The UK is broken and Westminster is not going to fix it

WITH the return from recess of Holyrood and Westminster, all three of Scotland’s Parliaments are now back in business, and the contrast in the three could not be starker. I always stress to folk that recess does not mean holiday, but it is a chance, for me, to stay in one place for a while, recharge the batteries and try to take stock of what we want to do in the coming weeks and months.

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First published in The National, 7 September 2018

The European Parliament has been back for a couple of weeks now and is getting on with the job.

With a major vote on copyright reform and the digital single market ahead of us next week we’re grappling with some pretty fundamental issues. Does the right for artists to make money trump everyone’s right to privacy online? Can we hold internet platforms responsible for the actions of their users? Who defines where freedom of expression stops and hate speech starts? Should we trust the tech companies to administer automatic filters with no democratic oversight? As in all things it will be a question of trying to find the right balance, but getting it right or wrong will massively help, or hinder, the growth of the knowledge economy in Europe.

Brexit is now all consuming for some of us but a sideshow for everyone else. The time for sadness and angst has moved on, and my MEP colleagues are now thinking about the election in May next year where, unless something happens, we will not be participating and our seats will be distributed amongst the other EU states. There are still ways to turn it round but that window is closing.

Holyrood is back this week with the Programme for Government, a remarkable achievement after so long in power, the SNP administration is still pushing on with reforms, ideas and investment to make Scotland better. There’s a lot more to do but the seriousness and determination is telling.

Seriousness and determination are precisely not the words anyone would associate with Westminster. MPs return this week from their recess and the Brexit nonsense machine will crank up again, spewing out yet more febrile rubbish. The Tories remain as divided as ever with, by my count, about 7 Tory Brexit plans in play, with the only unifying factor being that all of them seem united in thinking things that are impossible might actually happen, or at least pretending to others that they do.

Proven shifty charlatan Boris Johnson continues to give new definitions to the word sleekit with an attack on Theresa May which is being interpreted as a leadership bid, with the party conference season looming all Tory eyes are on that, not the train coming down the tracks at all of them. Their acting leader in Scotland, Jackson Carlaw, has been reduced to trying to goad the SNP into deciding which of the warring factions of his own party to vote with in an as yet hypothetical vote on a deal yet to be agreed at a time yet to be set. All of this is because they are desperate to deflect attention from their own glaring inconsistencies.

Meanwhile at a time when any serious opposition should be a few million points ahead in the polls, Labour is locked in an internecine circular firing squad over, of all issues in 2018, anti-Semitism. Over in Northern Ireland things are looking even more grave, after a long hot summer there seems little appetite for compromise or consensus with the DUP thinking they have a golden ticket with their stranglehold over Mrs May’s government at Westminster.

The UK is broken, Westminster isn’t going to fix it and I don’t see an obvious way out. From Scotland’s perspective we have done and are doing all we can, but at every turn we’ve been ignored, belittled and told to get back in our box. We’re in the Brexit endgame now but the Tories still can’t even decide what they want Brexit to be. Scotland deserves better than this.