By Fiona Grahame
Orkney abounds with visitors from now until September. Amongst the many tourists there are also politicians.Richard Leonard, leader of the Labour party in Scotland came to see us recently.
I went to hear Richard Leonard speaking. He is a very pleasant man, polite and courteous. The meeting was well attended for a Labour party meeting held in Orkney but for the leader of Scotland’s third party, one which dominated the Scottish political scene for over half a century – it was rather poor.
The meeting was billed as a conversation and began with Richard Leonard laying out his case for voting Labour – returning to Labour values. It would not have been out of place if he had served it up in 1952. The vocabulary was of class politics and trade unionism. Looking around the room I don’t think there were many working class people present with perhaps only a few who were in a trade union.
Richard Leonard’s talk ranged over familiar issues: of the need for decent affordable housing, public ownership and paying folk a living wage. All issues where there is common consensus amongst all in Scotland except the current batch of xenophobic Tory politicians.
Like many who come to Orkney, Richard Leonard was impressed by our renewables which have been growing in scale, number and variety in the islands for decades. It’s not a huge employer and if we are to become the ‘Saudi Arabia of Renewables’ we will see our landscape traversed with the infrastructure needed to transport the energy generated in multiple wind farms and marine devices.
Orkney is still first and foremost a farming community. And yet, perhaps because it’s in plain sight, politicians and commentators on our islands’ economy fail to mention it. The civilisation that was once so successful that it could spend time constructing mega stone structures had a society based on farming. Orkney’s cattle are prime beasts and command quality prices. Grass fed, well cared for and reared on what to many in rUK would consider small farms.
Farming is in Orkney’s DNA and it is now under threat – Brexit – which is happening against the wishes of the people of Orkney and of Scotland will change farming for good. Small farms won’t be able to survive in the climate of new Brexit Little Britain. The protected status Orkney Beef had will be gone. That badge of quality which assured customers that although it was a pricier cut it was also a meat they could trust, will be lost. The customer could rely on knowing that what they were eating was not laced with chemicals unlike the products our markets will be flooded with from Trump’s US of A.
Richard Leonard never mentioned farming in his speech and Brexit was referred to near the end. The UK voted for Brexit. Scotland voted to stay in the UK so, therefore, we have to accept Brexit. That was Richard Leonard’s analysis of the situation.
The democratic deficit in the United Kingdom means Scotland’s votes are immaterial. They count for nought for we will always be outvoted.
The UK Brexit negotiating team have still not reached agreements on anything. Nothing has been decided. March 29th 2019 is only a matter of months away and nothing has been put in place.
The one and only sure thing in all of this has been the Scottish Parliament. MSPs of all parties, with the exception of the Tories, voted to protect the powers that the Scottish Parliament already has – to provide continuity. No other country in the UK has protected its industries and communities in the way the Scottish Parliament has done for Scotland. The continuity Bill has assured that within the complete shambles that Brexit has turned into that preserving the powers that the Scottish Parliament has is of vital importance to the stability of our economy and especially in Orkney.
Orkney’s shellfish industry is sustainably managed and of vital importance to vulnerable island communities. The ‘Sea of Opportunity’ promised by Bertie Armstrong when he urged fishermen to vote Leave, is not happening. The Draft agreement illustrated only too clearly that the UK Government is willing and able to sell out Scotland’s fishing grounds in a trade off to protect the City of London.
The nightmare that is Brexit is careering us into a chasm where we never chose to go. Orkney did not vote for this. Scotland did not vote for this. In fact in 2014 Scotland was promised that rejecting our own independence would guarantee that we would remain in the EU.
It was all lies. Lies on the sides of buses. Lies about our fellow Europeans. Lies which fed off hate and fear. A toxic atmosphere where one MP was murdered on the streets of this Disunited Kingdom.
I still cannot fathom how Theresa May, having bribed the DUP buying their votes, is getting away with it. If having seen the incompetence of the UK Tory Govt the people of England still want to go ahead with Brexit then so be it. But the UK was set up as a union of nations. Scotland is not a colony no matter what the office of the UK Government in Scotland may try to present it as.
The Scottish Parliament has provided us in Scotland with a partial safety net. It’s a small step, an indication of what could be possible if we were to revisit that decision we made in 2014. It’s okay to change your mind.
“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends. ” Donald Dewar 1999