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Why there's not a single mention of Scotland in May's Brexit deal

THE UK-EU withdrawal agreement is now public, so we can now see what all the fuss has been about. Remember, this is just the exit agreement, the settling up our bills, and has nothing meaningful on what the future will hold. If the agreement is approved (an open question) then from Brexit day we will enter a transition where the EU laws roll on, so little overnight will change.

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First published in The National, 18 November 2018

But we’ll be out, and the cliff edge is just a bit further away. This is what I have long been most afraid of: blind Brexit. Out, but still no idea of the future.

To add insult to injury, there’s zero mention in the 500-plus pages of Scotland. As much as it makes my blood boil, we need to be clear about why that is and what it means for us.

The document foresees a special status for Northern Ireland. For Gibraltar. For Cyprus. Many other places and territories are mentioned in the annexes. How can it be that Scotland, where we voted so convincingly to remain, has been so entirely ignored? Has the EU let us down?

No. The EU has not let us down. It has not, to be sure, done us any favours, but as the UK is finding out, it is a chilly world out there and the hard reality is we cannot expect the EU to solve our problems for us.

The reality on why other places are mentioned but we’re not is as stark as the challenge that it presents to us. Each of the places with a special treatment has that treatment because a member state demanded it and the UK was powerless to resist.

As part of the UK, our member state was the UK itself, and it did not represent us in our own right but as a subservient part of itself. Rare it is that I agree with the hapless David Mundell who at time of writing holds the title, if not the power, of Scottish Secretary, but in his words: “Scotland is a part of the UK, not a partner in the UK.” The reality of Scotland’s place in the UK is in the withdrawal agreement in black and white. We’re nowhere.

For the record, I entirely support the special statuses accorded in the agreement. We’re Scots, we utterly support peace in Northern Ireland, and anything less than the status granted to it would grievously undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Gibraltar has a very specific circumstance because of geography: out of the customs union but heavily dependent upon free movement of labour.

It is right that our Gibraltarian friends should have a special deal. Even Cyprus was able to demand special provisions because of the UK bases on the still divided island.

But if special deals can be done for them, one could have been done for us. If the UK Government had respected its own internal constitutional order and political reality and put forward a differentiated status for us it would have been looked at on its merits.

The UK Government did not, so the EU can hardly conjure up a solution for us. Our clear reality now is a far cry from the promises of 2014. Lead not leave.

A partnership of equals. Vote No to secure EU membership. All trashed by the actions of a UK Government that talks about a precious union but by its actions clearly actually means shut up and know your place.

The contrast between how well the EU has treated Ireland and how badly Scotland has been treated by Westminster could not be more stark. The difference is independence in Europe.

Ireland is part of the 27, with the solidarity of the world’s closest alliance to rely on. We’re in the wrong union.

So we don’t know how the coming weeks and months will go. Anything can happen. But the withdrawal agreement is significant. Show it to your friends who voted No, let them see it and judge for themselves.

I’ve dug in to try and turn Brexit around, for the whole of the UK. There’s no good news for Scotland in Brexit, and if we can stop it for everyone so much the better and those efforts continue.

Whatever happens in England has consequences here. Regardless of whatever our constitutional future holds the turmoil I fear will continue for years in UK politics will not stop at Carlisle.

But if we can’t stop Brexit for the UK, we’ll have a choice to make. Backward looking chaos locked in a union with the UK where we are comprehensively ignored and belittled, or independence in Europe as an equal partner with Ireland, Denmark, France, Germany and all the rest in a global A team.

But we’re not there yet. I don’t want to hold another independence referendum, I want to win one. This is not timidity, this is being serious. We’re the grown ups.

Measured, rational, evidence based. We know that the people who were unpersuaded last time who are now open to independence have real questions that deserve real answers.

Same as we did last time, we will present the people of Scotland with a detailed proposition on what sort of independent Scotland we propose and what relationship we seek with our nearest neighbours and the EU itself.

The fact is, elements of that proposition are as yet unclear because of the chaos in the UK and we can hardly set a timetable on a process we do not control.

Whatever happens, I believe one thing will be clearer and clearer with every day. The people best placed to make decisions about Scotland are the people who live here.

As the reality of a potential post Brexit UK looms into view we’ll not be slow to contrast it with the reality of independence in Europe.