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PROJECT FEAR 2 – THE COMEBACK….

And so it begins.

‘Greece without the sun’, ‘turbo charged austerity’, ‘deficit of £15 billion pounds’. These are the opening salvos in the pre-indyref campaign and as I predicted the next union campaign was never going to be pretty. I have almost been impressed with the enthusiasm that out unionist friends have rattled out the number of ways in which we would be almost immediately impoverished if we had the temerity to run our own affairs.

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Their one mission in the forthcoming independence referendum is to persuade the Scottish people that we can not possibly afford to be independent, squash confidence and scare people into believing we uniquely would be doomed to economic failure. With the imminent arrival of the actual reality of a hard Brexit and the experience of the first project fear still ringing in our broken promises, all I can say to my unionists friends is – good luck with that one.

To try and get the Scots to accept this ‘case for impoverishment’ it would require the Scots to suspend belief about the actual state of our nation and discount the very experience of living in this country. Our historic culture of creativity and entrepreneurship would have to be rewritten. Scots would have to discount the example of every other similar sized successful nation and they would have to set aside practically every other country that has secured its independence. The Scots would then have to be convinced that despite our enormous advantages and immense resources we would fail to make a success of running our own affairs. That everything from our whisky exports to our renewable potential to our world class universities are merely mirages and valueless.

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We can’t forecast how a future independent Scotland will fare for the very obvious reason that we are not independent. What we can, inconclusively, assess is how Scotland as a nation has fared as part of the United Kingdom. If we are indebted to the degree that our unionist friends suggest then that tells us much more about the failure of UK stewardship of Scotland than our prospects as an independent nation. If we indeed have the ‘largest deficit in Europe’ then that was created as being a dependent part of the United Kingdom. Surely the natural response to such a calamitous situation would be to look at the conditions and political environment that created this situation and resolve to address them as expeditiously as possible? If not, it’s a bit like the victim returning to the scene of the crime and asking the assailant to assault him all over again whilst expressing gratitude for the service.

What we do know is that if we remain within the UK is that Scotland will be Brexitised with all the associated costs to our economy and our place in the world. I’ve lost track of the projected cost of Brexit to the UK and the level of debt that the UK currently endures – though I still sincerely believe that the UK will just about muddle through as an independent country. Nearly all nations have debts and deficits (except similarly sized Norway and now Denmark, of course) but only Scotland’s, secured as part of the UK, seems for some reason seems to be immediate and unassailable. Within or out with the UK we will have a deficit but only one of these scenarios gives us the tools to deal with it.

What the Scottish people will have to consider is if they believe that their prospects are best served within the confines of an isolated Brexitised UK run for a generation by right wing Tories or whether they believe that Scotland would be better served by securing all the powers of independence and our own relationship with Europe? There is no safe continuity option anymore and there will be risks and opportunities attached to continuing with UK dependency or opting for self government. At some point the unionists will have to stop running down our ability as an independent nation and start to sell the virtues of a Tory run Brexitised Britain.

Trying to suggest that we would uniquely fail or that immediate impoverishment will descend upon the people of Scotland feels almost like a parody of project fear and will spectacularly backfire. It’s almost as if our unionist friends have learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of the last independence referendum.

THE NEXT UNION CAMPAIGN WILL BE FULL FRONTAL BELLIGERENT AND AGGRESSIVE

The next union campaign is not going to be pretty.

This is a battle that the Tories really do not want to fight and the tone of their campaign will be tetchy, belligerent and aggressive. There certainly will be no ‘love bombing’ and inclusive ‘vows’ next time round. There will only be threats and the starkest of warnings. Their membership and MPs grow tired of ‘pandering’ to Scotland and the next campaign will therefore be a ‘no more Mr nice guy’ full frontal type affair.

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Look at their tone since the Brexit vote. Scotland simply has to fall in line with what they determine for us because that is the ‘UK position’ and that should therefore be good enough for us. For the Tories Scotland’s interests increasingly mirror the UK’s and no differentiated arrangement will be tolerated.

This no accommodation or pandering will similarly inform the next independence referendum. The Tories approach to Scotland has increasingly been more of overlord than partner and that is how they will fight the next referendum campaign. Unencumbered from Labour influence the next union campaign will feel very much like a brutal Tory election campaign. ‘Family of nations’ will be more like behave like the grateful smaller sibling, or else….

And boy, will that junior sibling be in for it if it dares think about leaving the roost! The Tories without subtlety, and in the most dramatic terms, will warn of impeding impoverishment if we become independent. The days of old fashioned 2014 scaremongering will seem like distant halcyon days of considered debate. Dispensing with reason it will just be one impending catastrophe after another.

