“He’ll stamp and threaten, curse and swear / he’ll apprehend them, poind their gear / While they maun stand wi’ aspect humble / an’ hear it a’, an’ fear and tremble” (Robert Burns, The Twa Dogs)
“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.” (Dominic Raab)
So how have you been? I’ve been a bit quiet on the old article front this last three weeks or so. A lot has happened, and I’m not happy. To borrow from another Burns poem, I’ve been “nursing my wrath to keep it warm”. Believe me, it’s burning. I’ve been doing a bit of travelling with the day job. I’ve been in Orkney to speak at the Harvest Home dinner in Finstown (an incredible night out – thanks folks), visited factories and farms in France and the Republic of Ireland. I don’t know if you know this, but you can go to these places with a minimum of fuss and you don’t need a visa. I do hope we never decide to extricate ourselves from such a mutually beneficial arrangement because we’ve been told that we’d soon have Turkish people sleeping on our sofa and that leaving it would be the easiest negotiation in history because they need us more than we need them and we’d have £350m a week to spend on the NHS and we’ve had quite enough of experts. Surely we’d have seen the people who made these claims as the spivs, charlatans and mendacious snake oil salesman that they clearly are, as they tell us that Brexit will make us a global superpower while they move their businesses to Dublin, or Düsseldorf, or Singapore, so as to remain in the single market. We find ourselves in a position, perhaps for the first time in history, when every single alternative option in front of us is demonstrably worse than the situation we currently enjoy and we have become the first government in history to enact economic sanctions against itself. Because it is the will of the people, said the PM yesterday. Because we are better together. Because we are a precious union. Because we must respect the result of the referendum, even if it was won illegally. Even if EU citizens didn’t get the vote. Even if 16 and 17 year olds didn’t get the vote. Even if this constituted the narrowest voting franchise imaginable. Yet we must respect democracy. I am their leader, I must follow them.
If we’re going to talk respect then here’s a wee story. Last week I took a small group of people on a study tour to Lille: two beef farmers from Scotland, a beef fattener from Lincolnshire, a nutritionist from Northern Ireland and a sheep and venison farmer from Cornwall who hailed from New Zealand but whose family’s roots are Perthshire. It sounds like the start of a joke, and within seconds of meeting in London we knew we’d get on famously, and we did.
We were in a pub in London, waiting to catch the Eurostar to Lille. We were putting the world to rights with the most extraordinary vigour. Drink had been taken. It occurred to me that it was a pity that the people with the keys to global harmony were too busy farming livestock, writing articles and selling yeast. It also struck me that, whatever our differences – and there weren’t many – there was an unspoken understanding that we recognised that the views expressed by our fellow travellers were sincerely held and to be respected. In an age when political discourse is coarsened by maniacs like Trump, this was an uplifting and timely reminder that most other folk are essentially decent.
At one point in the discussion, an English farmer in our group asked me if Scotland could afford to be independent. There was a time when I’d have been offended, but I’m a bit older now and I realised that he had asked the question in good faith, like he was really confused that such obviously wealthy country chose to outsource its big decisions to people it didn’t vote for. He genuinely wanted to know, which immediately makes him the polar opposite of the British Unionists in my home village for whom Scotland’s smallness, poverty and stupidity is a shibboleth and unswerving devotion to a union that despises us is worn as badge of honour. The irony is that I had to come to London to have that conversation. Such is Scotland. We boast then we cower. We beg for a piece of what’s already ours.
The reason is that I have no quarrel with my English friend thinking we couldn’t afford to be independent is that four years ago 55% of Scots didn’t believe it either. The more I think about it, the less sympathy I have. Becoming the first country in history to vote against itself must now be called what it was – an act of utter folly and an epic act of self harm that has led us directly to where we are today, a country with two governments, one of which looks after its people and another one that does everything possibly to prevent it from doing so.
When I hear unionists in Scotland – and I use that phrase deliberately as the term “Scottish Unionist” is an oxymoron because for unionists Britain, not Scotland, is their country – complaining about power grabs and Brexit, I’m desperate to say to them: “what did you think was going to happen when you voted no? Did you really think we were going to get those shiny new powers, the shipbuilding contracts, the securing of HMRC jobs? Yes, I get that you didn’t like Alex Salmond, but are you really telling me David Cameron was going to look after your interests? Or was all this just a smokescreen to hide the fact that you were just being selfish? Scotland as a whole was always going to benefit from independence, and even if it temporarily didn’t then it wouldn’t have affected you in the slightest because your relative affluence would have more than protected you. I find it hard to fathom your reasoning and find it difficult to forgive you for reducing the arguments for our independence to the value of your pension and the price of a dog license”.
This is my difficulty with the country of my birth. We are brought up on the stories of how Scotland selflessly bestowed good on the world, on the conceit of the “lad o’ pairts”, the egalitarianism of Burns, the notion that we’re “all Jock Thamson’s bairns”. We can justifiably complain all we like about the BBC bias, the failure to pursue Ruth Davidson over her open admission of postal vote tampering, of the brazen breaking of purdah with the never to be delivered “vow”. But we also knew that it wouldn’t be a fair fight and that we’d need to vote in such numbers that it wouldn’t even be close. The fact that we didn’t troubles me more than the unionist mendacity, because that was a given. No, the biggest disappointment was having the chance to show the world that for all the talk about equality and fairness we could walk the walk as well – and failing to deliver.
