“I have often said to myself what are the boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain Union that counterbalance the annihilation of her Independence, and even her very name!” (Robert Burns, 1795)
There’s an episode of the great Channel Four comedy Father Ted in which Fathers Ted and Dougal manage to get the local milkman, a philandering rascal called Pat Mustard, fired from his job after they present compelling evidence that he is providing a lot more than just dairy products to the local housewives, which at least solves the mystery of the countless Pat Mustard lookalike babies in the parish. This presents a problem, however, because Craggy Island now has a huge surplus of milk having taken a shipment from a recently liberated Eastern European country – as you do – and now there’s no-one to deliver it.
The hapless Father Dougal therefore takes a sabbatical from his pastoral duties and becomes Craggy Island’s new milkman. But, unbeknown to him, An aggrieved Pat Mustard has left a farewell gift under the milk float – a bomb, that will explode if Dougal drops below four miles per hour. And he’s currently doing five.
A crisis meeting is held by the priests. After much discussion, a way to resolve the situation is agreed.
They decide to hold another Mass.
I often feel that this – praying that the worst doesn’t happen rather than taking evasive action – it what Scotland has been doing since the Brexit vote of 2016, and probably for three hundred years before that.
Last month, Westminster MPs – including my own, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, and every other Conservative MP in the country, voted down an amendment that would have ensured that food and welfare standards in any future trade deal with America and elsewhere would be remain at least as high as the have been during our long membership of the European Union. This despite countless assurances by everyone from Michael Gove to Theresa Villiers that standards would not be lowered under any circumstances.
If we’d been paying attention – and frankly not enough of us were – we wouldn’t have been remotely surprised, as the American position has always been clear: lower the standards or we aren’t coming to the table. So Westminster sold us out. They were always going to.
A wee reminder, then, of what this means.
Because poultry welfare standards are significantly worse in America than in the EU (bird cages are 28% smaller, for example) chicken carcasses are washed with chlorine dioxide. Growth hormones in beef have been banned in the UK since 1981, but will now be allowed. Ractopamine is an asthma drug used in US pig production, but it’s so dangerous to human health it’s banned virtually everywhere else.
Minimum somatic cell count levels in milk – the indicator of the underlying health of dairy cows – will be doubled. Scotland’s moratorium on GM crops will be worthless in the face of American imports. There’s been great progress in reducing antibiotic use and the UK is currently the fifth lowest user in the EU, but there are no such restrictions in American production system. And, in terms of welfare, we currently have strict rules over transport (a maximum journey time of twelve hours and mandatory low stocking levels). In America it’s twenty eight hours and stocking density regulations don’t even exist.
This is why at least sixty million Americans per year suffer from food poisoning, which if replicated on these shores would put even greater strain on a health service that is, of course, also up for sale to Donald Trump’s disaster capitalists.
Every single Conservative MP in Scotland – all of whom represent the strongly rural constituencies which would be impacted disproportionately by a lowering of standards – voted to allow Ractopamine into your pork. Scottish Conservatism can seriously damage your health. Put that on your food labels, Mr Jack.
But, hey, there’s been a petition jointly launched by the Farmers Unions. So it’s all good. Only it isn’t. As a response to an imminent human health and economic catastrophe it’s about as useful as saying Mass to prevent a bomb going off under a speeding milk float.
Two years ago, during the week of the 2018 Highland Show, Westminster passed the EU Withdrawal Bill. It effectively meant that from that point forward London could effectively legislate for Scotland without her consent, including in previously devolved policy areas – like food and welfare standards, for example. And yet Scotland’s largest food and drink showcase was that year emblazoned with Union Flags and messages about how great it was going to be post-Brexit. And, I’m sorry, but the industry leaders went along with it. As an industry we rightly condemn the “Supine Six” MPs who voted for hormones in your Sunday roast. But who voted them in? Perhaps we need to check our own snares before signing a petition that is over two years late in the commissioning. That banging noise you hear? That would be the stable door flapping in the wind after the horse bolts towards the great beyond.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an age in which the objectives of Westminster Government and the people diverged so much – and it isn’t just Scottish voters, either.
For example, a recent poll amongst the so-called “Red Wall” voters – the forty-four seats won by the Conservatives from Labour in the December 2019 election – showed that only twenty percent of people wanted America to be the UK’s main trading partner post-Brexit. Virtually all of them considered it important – very important – to secure a trade deal with the EU.
Closer to home, sixty-four percent of Scots want a Brexit extension. And yet last week, at precisely the moment the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales had written to the Prime Minister outlining what a terrible idea a no-deal Brexit would be (it would immediately shrink the Scottish economy by £1.8bn), Michael Gove announced that he was ruling out any extension. Make no mistake, a hard-Brexit by Hogmanay is now inevitable, and the only reason so much political capital has been invested in saving the skin of Dominic Cummings is to ensure that it happens, come what may. In short, an outcome – cliff edge catastrophe – rejected by a large majority of Scots is now being driven forward by a government rejected by an even larger majority of Scots. If you’re looking at this and seeing fair democratic process then I’d suggest that your eyesight is even worse than that of Dominic Cummings during a road trip to Bernard Castle.
For as long as Scotland is shackled to this madness, any sort of half-decent outcome isn’t remotely conceivable. If a Rottweiler has your ball, negotiations are futile. Calls for a Brexit extension are ignored. Petitions calling for protections for food standards – when they’ve already voted to remove them – are about as much use as saying Mass for Father Dougal. If we continue to allow ourselves ourselves to go along with this in the vain hope that Boris Johnson might benevolently grant us a second vote on self-determination, then we are complicit in our own demise and belittlement.
In the comedy, the priests realise at the eleventh hour that, despite their celestial status, praying isn’t going to cut it. They put Father Jack’s beloved brick on the accelerator, grab the hapless Dougal and run like hell. Self-preservation wins the day.
It’s time we stopped asking nicely.
It’s time we stopped saying Mass.
It’s time we ran like hell.
Stay safe everybody. I’ll meet you further on up the road.