It has been a quiet(er) hour or two – which means I have at least had the chance to write this – but the rest of the week has been chaos and madness in London. Ministers have resigned, letters of no confidence handed in, and I watched MPs one by one stand up to condemn the deal as ‘not good enough’. These were, of course, the same MPs who so enthusiastically cheered the disastrous act of triggering Article 50 when it was obvious they had no idea what they actually wanted to achieve.
There is no good news in it for Scotland: the UK (despite promising to represent our interests) did not even secure a single mention for Scotland. Had the UK sought special terms recognising our clear pro-EU sentiment, then ideas would have been looked at on their merits. But they didn’t, and the EU cannot solve our problems for us in the teeth of opposition from our own UK Government. You can read more of my thoughts here:
You can also judge for yourself, the full deal is available here:
and an outline of the future relationship between the EU and the UK here:
So this week has seen some good news. A Channel 4 backed poll of around 20,000 people has revealed that UK-wide, support for EU membership has increased to 54%, with only 46% supporting the decision to leave.
Here in Scotland there is now even greater support for staying in than in 2016. For instance, in Stirling only 29% of people now support Leave, down from 32% in 2016. Here constituents find that – despite voting strongly to remain in the European Union – they are represented by an MP who has used his time in the Commons since being elected last year, to campaign alongside the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg for a damaging hard Brexit.
You can read more of my thoughts here.
So the negotiations continue in Brussels quietly and behind the scenes. For what it’s worth, I think that the shape of the deal is basically done and we are now just waiting for Theresa May to get her cabinet in order so that she can sign it. As for getting it though the House of Commons with its arcane procedures and equally arcane MPs (SNP MPs notwithstanding!) that will be a different challenge.
What is the deal I hear you ask? Well… at this stage we don’t know. The negotiators are now in something they have named ‘the tunnel’ while they deal with the last of the nitty gritty details. Despite what some commentators seem to be implying, this has remained leak-proof so most of what is being said about it is simply conjecture. We will know soon enough what fate awaits Scotland, and then we can start to make our plans.Read more
I’ve seen how the growth of social media has enriched and empowered folk across Scotland. How it is impacting upon other media I think remains to be seen, and indeed today’s giants like Facebook and Twitter may be tomorrow’s MySpace and Bebo. This is a fast moving environment.
But it is not all positive, and there are regular lurid headlines about abuse or fake news. We’re kidding ourselves if we think Scotland is all sweetness and rainbows. As an out gay pro-EU Nat I'll hear no lectures from anyone about abusive cybernats – all Scottish discourse is infested by a small minority who just want to crash things. We'll all benefit from upping our digital literacy.
With that in mind I’ve commissioned researcher and author JJ Patrick to examine Twitter, and his independent report "Scotland and Social Media, Trolls Under the Bridge?" is published today, you can download a copy from my site:Read more
I'm almost tempted to feel sorry for Theresa May sometimes. But then I remember, it didn’t need to be like this. She didn’t need to call her vainglorious election. She did not need to mouth meaningless platitudes such as “Brexit means Brexit” when it was obvious to the dogs in the street that Brexit means making choices.
Above all, she didn’t need to trigger Article 50, starting a time-limited process when it was obvious to those same dogs in the street that neither she nor her party were ready for the choices they have still not made.
The ultras will accept anything to – as they see it – get Brexit over the line and call it a success. So long as there is a transition period, the pound will (probably) not collapse and business will (probably) not start leaving in earnest, so they’ll be able to leave the field and retire to their after-dinner-speaker circuit, same as David Davis (remember him?) already has.Read more
Party Conference season is always a strange, surreal time – rushing between fringe meetings and votes, a whirlwind of media appearances and chats with journalists, policy being presented and debated by the members – but this week’s SNP Conference has brought a welcome beacon of clarity. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that, if there is a proposal for another EU referendum, SNP MPs will vote for it.
At Conference, I held three Fringe meetings, where members are free to come along and put questions to the panel. On Monday, one of our EU Scots quietly told the room that she has to take sleeping tablets at night because she’s so worried about her right to stay in Scotland. This is not fair, it is not right, and it is not something we should accept as a by-product of a dishonest and mean little campaign.Read more
So the Tories have gathered for their annual conference in their own little parallel universe. In their world Brexit is wonderful and the EU is an anti-democratic authoritarian regime which can easily be conflated with the USSR.
This is utterly crass and offensive to the millions who lived under Soviet occupation and from a UK Foreign Secretary it is utterly unforgivable. Europe had begun to hope that with Boris’s departure the UK would now behave in a grown-up manner but it seems not. As for Theresa May’s surreal speech? Ian Dunt has perhaps summed it up best: “according to her conference speech, the Tories were the party of opportunity and sound finances. They were going to address abuse and hatred in politics. They were an open party, fighting anti-semitism and promoting the children of hard-working immigrants. If only any of it was true.”
Six months. We have six months until the UK leaves the EU, but it’s difficult to see any plan from the UK Government beyond satisfying the hard Brexiters and clinging on to power until March 2019.
In order to ‘take back control’, MPs need to know whether Article 50 can be revoked or whether it’s a done deal. The UK Government is so reticent to answer this, we’ve had to take them to court. My colleague Joanna Cherry QC has written a fine piece here outlining the issues:
To be clear, the court-case is not in itself an attempt to derail Brexit. It is an attempt to ensure that there is legal clarity on all possible options and for MPs to be aware of all possible options when they vote on the terms (or absence thereof) of withdrawal. Yes, I’ve no doubt that a majority has now swung to Remain, but I’m wary of telling folk ‘you did it wrong, try again’ after a vote, at least not until every option has been considered.
Politicians may have their differences, but there’s a genuine cross-party cross-Parliament campaign to do what’s best for the country. Thank you for all your support so far.Read more
As the saying goes, the darkest hour is right before dawn. Without getting ahead of ourselves too much, the events of this week may prove that statement right when it comes to Brexit.
In a major development, today the Court of Session in Edinburgh - Scotland’s Highest Court - agreed that the our case asking whether the UK can remain in the EU on the present terms (in other words unilaterally revoke the notification of Article 50) must be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. For the avoidance of any doubt, we're not trying to 'overturn' anything; we want clarity. Before MPs vote on whatever cobbled-together patchwork deal May returns with, they need to know if it's possible to revoke Article 50.Read more
This week has been a very busy week in Strasbourg. Notably, Jean Claude Juncker gave his final State of the Union address outlining how the EU is performing, and what policies we will be looked at next year. He did, inevitably mention Brexit, though only briefly. Crucially he reiterated a few points for the benefit of those Brexiters who keep feigning deafness. Firstly, “if you leave the Union, you are of course no longer part of our single market, and certainly not only in the parts of it you choose. Secondly, the European Commission, this Parliament and all other 26 Member States will always show loyalty and solidarity with Ireland when it comes to the Irish border.”
You can read the full speech at the link below. What struck me was how the EU (except the UK) is coming together around a lot of the challenges we face. They are getting on with the day job of making Europe better.