By Alec Ross
“This should be the easiest trade deal in the history of mankind” (Liam Fox MP, June 2017).
“It (the leaked Yellowhammer document) is a devastating health check on the country’s preparedness. This is not Project Fear – this is the most realistic assessment of what the public face with no-deal. These are likely, basic, reasonable scenarios – not the worst case scenario” (Cabinet Office source, quoted in The Sunday Times, 18/08/2019).
My father tells a great story about a weel-kent Stranraer man who set up business as a hotelier in the early 1960s. He built a swimming pool in the premises, and astutely offered membership to non-residents to provide a useful new income stream in the winter months.
It proved highly popular with the folk of Stranraer – with one exception. A gentlemen took it upon himself to write to the proprietor on a near-weekly basis to complain. The water was too hot, or too cold. The towels weren’t thick enough. Twenty pee for a locker hire was a bit steep. And so on.
One morning the gentleman opened his mail and found a letter with the hotel’s logo on it. Now, I may be paraphrasing here, but essentially it read: “Dear sir, as of today you have no reason to concern yourself any further with the temperature of our pool, as you are no longer a member of the swimming club. Please find enclosed your cheque in lieu of this year’s membership fees”.
You get it in business all the time. I had a guy last year – and they are thankfully rare – who wouldn’t pay a bill. It wasn’t a life-changing amount of money, but out of principle, and because I’m thrawn, I pursued it. When I realised that it would cost me as much to chase the debt as the original sum, I simply wrote it off and moved on. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, and it was never personal: it was just business. In the long term, I reasoned, the business would gain from having nothing more to do with someone who was a drain on my time, money and energy.
For a relationship to thrive, both sides have to gain. The stories hopefully exemplify what should happen when all the advantage is with one side (in the first instance, a paying customer who was no longer worth the bother; and in the second a non-paying customer who was a drain on the business).
In the past few weeks, as support for independence reached fifty-two percent, a number of prominent people have ramped up the narrative that Scotland is a drain on the rest of the UK. Indeed, many Scottish unionist MPs have made their careers out of saying so. Edwina Currie stated on television (and wasn’t challenged, obviously) that we’d be “crazy” to give up the economic cash cow that is our membership of the “Precious Union”. Amber Rudd was reprimanded for wildly inaccurate claims about extra funding for Scotland from the Treasury. And they wheeled out Gordon Brown to remind us that Scotland must always be the junior partner in this family of nations.
Here’s a question you never hear asked of anyone who claims Scotland isn’t paying its way.
If we are such an economic casket case, why are we having to beg for the normal state of independence enjoyed by just about every other democracy in the world, when logic dictates that you should have asked us to leave decades ago?
If we’re such a drain on resources, why do you threaten us, then plead with us, and then break purdah with vows of extra powers that you have neither the means nor the inclination of ever delivering, and then love-bomb us into staying?
It is surely the ultimate cognitive dissonance.
The truth is that the bill for the neoliberal, Empire 2.0, disaster capitalism, omnibouroch Brexit vanity project can’t be settled without Scotland’s revenues. The same can rightly be said about any madcap colonial adventure we didn’t have any say over in the last three hundred and twelve years. Therefore, Scotland cannot be allowed to leave. The Establishment got one hell of a fright in 2014, and their primary focus since then has been to use all available powers to prevent anything that threatens their project – like Scottish self-determination – from happening.
The truth is that Scotland’s per capita GDP is roughly half that of a similar sized country like Denmark, having once been twice as wealthy. As the blogger Craig Murray points out, this isn’t because Scots are more feckless and stupid, but because our people and resources have been drained away for three centuries and more. Countries significantly poorer than Scotland have developed and used their own currencies, yet you turn on the television and you’d think that we were unique amongst the world’s nations in being too dim to do so. It’s absurd, but presented with a straight face on a broadcaster that we pay for the privilege of being patronised and belittled by. It’s insane. Set against this, arguments about passports and currencies are deliberate distractions that we should pay no attention to. Because it will be Halloween – Brexit day – soon, and we are running out of time.
And it will get worse.
