Late last month, I unexpectedly received an email from a farming group in Egypt asking me to quote for their business.
I wish they’d called me last year.
As a business based in a post-Brexit UK, and specifically in a Scotland that voted to remain, and therefore with no access whatsoever to EU / Africa trade deals and no bespoke one likely to replace it anytime soon, it’s unlikely I’ll be googling flights to Cairo this summer.
Just to check, however, I contacted my MSP, who then contacted the Minister for Business, who then sent me a supportive and detailed letter full of useful information, suggestions and advice about entry requirements, import rules, food standards and so on.
The long and the short of it is that it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to export things when you’ve been extricated from a rules based system against your will for no good reason, so Egypt will have to manage without me for now.
But there are, I think a few take homes from the story.
Firstly, Brexit is at a very basic level an extreme example of what happens when a country’s democracy is outsourced to a parliament whose political ethos is diametrically opposed to our own, and is governed by the most right-wing version of a party that we last voted for in 1955.
Secondly, sometimes the miracle is in the mundane. The genius of the single market was that nobody noticed it was there. As the song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and it’s only when you start to see alarming gaps in the supermarket shelves or fruit rotting in Angus fields because of lack of labour that you recognise the immeasurable value of working to a set of agreed standards and values.
I think the episode shows that democracy is like that too. That we were unable to get the outcome we wanted on this occasion isn’t the point. The point is that, as a voter and taxpayer working in an area of devolved competence – agriculture – I was, with a notable lack of fuss, able to to access the advice of a cabinet minister – who contacted me, incidentally, well within the twenty-one day period he promised.
So, the aborted Lochans / Cairo deal notwithstanding, Holyrood and I are on good terms right now. I like my parliament. I’d like it to stay.
Which brings me to this. It’s not a certain thing that it will.
If the aftermath of 2014 has taught us anything, it’s that there is no status quo anymore, if indeed there ever was one. Seven years on, we can see the first independence referendum not as a choice between change and no change, but as a choice of what sort of change we wanted and, crucially, who gets to deliver it. Brexit is in part a consequence of us making the wrong choice, and has led to a power grab, attempts by Westminster to legislate in devolved areas through things like the Internal Market Bill and the Shared Prosperity Fund, the UK Government taking Holyrood to court and a Conservative Government led by the deeply reactionary Boris Johnson, a man who described devolution as a disaster. All of which means Scotland’s parliament is facing by far its biggest threat since it reconvened in 1999.
And I therefore conclude that the only way to ensure a thriving Scottish democracy is to ensure that our government delivers on its manifesto promise to allow us to choose the fullest version of that democracy during this parliamentary term.
And yet there are reasons to believe that this won’t happen. When Scotland’s parliament reconvened, there was never a sense of “this far, and no further”. Indeed, it was very much viewed not as a final destination but as just another stage of the journey. It was also accepted, if never mentioned, that Scotland could call a referendum if it so wished as it wasn’t a reserved competency. Yet now we are trying to gain permission from the anti-devolutionist Johnson. Good luck with that.
And the second reason is the use of the phrase “after the pandemic”. What does that mean? And why not during? After all, the world has held scores of elections during the crisis. America even elected a new president. There is so much wriggle room in the words “after Covid” that they scarcely have any meaning at all. The brave thing to do – the right thing to do – would be to argue that it isn’t an either / or. That it’s precisely because of the dark legacy of Covid that we need the powers that independence affords to allow us to build again. That is it isn’t independence or recovery, it’s independence for recovery.
But time is short.
On May 6th this year, this country returned its largest party to government after campaigning successfully on a manifesto that included a commitment to hold a second plebiscite on Scotland’s constitutional future.
While welcoming the March draft Referendum Bill, we must write to every SNP representative we know demanding that their September conference should debate not whether Scotland should hold a second referendum – that has already been decided by the people of Scotland – but when in 2022 it should be held.
With a strong possibility of a General Election being held in 2023, one which could well return another Conservative Government that wishes to further roll back devolution and continue its assault on Scotland’s democracy, a second vote on Scotland’s future must take place before it. Indeed, failure to hold one will leave no time in this current parliamentary session to participate in the referendum that we were democratically elected to deliver, and will further erode the already alarmingly dropping support for the restoring of the normality that is Scotland’s independence.
But we need to be quick. If we don’t demand this, in writing, by this Friday (23rd July) then the chances of it making it onto the Autumn agenda are slim, and there will be no time available to hold the promised plebiscite during this parliamentary session. The nature of that referendum and the question it should pose is something for a future article, but for now we need to demand what was promised. Otherwise, what have we been doing these last few years. There’s only so often you can march people up the hill.
In short – If not now, when?
You know what to do.
Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.