“Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?” (Hugh McDiarmid)
Better Together. Family of Nations. Valued, equal partners in this most precious of unions, pooling and sharing our resources. Special bonds. Lead us, don’t leave us.
Let me ask you all something today. How valued and equal are you feeling right now?
Exactly how do feel towards a union that promises near-federalism but delivers English Votes for English Laws?
How can our bonds be strong when the UK government tells us to respect the result of the 2014 referendum before systematically undermining the 1997 devolution settlement and launching a fully fledged, media assisted campaign against Scottish Democracy itself?
If we really are an equal and respected member of this precious union, why are the Tory thirteen voting against amendments that would protect the devolution settlement against the rolling back of devolved Holyrood powers that a hard Brexit makes inevitable?
How do we feel when we are disrespected and ignored and demonised at every turn, even when we offer consensus and compromise and a Brexit solution that would respect the will of the vote whilst recognising the different political will of the Scottish people and the very different relationship with Europe that our economy needs?
Better Together? It sounds like something an abusive partner would say would say to his downtrodden wife.
Not that I’m obsessive about these things, but I enjoyed the perceptive comment from a reader on one of my recent articles. Effectively, he took me (politely) to task on saying that the union would soon be dead. That was impossible, went his argument, because it was already dead. It was strangled at birth in 1707. I think he may be right. Otherwise, if we’re truly equal, why was the Scottish Parliament dissolved after the Act of Union and not the English one? Or why weren’t both houses dismantled and a new legislative building erected in, say, York or Manchester?
But, of course, then as now, they never had the slightest intention of ceding even the tiniest bit of their sovereignty. The union was never about sharing power. It was all about the ruling classes in Scotland and in England strengthening their power base to impose their rule over Scotland forever. Even devolution follows this narrative – power devolved is power retained, and Brexit allows them ample opportunity and the legal justification to call in the loan. And this is happening in plain sight, right now. I even think it’s not impossible that they’ll bring forward the Repeal Bill and start dismantling devolved competences before Brexit. Which is why we need a second and final referendum straight away. Because Project Fear #2 has already started. So we need to get organised, right now.
This week, I travelled up to Scotland’s rural north-east to speak to a group of farmers and the wider public about Brexit, farming, and the independence movement. That would be the north-east of Scotland that kicked out Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson and elected a tranche of paper candidates who are now fully paid-up members of the Brexit cliff-edge Club. MPs who say: “the people have spoken and we must work to get the best possible Brexit deal for the whole of the UK”.
Here’s the thing, though. We don’t want a deal. We voted to remain. We want to stay.
In Phillip Collins’ book about the history of speeches (“When They Go Low, We Go High”), he argues that good speeches benefit from immediacy. I’ve discovered that when talking about the ever-changing Brexit clustershambles, which is why I wrote my notes in Brechin on the way to the meeting. The political climate is a bit like the Scottish weather – it changes every fifteen minutes. The only difference is that in Scotland it stops raining occasionally. The Brexit storm shows no sign of abating.
When I got back into the car and switched the radio on, I realised that, these days, even a speech written at the last minute can become obsolete within seconds. The weather had changed yet again and three closely related stories were emerging.
Firstly, the leaked Brexit assessment papers now confirmed that the impact of a hard Brexit (or indeed any sort of Brexit at all, even a soft one) was going to be worse than expected.
Much worse, even, than the scenario painted by a Scottish Government utterly fed up with the near-total lack of analysis by a Westminster Government fighting like rats in a sack. A Scottish Government analysis slated by Ruth Davidson, incidentally, as scaremongering. Suddenly, here was a UK government concluding that a hard Brexit would affect Scotland disproportionately, despite it voting to remain. That would see Northern Ireland’s GDP drop by 12%, and the North East of England – which voted overwhelmingly to leave – see its productivity drop by a scarcely believable 16%. This is what Taking Back Control looks like.
So now the cat is out of the bag. The second story concerned the ways in which Westminster is trying to minimise the damage, ways which include making it as difficult as possible to scrutinise these most damning of dossiers. These last two days, our elected representatives have had every possible obstacle thrown in their path as they attempt to scrutinise information states unequivocally that Brexit is a disaster. They were only allowed to look at the documents in a secure location, 1 Melville Crescent, only between 10am and 1pm, and between 2pm and 5pm. And that was only if they made an appointment by email.
They couldn’t take copies away and were forbidden from making anything public. And all the time, at UK government official was in the room. This is Scotland 2018. This is what a Better Together looks like. This is being a valued partner in a precious family of nations. You’ll have had your freedom of information. Move along Jock, nothing to see here.
