Nostalgia, reflected Billy Connolly, isn’t what is used to be.
This week has had a real 2003 feel about it, because the headlong rush to condemn Russia over the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury despite an obvious lack of motive and an inconvenient lack of evidence, not to mention the utter political stupidity of an act that Vladimir Putin would have seen as hugely counterproductive and which emboldens his opponents, reminds me very much of the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction during the march towards to an Iraq catastrophe predicated on a dodgy dossier and a claim from Tony Blair that these weapons would be at your front door within forty-five minutes of Saddam giving the order.
I’m no fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s constitutional stance or his position on Brexit, but I respect him enormously for cautioning the Prime Minister against acting ahead of the evidence. His old Labour colleague Robin Cook was similarly demonised for warning against an illegal invasion of Iraq, but even he wasn’t called a Kremlin stooge or had his image photoshopped with a Russian hat on the BBC, both of which happened to Jeremy this week.
If we actually had a media that did its job things would be a lot more uncomfortable for the UK Government than they currently are. All those laundered roubles add up to £820,000 in the Tory coffers, which kind of compromises Theresa May. We’ll take strong action, she seems to be saying, but only once the cheque clears. An Oligarth pays £20,000 for lunch with the leader of the British Tories in Scotland (remember when cash for influence was frowned upon? Nostalgia again), but that won’t be returned. Oh, and Alex Salmond has a show on RT. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these people will feel the full force of British media vilification. For once, I agree with Ruth Davidson, who rightly calls it utterly unacceptable for a foreign government to impose a state broadcaster in Scotland to spread misinformation and propaganda and calls for it to be shut down. That, however, leads to an ever bigger headache: what will we do with an empty BBC building on the banks of the River Clyde?
Football fans like me will also be looking to the summer. Whether he ordered the attacks or not (and the jury is out – Corbyn is right here, and rashness in 2003 killed 100,000 people and destabilised the Middle East) the World Cup will take place in a geopolitical shambles, if indeed it happens at all. What should the response be? A boycott? One suggestion is that the England team could compromise by coming home after the group stages, but then they do that at every World Cup anyway. As for Scotland, our World Cup boycott is now entering its third decade with no resolution in sight.
It would be nice to think that Theresa May would show some leadership here, but she’s already fallen at the first. Instead of being calm and objective, she’s grabbed an opportunity to divert attention from the Brexit omnibouroch while those on the opposition benches used the unfolding crisis to condemn their own leader – again – this time for being “soft on Russian Communism”. Which rather begs the question: how can you be soft on something that doesn’t exist? These truly are post-truth times. As the excellent Iain MacWhirter argues in the Sunday Herald, acting tough isn’t leadership. Thinking calmly and acting methodically in the eye of the storm, however, is the very essence of statesmanship.
To be absolutely fair to the UK Government, it’s probably being entirely honest about its motives and in its response to the attacks. I mean, imagine exploiting or creating an event for narrow political advantage or to divert attention away from something you’d rather the public didn’t see. No British Government in the history of these islands has ever done that. And no British government has ever lied to us about anything important. They were completely upfront with us over Iraq, as we’ve seen. At no point whatsoever were they anything other than transparency personified over Hillsborough, or Orgreave. Only four short years ago, they were the honest brokers, stand up guys who delivered on their promises of extra powers, federalism, home rule. They talked the talk, for sure, but they walked the walk too. Shipyards are now booming thanks to their selfless munificence. HMRC workers in Hamilton and East Kilbride have their futures secured forever and a day. The renewable subsidies remain, just as was promised. We’re safe from terrorism, the world hasn’t lurched to the right and our place in the European Union is now certain, which means amongst other things that our fruit and vegetables will be harvested by the EU nationals who contribute so much to our economy and our culture. When the storm came, the British Government gave us shelter. We will never forget their kindness and humanity. We shall thank them at our leisure. We are Better Together.
Och, you reach a point – I got to it a while ago – when you wonder why we didn’t sail off into the sunset a long time ago. Because I’m fed up being lied to. Believe me, Salisbury is already being spun as a reason why we must stay together. Now is not the time. How dare we talk about independence when our security is under threat? But, actually, this week’s events are just further reminders that I wish nothing more to do with establishment duplicity. 2003 nostalgia again. Not in my name.
I’ll be accused of the same type of opportunism that I’ve just levelled at the Prime Minister, but I’m already past caring. This week was a timely reminder that we need to be independent as soon as possible, if not before.
Here’s how I see it. Britain is a faded power, increasingly irrelevant and everybody hates us. Their options are limited, so they need to do a deal with Trump soon. The Trump who wants to sell us “whiskey” and chlorinated chicken and hormone treated beef and a healthcare system, all of which explains the deliberate dismantling of the devolution settlement and the undermining of Scottish Democracy itself. Because we can have devolution or we can have a deal with The Donald. But we cannot have both.
Scotland has no ownership over this project. The truth is we never have. Power devolved is power retained. We cannot tax more to protect public services as a hard Brexit we didn’t vote for has eroded our tax base. And if we do, we’re portrayed as the highest taxed part of the UK, as Tartan Tories. At the risk of sounding like Father Ted explaining to Dougal why some cows are small and those outside the caravan are faraway, Scotland is not the highest taxed part of the UK. Most of us pay less tax or the same amount. The fortunate few pay the little bit more that they can easily afford. There are no tuition fees. Prescriptions are free. Pensioners don’t pay to get on a bus. We get this because we continually vote for Scottish Governments who promise these things in their manifestos and who deliver these things, whilst balancing the books as they are legally obliged to do. And do so despite not being in control of how much money we are granted. Despite the budget being cut in real terms over the past eleven years. Despite the Barnett formula being effectively ended by the Tory bung to the DUP. Despite the Sewell Convention being ripped asunder by the Supreme Court, effectively ending the devolution settlement.
Not in my name. The UK mood music is increasingly right-wing, xenophobic, isolated. It is touchingly – worryingly – naive of us to think of another referendum – to talk of another referendum – in such an inauspicious and hostile environment. The notion of a post-Brexit, narrow-minded, reactionary regime granting a second independence referendum is, frankly, for the birds. Not a single person alive will ever see it.
So we need to get organised. The Irish experience is instructive. When the UK Government started its bully boy tactics over the border, the EU nipped it in the bud. No trade talks until you sort this. Full stop. End of story. It’s amazing what you can do when you have friends, and Scotland’s 2:1 vote to remain hasn’t gone unnoticed. It will be a helluva lot easier to become independence when we’re still in the tent. Which means we do it now.
Will we win? Yes. 100%. Absolutely. The only reason Westminster won’t grant a second vote is because they will lose and it won’t be close. They know this. Last time round, support for Scottish Independence started at 28% and rose to 45%. Support for the union started from 72% and fell to 55%. They won the referendum, but they lost the argument. If there’s a second referendum, the Union project is toast. It’s over.
But we can’t wait. There are those who argue that people need to be confronted by the full impact of the Brexit consequences before deciding that Independence is desirable, necessary or – for soft Nos- the least worst option. But they are wrong. Allowing such a scenario to develop makes the economic case for independence less compelling and the possibility of a second plebiscite on Scottish self-determination virtually impossible.
It’s up to us, people. Now is the time.