There’s fifty-one minutes on the clock. Scotland are a goal down but still very much in the game, and the ball breaks to Jack Hendry thirty yards from the Czech goal. Presented with the choice of passing to a teammate in space or shooting, he chooses the latter. The ball is blocked and falls to the last person you’d want it to receive it, Patrik Schick. Still, he’s at least fifty yards from goal, so no problem. Only there is. Noticing that the Scotland goalkeeper is miles off his line, he hits a sublime, curling lob that dips just under the bar and leaves a despairing David Marshall tangled up in the back of the net. Game over.
Two things occur. Firstly, if avoiding embarrassment, deflation and spirit crushing disappointment in front of the watching world is your thing, then maybe there’s an upside to not qualifying for anything for the best part of a quarter of a century. And, secondly, with a fancied England to come this evening, we face the prospect of being evicted from the Euros against our will, which in a darkly comic kind of way rather sums up the experience of being Scottish in the age of Brexit.
Brexit was sold on a long list of false prospectuses. Take back control. Protect borders. Assert our sovereignty. Food and welfare standards would not be undercut by signing trade deals with countries producing food in ways that would be illegal here. We’d be global Britain.
Yet the gulf between the claims – made by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, George Eustice, Liz Truss and many others – and the reality, is enormous. In truth, as we now know, living in Brexit Britain means not being able to export sausages to Ireland.
Equally cavernous is the gulf between the respective gains for the UK and Australia accrued from the hastily signed trade deal that this week threw long held food and welfare standards under a muckle big Brexit bus.
The deal allows Australia virtually tariff free access to a market of sixty-eight million people. Twenty-five thousand, rising to seventy-five thousand tonnes, of lamb will flood the market. Up to one hundred and ten thousand tonnes of beef will follow it. It will have been produced cheaply because it won’t have needed to conform to the strict standards we choose to follow. Pork produced in sow stalls and fed asthma drugs will be allowed. So will beef treated with hormones.
From our perspective, the financial gains from the deal will represent a whopping 0.02% of the UK’s GDP, and will mitigate precisely 0.005% of the cost of Brexit. In Scotland, we’ve been denied against our democratically expressed wishes access to trade deals on our doorstep worth £670bn and instead presented with a fait accompli with a country ten thousand miles away and the very real prospect, in the middle of an existential climate crisis, of chlorinated chickens flying halfway around the Earth.
And what it also means, as Joe Biden’s recent visit to the G7 reminds us, is that the incredibly favourable terms handed to Australia set the bar, and any country with whom we strike a future deal will rightly expect terms at least as favourable. Although, ironically, Boris Johnson’s peace-threatening incompetence and intransigence over Northern Ireland undermines the possibility of the trade deal with America that Brexiteers have bet the house on.
The truth is that none of this should surprise us.
Deregulation of food and welfare standards has always been central to the Brexit project, and as far back as 2018 leaked documents from transatlantic right wing think thanks revealed plans to ditch EU food and welfare regulations to allow the UK to facilitate a trade deal with the USA. It’s in that context that we should view this week’s capitulation, which will surely be the first of many.
This matters. Food standards aren’t issues of obscure policy and technical minutiae. They form the very basis of our dietary sovereignty, and being able to decide what you eat and feed to your children is at the very core of our health and societal wellbeing. A country that cannot control these things is barely a country at all, and after more than a month of deafening silence after winning a pro-independence majority on the basis of holding a second plebiscite to begin to restore Scotland to its rightful place as a normal democracy, this week shows us that, for the good of our health, we must extricate ourselves from this madness by any means available and rejoin neighbours with whom we share values, on food standards and on so much more.
Nothing would make me happier.
Mind you, a last minute penalty winner at Wembley tonight would come close.
Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.