Sunday saw the publication of the leaked “Yellowhammer” documents, perhaps the closest thing we’ve had to an honest appraisal of what faces us this autumn in the increasingly likely event of a no-deal Brexit. Today’s Times, tellingly, seemed more concerned about who leaked the document than about its undoubted veracity.
And what grim reading it was. Insulin and flu vaccines going out out of date because of border delays. Food shortages. Price increases and a surge in food bank use. Rationing. The poor hit hardest. Civil unrest. Troops on the streets. An increase in terrorism. A hard border in Ireland. Industrial action. And, remember, this report comes from the UK Cabinet. If this is scaremongering, it’s their scaremongering. And they say this themselves: this isn’t a worse case scenario – it’s the most likely one. In other words, things will be at least as bad as this. But in truth they will probably be worse.
That’s the first take home message of Yellowhammer.
The second one is, if anything, more terrifying.
“We have lost the ability”, said a Whitehall source, “to communicate the truth to the public. Anyone is not believed. We need to give people facts but it is so politically febrile that no-one is doing that”.
We have lost the ability to tell the truth. And Scotland’s destiny is currently within the gift of a man who told us that the NHS would be £350m better off out of Europe and that a remain vote would mean you’d wake up one morning to find a Turkish family sleeping on your sofa. This is a world where a man sacked by a newspaper for making stuff up promises to restore trust in politics.
You’d think we’d all be outraged by this. But I read the report yesterday morning and then spent the next six hours on the golf course. And not a single person mentioned it. This is how it happens. It gets normalised. You throw a frog in a boiling pan and it jumps out. You put in a lukewarm pan and slowly turn up the heat? It feels normal. It goes to sleep. Before you know it, invading Poland feels rational.
And the third thing is this.
This isn’t some outsourced, third party report. The authors of it are the the very government who, make no mistake, are enacting this reckless, deliberate, scorched earth, food and medicine crisis. And all of this is, like austerity before it, a political choice in which Scotland wasn’t so much ignored as never even considered. We weren’t on the radar. For as long as we outsource our democracy to a place whose political instincts are alien to our own, we never will be.
At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll finish with a story.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress in which he made a compelling case for America’s entry into the Great War. This was significant in itself, but doubly so given that he’d been re-elected to the Oval Office by a wide margin only twenty months earlier on a specifically anti-war, isolationist ticket. There is much about Woodrow Wilson that is to be shunned – he was an ardent segregationist, for example – but it is admirable that he noted that that circumstances had changed and so must he. By the time he made his speech, the Lusitania had been sunk and Germany had made it clear that no merchant ship servicing the UK or continental Europe would be safe from U-boat attack. Wilson understood what we seem to have forgotten: that politics is a process, not an event, and that leaders have a moral duty to adapt their policies for the greater good when there’s a material change in circumstances, and to recognise that they have a responsibility to adapt accordingly.
Wilson knew that he was making the case for war to a country that had recently expressed its democratic wish to plough a lone furrow in isolation from the bitter conflicts of the Old World their recent ancestors had left behind. He also knew that by calling for America’s intervention he was effectively signing the death warrant of thousands of his fellow citizens. And he knew that he had to put the interests of the country first and ignore the possible damage to his own political reputation. But he also knew that he was right – and both houses agreed with him. In the end, the vote wasn’t even close.
I fundamentally believe that Scotland is a sovereign country whose best interests are being undermined by a country that doesn’t have our interests at heart and in some cases is actually working against us. Whilst it would be probably be better to be living next to a happy and economically prosperous neighbour, it’s hardly our responsibility to make them so. Let Scotland be Scotland. Scotland doesn’t need to sacrifice itself to help England save itself from itself.
The first priority of any leader of any country is the continuing wellbeing of that country. Therefore our government’s sole focus cannot and must not be a Brexit that we have no mandate to stop but an independence that we have three mandates and, in the aftermath of Yellowhammer, a moral duty to deliver.
There comes a moment in any debate when it stops being an abstract discussion and becomes a moral imperative.
This week was a tipping point. Scotland has always had a guid conceit of itself. Boris or independence?
Yellowhammer reminds us that have a chance to become better versions of ourselves.
Let’s take it.