THIS week I have submitted my papers to the SNP and hope to be a candidate in the upcoming (I think we can now say that) European elections. I’ll confess, I had long thought in my heart of hearts that Brexiteer Jeremy Corbyn and born-again leaver Theresa May would find a form of fudge to unite enough of each of their parties to get the withdrawal agreement over the line. Perhaps they still will, but from the indications we are getting from Westminster, it seems we’re game on for a European election. Not, obviously, for any reasons of high principle on either side, but because Corbyn thinks he can use this election to punish the Tories.
First published in The National, 18 April 2019
So the SNP’s national executive will this week produce a gender-balanced pool of three men and three women, then the delegates to Spring Conference will electronically rank the candidates one to six. If the party wants me, I’m ready to lead from the front.
But this week, I’ll not use this column for internal electioneering, because there’s an argument I want to be crystal clear about – the allegations that the party is putting independence second to Brexit and that we’re somehow being timid in not bringing forward a referendum.
I, and every other member of the party’s leadership and membership, want to see an independent Scotland in Europe– that is the objective, not holding a vote. I don’t want to hold another independence referendum, I want to win one. My heart was bruised by 2014, but the consequences of being goaded into “just going for it” when things are not ready will be stark. If we say no to independence a second time, then it really is over.
We have not prioritised stopping Brexit over independence. The months and years since the EU referendum vote revealed we’re already a different country – many former No voters have been won over by the way Scotland has been treated, but also by the calm, measured, principled and pragmatic way our Scottish Government has dealt with things.
Much as the Tories would have you believe otherwise, we have not used it as a pretext to “just go for it” – we have dug in to try to find solutions while being true to our principles. At every turn, they have been belittled and ignored by a UK political system so busy debating with itself that it has no time for any other points of view or constructive input. All in full view of the people of Scotland.
It is precisely this group that has the real questions, which need real answers. In 2014, we did as you would expect any responsible movement to do, producing as much detail on the independence proposition as possible. Some people were persuaded, some were not. We will do the same again, and some elements of that proposition are as yet unclear precisely because of Westminster’s ongoing chaos. We need that clarity in order to formulate our proposition, and we do not have that clarity yet.
We are also winning allies across the EU and the UK by working hard to try to find common cause where we can. I’ve heard sometimes that “We’ve no job saving England from itself”, but I would disagree. It is in our interests to see the UK remain in the EU, not just to avoid our closest friends and neighbours having a bad time but because it will also smooth the logistics of the independence proposition. We only have one land border with one country. We need to have a far better idea what it will look like before we can set arbitrary dates on a poll.
And on the allegation that we’re somehow ignoring Leave voters, nothing could be further from the truth. I myself have done meeting after meeting, call after call to reach out. It is my firm view many folk voted Leave in Scotland because they endorsed the change proposition, again as they had in 2014. They’re still up for change.
Others voted on the specific promises – on fishing, on the £350 million for the NHS, on cutting red tape and waste. These promises have been comprehensively trashed since.
Yes, there’s things we’d change about the EU, but if it didn’t exist we’d be at the front of calls to create it.
For the record, it was EU support that saved Ireland from an even worse financial crisis than it had, and Greece as well, after their profligate government falsified their national accounts.
The Leave campaign lied, it broke the law, it manipulated and it dissembled. And it lost. There is, of course, a Yes/Leave, demographic but in my experience they’re still largely Yes. There is also the No/Remain demographic, and I think with the right campaign they’ll come to us in droves.
This European election will be our best chance to shine. To show that Scotland, still, wants something different than the tired, old, divided UK can offer. The most attractive campaign to win the greatest number of our fellow countrymen and women is assuredly independence in Europe.