Thirdly, if this isn’t bad enough (and it’s plenty bad enough), consider this. Our MSPs, when they finally broke through the clunking fists and dead hands of the British Establishment flunkies, must have winced at the irony of reading reports – specifically, Scotland specific Brexit impact reports – that as recently as November didn’t exist. We know they didn’t exist because this is what Secretary of State against Scotland David Mundell told the Holyrood Europe Committee. That they do exist presents two possibilities. Either he didn’t know about them, which means he hadn’t bothered to ask or was so disrespected by his own party that they hadn’t bothered to tell him. That makes him merely incompetent, which is the kinder analysis. The more damning assessment is that he knew all about them but lied to the committee and the people of Scotland, which makes him worse than incompetent. It makes him mendacious and untrustworthy. But he isn’t alone in this. Like Alistair Carmichael over memogate, he took a calculated gamble that a compliant, anti-independence media wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. And, like Carmichael, he gambled and won.
In truth, it was never in doubt. Like Ruth Davidson during the racism / sectarianism scandal, he has done what all bullies do when you stand up to them. He’s gone to ground. He’s feart. A sleekit, cowrin, timrous beastie. And he will never be held to account for his betrayal because he is a member of the British Establishment and therefore above the law. The most powerful politician in Scotland isn’t the First Minister of Scotland but a mendacious Westminster stooge whose job it is to undermine Scotland at every turn. And, not for the for the first time, I reflected that if we had a media that actually did its job and told the truth, my writing career would never have started. Because we’d already be living in an independent Scotland.
I’m not sure what surprises me more – the Brexit documents and the appalling behaviour of Westminster whilst trying to cover them up and minimise the damage, or the fact that anyone is still surprised. Personally, I’m not. Their behaviour over impact-gate has been entirely consistent with their long-term modus operandus. Believing that these people have our best interests at heart anymore – or that they ever did – is a touching naïveté that we can ill afford. Saying you’re disappointed with Westminster is a bit like saying you found the latest JK Rowling novel a bit underwhelming. I mean, it wasn’t like the last twelve books didn’t give you a hint. Or, in the case of the Union, the last three centuries.
I’m going to take a wild guess that most people reading this will be at least broadly supportive of the rather prosaic idea that countries tend to be rather better at running their own affairs than other countries doing it for them, so I won’t waste my time stating self-evident truths. So let’s cut to the chase.
September 2018 will mark four years since Scotland became the first country in the history of the world to vote against itself. Everything that has followed that fateful day has led us to a fork in the road. We need to take the road less travelled, but we need to take a few more folk down that road than we did last time. I believe that circumstances dictate that we’ve never been in a better position to do so. Here’s a few reasons how
- Remember the vow? Vote no to save the shipyards and the HMRC jobs? Remember being told we’d be a provincial backwater with no influence and there’d be a lurch to the right and an increased threat of terrorism if we voted Yes? Remember being told that a Yes vote meant being ripped out of Europe?
The biggest weapon the 2018 Yes campaign has is the 2014 No campaign. Never forget the lies.
- The Scottish Parliament is popular across the political spectrum. It has been a force for good. Brexit and devolution have now been proven to be completely incompatible, so it’s independence or the end of Scottish Democracy. We’ll win that argument by a street.
- Another thing that’s popular is the Scottish NHS. Now that we (and more importantly Westminster) know that devolution is lent, not given, the UK Government won’t think twice about sacrificing it on a post-Brexit Trump trade deal. Only independence prevents this.
- Another issue that is largely non-party political is our food and drink. Behind #KeepScotlandTheBrand is a recognition that food and drink brings at least £18bn per annum to the Scottish economy, and there are plans to take this to £30bn by 2030. But – and it’s a big but – the Scotch brand that provides jobs and investment is protected by an EU that recognises geographical trademark. This is nothing to do with nationalism but everything to do with Scotland’s prosperity.
- Timing. You think 2014 was tough? You ain’t seen nothing yet. The union is in its death throes but it hasn’t given up yet. We need our friends. Witnessing the EU standing with Ireland over the border issue should persuade us that it will be easier to navigate our way out of the UK as a member of the EU than as part of an isolationist Britain that everybody despises and which is doing everything it possibly can to diminish us to the point where we cannot -ever – go for independence again. May is wrong. Now is the time.
So, at the end of another crazy week, we have some clarity. In a pub in Mintlaw this week, we reached some conclusions.
We will have another referendum, the material change for which won’t be Brexit but the attack on Scottish Democracy that it facilitates. We have the arguments. We have the momentum. Governments rise and fall but the independence vote remains rock solid. We have the people. All we have to do is hold our nerve.
If we do that, we’ll win. And we’ll win by a lot.