’ll be a third country. There’s no easy way back, because, in the words of a senior MEP: “the EU deal you leave will not be the EU deal you apply for”. Even assuming we could engineer a reapplication during the transition period, we’d lose the special terms on the rebate, the various opt outs and suchlike.
I’m far from convinced the UK has sufficient political maturity to endure an application negotiation. An independent Scotland will have considerably less difficulty (though there will still be a process and nothing is automatic, make no mistake) given our political unity on the question, but for the UK, out means out for the foreseeable future, we’ll have jumped off the cliff in the hope we can knit a parachute in the next two years. This lamentable effort deserves to be rejected.
So let us assume that May’s Withdrawal Deal is rejected later today, what then? Keep the heid. There will be doubtless gazebo after gazebo of a UK media inhaling itself outside the Palace by the Thames, but there is still time to fix it, we’re nowhere near the end of this story.
I would like to see the Article 50 notice revoked altogether – it is the cleanest end to this phase of the chaos. Our recent court case at the European Court of Justice has made clear that the UK can do this unilaterally and remain in the EU on the current terms.
I do not, at the moment, see much of a mechanism or majority in the Commons to do that.
Similarly, calls for a People’s Vote (I still hate the title) will grow, but I do not see a mechanism or majority for that either. I also think the idea of a second referendum has a number of questions still to work out and hope that they are working hard to have a robust blueprint ready, especially to deal with questions over how to extend the Article 50 period to have any referendum.
But May, barring a remarkable conversion, will do what she has done throughout, try to find a fudge. I think this is our biggest risk. MPs will discover the Political Declaration, the document annexed to the Withdrawal Agreement.
It is all in the conditional tense, full of warm words and vague aspirations. Where the Withdrawal Agreement is nothing to nobody the Political Declaration could be all things to all people. In it you can read all sorts of good things, hopes and dreams but none of them binding. This is where May will look to cobble together a form of words that, coupled with the strongest logic in politics “There Is No Alternative” will give them, like the dodgy dossier in the run up to the Iraq War, a fig leaf to hide behind.
Most of them know that it will not last, but I can readily imagine the regretful speeches delivered in portentous tones that they will sing behind the Prime Minister in the interests of national unity.
Except it won’t last. The vote to leave the EU was presented as an answer to a host of very real grievances, all of them genuine. Austerity, precarious employment, lack of investment in public services, the impact of automation and climate change, demographic changes, Leave was presented as an answer to all of them but it will make all of them worse.
Someone commented on my Twitter in the past few weeks comparing a story of a friend being asked how his partner’s pregnancy was going, to which he responded “I can’t wait for the pregnancy to be over and life will go back to normal.” Sadly, if you think we finish Brexit on March 29 then you’ll be sadly disappointed. We need find ways to stop it now.