The Tories are sincerely weary of fighting this all over again and there will be a bit of ‘scorched earth’ put in place in what will be seen as the final settling of this debate. So threats will be raised about our devolved Parliament being curtailed. For so many Tories Holyrood is the beachhead for further constitutional wrangling and is therefore ripe for diminishing. Notice the emphasis on UK institutions and a reluctance to be clear about devolving powers not listed in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act

The invention of a ‘UK single market’ is also a stark warning that somehow, whatever it is they’re taking about, it will be closed to us if we become independent. Forget about the fact that the rest of the UK, Brexitised and isolated, will be desperate for a deal with anybody who will accommodate them. Expect to hear about this ‘UK single market’ to almost ad nauseam.

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Because it will be Tory led the next campaign will also be much more ‘British’ nationalist than last time. There won’t be the ambivalence and discomfort that the last Labour led campaign had about British symbols. The Tories are true believers in the myths of the UK state and those ‘virtues’ will be punted for all their worth. Brexit has necessitated a review and promotion of British values and and this will be similarly deployed in a referendum campaign.

But more than anything the union case will be economic. We are about to learn all over again just how worthless they think we are and how singularly and uniquely incapable we apparently are of running our own affairs.

Just now they are caught in the bind about whether they will grant a further referendum. All their instincts are screaming ‘give them nothing’ but they are petrified of ruling one out because of the impact that will have on independence support.

So in the background the plans are being laid to fight a further referendum because they know that they must. Approaches are being tested and outriders are being dispatched to test the mood and see how much they can get away with.

If you thought that the union case in 2014 was a brutal scaremongering fest. Just wait till you see the next one….

THE CASE FOR THE UNION IS NOW A TORY OWNED FRANCHISE

If there is one critical difference from the independence referendum of 2014 and the impending second contest, it is in the composition of the forces of Scottish unionism. The Scottish Conservatives are not just the principle political opposition in Scotland, they are now also the de-facto leaders of the case for the union. This elevation changes everything about the next contest and the rules of engagement.

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The calamitous near extinction of Labour has, of course, been the main catalyst for this realignment. Scottish Labour continues to reap the bitter harvest of their disastrous dalliance with the Tories in the last referendum and it is hard to see how their situation can be improved as long as they remain defiantly opposed to their former voters on the constitution. Where most of their vote has been lost to the SNP, they are now haemorrhaging votes to the Conservatives. In the Scottish Conservatives, Labour unionists have found a more natural and accommodating home for their support for the UK. When you look at the fall out of the last referendum you can only conclude that Scottish Labour are the biggest, most useful, idiots in Scottish politics and they have been played as prize fools by the Tories.

What happens now though? And is the growing support for the Tories any more than an anti-referendum unionist alliance? Scotland has not, and is unlikely to, become in thrall to a Tory agenda of austerity, tax cuts for the rich and the privatisation of public services. Added to that, the Scots Tories will be called on to do the heavy lifting in the selling of the hardest of hard Brexits to a reluctant Scottish public. The affection of former Labour voters might be sorely tested when they observe Tories behaving like, well Tories. This is why the rhetoric against a second referendum must be maintained at fever pitch.

The Conservatives now almost exclusively own the ‘No’ franchise and in making it their own, they have consolidated the ‘No’ support, but at the same time shrunk its ideological base. The cause of vociferously opposing a second referendum is, therefore, the Tories’ greatest salvation and also their eventual downfall. It is also immensely helpful to us. Their leadership of the union cause allows us to frame the constitutional contest as one that pits the Westminster Conservatives against social democratic Scotland. The more the Tories rage against a ‘second referendum’, the more they make that contest more likely. The more a union cause is seen as an exclusively Conservative cause, the harder it will be to sell that cause in Scotland.

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To be a ‘No’ voter next time round you will, therefore, have to be at least willing to accommodate Conservatism as an almost permanent feature of government in the UK. To be a ‘No’ voter next time also means that you have to at least be prepared to accept a Brexitised Tory UK, economically isolated with social policy crafted by the ideological victors of the Brexit solution. A hard right Conservative-run Brexit Britain is the reality that will await another successful union vote. It is perhaps right then that the union cause will be delivered, prepared and mainly argued by the Scottish Tories.

No wonder what’s left of the Labour Party are running a million miles from being included in another cross-party campaign.

THE DAY OUR INDEPENDENCE WAS WON

It’s 4am on the morning of the Seventh of September 2018 and the final declaration of the second Scottish referendum has just come in. Highland has voted for the proposition that ‘Scotland should become an independent country’ and Scotland will now leave the union. The overall result is a convincing victory for the independence side of 58% to 42%.

