By Alec Ross
“Roads that start here and end there, somehow allowing a wound to heal…..it’s counter intuitive so say that nothing to see now is more real than what there was then. ‘Nothing to see’ means reality” (Stephen Rea, from “Brexit: a cry from the Irish Border”)
A few years ago, I was reading the autobiography of the comedian Frankie Boyle. Frankie was extolling the virtues of the Scottish Socialist and activist Tommy Sheridan, who used to host a popular ‘phone in show on one of the Glasgow radio stations. Frankie reckons that the reason why the programme proved so popular was that Tommy had that innate understanding of the universal truth that all politics are local. It’s a surprisingly and increasingly rare political commodity – the recognition that if people’s bins aren’t being collected it’s unlikely they’ll be giving a toss about the Maastricht Treaty.
For the best part of two years, I’m aware that I’ve written a lot about Supreme Court judgements, power-grabs, the limits of devolution and democratic deficits. But I’m equally aware that for many folk that’s an abstract conversation. What really matters, in the context of the Brexit permabouroch, is: “will there be food on the shelves?”, or “will I be able to get my essential medicines?”. And are less than a thousand hours away from leaving the European Union in the hardest way possible.
This week the British Conservative unionists from Scotland voted against an SNP amendment that would have prevented the UK leaving without a deal. That’s the Scotland, by the way, that voted by some distance to remain. Every single one of those MPs represent remain voting areas. The only conclusion we can draw is that they are actively working against the interests of Scotland, and that 100,000 job losses is well worth it as long as Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t gain any political capital by mitigating the effects of a Brexit that Scotland rejected. That’s right. Scotland can go to hell, as long as Jimmy Krankie gets a shoeing. It’s called standing up for Scotland. I am increasingly dismayed at our continuing participation in this charade, and horrified that we haven’t used the triple-locked mandate to begin the process of removing ourselves from a situation that is already causing considerable harm to us, and baffled that we continue to sacrifice ourselves to help England save itself, from itself. Particularly when our help isn’t wanted. Once again I urge the Scottish Government to call a second independence referendum immediately.
The other thing that happened was that a number of EU leaders – Macron of France and Sanchez of Spain chief amongst them – stated that they would only support an extension to Article 50 if the UK came up with a clear plan for its departure. With absolutely no such plan in sight, the chances of twenty seven EU countries voting unanimously to kick the leaving day down the road are precisely zero. So, along with a parliament voting to allow the possibility of a No Deal Brexit, No Deal looks like the only runner in a one-horse race.
There is another option. We can revoke Article 50 immediately. It is now a legal certainty that you can do it unilaterally. You just ask for the letter back. In fact, it’s the one thing that remains within the control of the English government. It’s simple, logical, and saves us all from catastrophe. Anything else is hugely damaging and , quite probably, disastrous. Which is why it must be pursued straightaway. It’s the only sane and rational choice. And there’s the rub. We no longer live in a sane and rational world.
Last week I found myself at St Pancras station in London, waiting to board a train to Paris on the first leg of a trip to Amiens and Thiepval to follow in the footsteps of my illustrious ancestor Eric Milroy, chartered accountant, Scotland rugby captain and soldier in the Great War. You couldn’t escape the historical parallels. A hundred years on from the Armistice, and we’re holding our breath again. Perhaps, I thought, this would be the last time I’d pass through a door marks “Citizens of the EU”. I consoled myself with the comforting thought that at least my passport would be an “iconic” blue one. And I idly thought that, amongst all the reasons why Theresa May should resign instantly and be hauled through the courts, her flagrant misuse of the word “iconic” is high up the list.
Just as I was about to board the train, I checked my ‘phone and saw that I’d received an email from a farmer – in Belgium. In essence, he wanted to buy some product. A short correspondence ensued. We agreed a price in Euros. We checked the exchange rate. He sent me some money. I called the haulage people and send him the goods. Then I went to France.
It is, on one level, an unremarkable story about an everyday transaction between two people. But isn’t that exactly the point? It’s what being in a genuine partnership of equals (the European Union) and not a pretend one (a disunited Kingdom) affords you. The miracle exists in the mundane. Free movement, fluid borders, strawberries that arrive from Holland and fill our supermarket shelves, agreed food standards that keep us healthy and free from hormone treated beef and chlorinated chicken. Guaranteed medicine supplies and frictionless, just in time supply chains. Trade deals with Japan. The privilege of sending things to a farmer in Belgium whom I’ve never met. It all happens under the radar, taken for granted, invisible. But sometimes “nothing to see” means reality.
The incident isn’t much of a story but it makes, I think, a wider point. That a small business owner from Stranraer can stand in a station in London and do business with a man in Belgium is an example of one of the greatest things ever invented – the European Single Market. Frankly, it’s little short of a modern miracle. It’s also – I think – really, really, cool. The fact that a neoliberal political, business and media cabal would destroy it so they could become even richer is, I think, an utter, epic, historic disgrace. Because, make no mistake, Brexit is a coup. Thank goodness we have an option.
Note to the Scottish Government: get us the hell out of here. Right now.
My great, great uncle Eric Milroy is one of 72,000 soldiers who went missing at the Somme and who were never found. As I approached Paris, I recalled the words of the great Irish humanitarian John Hume. “The EU”, he said, “is the greatest anti-war mechanism ever invented”.
We live here. And we’re holding our breath again.
Standing at the memorial at Thiepval, I knew exactly what he meant.
A world of free trade, travel and food security is a content and prosperous one. The framers of the post-war consensus, living in a starving continent, understood this. For their modern day equivalents – the Boris Johnstons, the Rees-Moggs, the Michael Goves – I have nothing but contempt. They have forgotten – worse, wilfully ignored – the lessons of the not so distant past. They will never be forgiven.
Our job now is to create a Scotland that trades freely and welcomes all. Independence is now not so much an ideological movement but a moral one. Scotland must have nothing to do with this amoral, destructive, post-imperial bouroch. Failing to leave looks like acquiescence, moral cowardice. We must have the courage to say – not in our name.
Let’s finish this.