By Alec Ross
Nothing happens for three years. It’s only when you go on holiday for a few days that they tentatively agree a Brexit deal. I’m heading home on Saturday, ten minutes from Cairnryan. It’s just possible that it will soon be in effect the border between Brexit Britain and the European Union. These are different days.
That’s the thing about “taking back control” – the border has to go somewhere.
After all the sound and fury, the deal (if approved) means:
England voted leave. They leave. Wales voted leave. They leave. NI voted remain. They (effectively) remain. Scotland voted remain. We leave.
So every country gets what it wants.
Except for viewers in Scotland. This is called being an equal partner in a previous family of nations. You’ll have had your Union dividend.
I’m glad if NI remains, by the way. It would have been a tragedy if a hard-won peace had been threatened by something as base as the greed of disaster capitalists. But it’s fundamentally unfair that Scotland, having voted to remain (by a sizeable margin) ends up at an immediate and obvious economic disadvantage to our neighbours. Particularly when one of the central pillars of the 2014 referendum was “vote no or you’ll be booted out of the EU”.
And it’s ironic that what NI has potentially ended up with – out of the EU but with no divergence in trading arrangements with it – is close to what Scotland presented as a compromise solution as far back as 2016, a solution that, if adapted (and it wasn’t even read) would arguably have respected the 2016 result whilst minimising economic harm for the whole of the UK.
And, as an aside, there may be some who are concerned at the lack of condemnation from Brussels at the democratic outrages being committed by the Spanish government forces in Catalunya as we speak. You’d hope that any people’s march this weekend also reflects support for the Catalan people who have been badly let down by an institution that has the right to self-determination at its core. Our support for anything should never be unthinking and unconditional.
It’s interesting also that, earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack announced that he’d be outlining a new paper on devolution later in the year. This is of course what they always do when they know they’re losing. Offer us federalism, more powers, greater devolution. You half expected him to wheel out Gordon Brown.
But here’s a wee thought experiment.
Imagine the UK was already a federal union. That would mean that for something to pass, all countries would have to agree – the so-called “quadruple lock” that Nicola Sturgeon talked about at the start of the Brexit process. That means that Brexit would never have got off the ground.
If Brexit had happened, but we stayed because each nation had a veto, can you imagine Westminster saying: “ach well, we tried to leave, but you know what? That’s the price we gladly pay for enjoying the many advantages of the this special union”?
No. Me neither.
So federalism is a non-starter. It’s Brexit Britain – or independence.
But the deal has to get through and Boris Johnson doesn’t have the numbers.
Here’s a thought – a risky one, maybe.
Labour might support the deal with the proviso that there’s a confirmatory referendum. The SNP add their support on the proviso that should Scotland vote for a second time (actually, a third time of you include the 2014 referendum) to remain in the EU, then it remains in the EU.
And there’s a second proviso: powers over independence referendums are permanently transferred to Holyrood.
And, thirdly, that the powers of the Scottish Parliament are made permanent. Power devolved is no longer power retained. That means that Scotland shall never have fewer powers than it currently enjoys.
All of which means that England and Wales get their Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement and Scotland Acts are respected, and Scotland get a second and final referendum in which it controls the process throughout – or simply uses the inevitable second tsunami of pro-independence seats in the next general election as a mandate to begin the dissolution of the Act of Union and a Declaration of Independence that negates the need for a referendum at all.
After a momentous week, it may be that we’re at the start of a process that ends with everybody getting – mostly – what they want.
In the meantime? Hold onto your hats. This is going to get bumpy.