And having failed to do so we need to take ownership of the consequences of failing to fix a historic wrong because we couldn’t be bothered or were a bit feart. I always said to folk when campaigning, or just speaking to them at work or in the pub, that if it all went wrong and independence turned out to be a bad thing then I’d hold up my hands and say “sorry, I got that wrong”. I did so for two reasons. Firstly, because it wouldn’t go wrong because absolutely every independent country in the world is completely fine and wouldn’t re-join a union in a zillion years. And secondly because it’s right to take ownership of your arguments and the consequences of your decisions. But moral hazard cuts both ways. Just as a Yes voter would have taken responsibility for what would theoretically have happened after voting for independence, equally the two million people and the politicians who argued for and voted against their own country have a moral responsibility to own the chaos that now engulfed us after handing over our sovereignty to people who despise us. And yet they haven’t. The bedroom tax? Your fault. The rape clause? That was you. We’re getting dragged out of Europe against our will and our parliament is being weakened and our strawberries and our tatties are being covered in union flags even though they come from Fife. That was you as well. It was all you. None of this could possibly have happened if you hadn’t been so bloody selfish.
And enough of us bought into the myth that a benign establishment would deliver Scotland “faster, safer change” because they would see our vote as an article of trust. They didn’t. They saw it as a weakness and an opportunity to undermine Scotland to the point where we could never go for independence again. They’ve done little else for four years. They were never going to. And why should they? Scotland can’t govern itself? Fine, we’ll do it for them. English Votes for English Laws. Land of my heart forever, Scotland the slave.
They wasted no time whatsoever in belittling and undermining us. Instead of home rule, we got EVEL. We got a dark money deal with the DUP and the beginning of the end of Barnett, on which the proposed DEFRA support payments will not be based. The convergence uplift monies were stolen. The Supreme Court tore up Sewel. Our Holyrood Withdrawal Bill will most likely be deemed illegal. We are being dragged through the courts by the biggest member of Theresa May’s precious Union. Our farming powers are being removed. The Scotland Act and devolution itself is being rolled back, the better to sell British haggis to America in return for chlorinated chicken and the sale of healthcare to vultures. The Armistice Day bagpipes are bedecked in the Union flag, so even Remembrance Day is politicised by people who took us into illegal wars and sell arms to the Saudis to bomb Yemen whilst saying Lest We Forget. Joan McAlpine’s lovely Scottish accent is mocked in her own parliament by the leader of the British Conservative party (Scottish Branch). Jeremy Paxman calls Robert Burns “sentimental doggerel”. The Secretary of State says we are a part of the UK, not a partner, which to be fair is surely the most honest thing he’s stated in several years.
Which brings us to the omnibouroch of the week just ended. Because while I’m as outraged as anyone about the treatment of Scotland over the withdrawal plan it is tempered by the nagging feeling that anyone who is surprised in the slightest hasn’t been paying attention. There’s sections in the document about Gibraltar, the British Antarctic Territory and a Caribbean island (Anguilla) with a population marginally larger than Stranraer. But in this week’s 585 page long Brexit divorce agreement, at no point whatsoever does it mention Scotland. Nowhere. We are being utterly ignored. “One simple fact remains”, said the Prime Minister about the withdrawal paper: “nobody has produced an alternative proposal”. This was news to the people of Scotland whose government had done exactly this shortly after the 2016 vote. The British Conservatives in Scotland were informed of the divorce bill, as were the DUP. Yet the democratically elected leader of Scotland wasn’t even allowed in the room. This isn’t and has never been a partnership of equals. Brexit has laid that bare. It’s bullshit. Westminster behaves as if Scotland doesn’t exist. So what’s the point in Scotland’s political leaders politely continuing to request, demand and explain? They aren’t listening. They’ve even stopped pretending that they’re listening.
So what should happen next?
Yesterday saw six resignations by lunchtime, including a Brexit minister who resigned because he didn’t agree with the divorce papers that he himself had negotiated. Scotland has been a beacon of sanity and reason throughout this permabouroch, but there comes a tipping point where you simply can’t help England any longer. Scotland needs to save itself. Scotland can no longer sacrifice itself, to help the UK save itself, from itself. They don’t want our help anyway and the best way is to lead by example by continuing our development as a modern, progressive, newly independent country that allows everyone to participate fully.
I am now more convinced than ever that we will living in an independent Scotland very soon indeed. One of the reasons I think that is because there will probably be a general election soon. There has been much debate about the timing of the next referendum, but if there’s a general election we don’t need one. We simply write the shortest manifesto in history and it will state that if we win a majority of MPs (30) then that in itself is a mandate for independence and we walk. It gets ratified by the UN – many countries achieved their independence by this method – and there’s no need for a vote organised by an undemocratic and mendacious establishment that largely exists to thwart self-governance and which is already dismantling Scottish democracy through the power grab and which would happily suspend or even abolish the Scottish Parliament under existing emergency legislation on the premise of Brexit.
There was a time when Nicola Sturgeon was right to try to save the UK from its own political collapse. That time ended at around 5pm yesterday with the Prime Minister’s speech. It is time for us to save ourselves. It is time instead for us to end the United Kingdom. Yesterday was the tipping point. We are nearly there.