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The disconsolate looks on the ‘Scotland in Union’ side dramatically contrasts with the ‘Better Together’ campaign in 2014. The Yes2 campaign are just simply overjoyed. Leader of the union side, Ruth Davidson, has long conceded whilst campaign director, Alan Roden, is dispatched to the media to deliver a message of acceptance and conciliation.

The closing weeks of the campaign had indicated an even bigger victory for independence but the large leads that Yes2 had commanded was tempered by ‘the offer’ in the last few days of the campaign. Headlined in the Daily Record as ‘the offer we can’t refuse’ the ‘offer’ was a carbon copy of everything that the SNP Government had asked for in its differential EU arrangement that was so roundly rejected in the early months of 2017. If we voted to stay in the UK we apparently would now secure single market membership, powers over immigration and even a new undefined ‘devo-max’ arrangement. It was the classic too little, too late, too been there before.

When the SNP Government first said it would hold another independence referendum following the rejection of what is now just simply referred to as ‘the Scottish EU solution’ there was huge resistance to any further plebiscite in London. Defiantly refusing to allow a further Section 30 Order Scotland responded with outrage. Opinion polls immediately pointed to a double digit indy lead with the Scottish Government saying it would hold a referendum anyway. As tensions increased a compromise was agreed whereby the UK Government would grant a Section 30 Order if it was allowed to determine the question and set the date. The Scottish Government reluctantly agreed and the date of 6th September 2018 was fixed. The UK Government optimistically believed that, by then, a convincing Brexit deal would be concluded and it would be something that the Scots would be able to support. This time there would be a dual option referendum to stop a Yes campaign – Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom? Or Should Scotland become an independent country? Campaigning started immediately.

The independence side simply and defiantly called itself Yes2. With so much of the previous indyref infrastructure still in place the joint leaders of Yes2, Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie, let campaign co-ordinator Kevin Pringle get on with a campaign that was long planned. Chair of Yes2, Henry McLeish, put together a formidable board of civic Scotland and the most far reaching engagement with Scotland’s public started apace.

Scotland in Union’s birth wasn’t quite as straight forward. When it was announced that Ruth Davidson would lead the campaign Labour initially refused to join. It took a fractious special conference of Scottish Labour before they eventually decided to participate in a cross party campaign. Many Labour activists refused to take part and key Labour figures said that this time they would be voting for independence. With their own electoral and leadership woes in the rest of the UK, Labour simply didn’t feature as a force in the second referendum. The battle this time was characterised by Yes2 as a battle between social democratic Scotland and the Westminster Tories.

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There were other problems for Scotland in Union. The UK Government were consumed with Brexit and it was not going well. The hard Brexit was becoming ‘bargain basement Brexit’ as negotiations with EU leaders broke down. As the relationship with the EU soured EU leaders were increasingly making it clear that a pro EU Scotland would be more than welcome in its club.

What existed of a union campaign centred round the well rehearsed economic and currency themes of the previous independence referendum. They were easily dealt with by Yes2 who had spent months considering its new approach to these issues. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish press the scaremongering this time also seemed ridiculous, having been tempered by experience. The suggestion that an rUK wouldn’t trade with an independent Scotland was simply laughed off as the UK was finding it hard to secure a deal with any significant country.

The union side were also hampered by the fact that they couldn’t present themselves as a status quo option this time. Yes2 carefully framed the contest as a choice of two very different futures which both presented opportunities and risks. Would Scotland be better off in a Brexitised Britain or would we be better off taking decisions ourselves with the full powers of independence? Scotland was already beginning to witness the crafting of the new soon to be out of the EU Britain with the success of UKIP in the many by-elections following all the Blairite Labour resignations. The ugly side of this new isolation in the treatment of child refugees and privatisations in the English NHS was becoming only too apparent.

What no-one could properly understand is why the Tory Government faced with the complexities and dangers associated with Brexit just couldn’t respond positively to the Scottish Government’s compromise plans to keep Scotland in both the UK and the EU in the first place? There had been an arrogant view that a) Scotland wasn’t serious about holding a further referendum and b) if we did it would be easily seen off. Those early days of early 2017 now seem a long way off.

As all the deflated unionist activists head home disconsolate they were only thinking one thing – ‘if only we had responded differently when we had the chance……’

‘The cold beating Heart of this Bad British Brexit’

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)

“I will start by putting my cards on the table. I loathe and detest this Tory Brexit. I despair of what this Tory Brexit would do to my beautiful country.

This is, as we know, to be the hardest of hard Brexits, with cuts yet unimaginable and consequences yet unconceived—and for what?

If we were doing this for some lofty ideal or grand purpose, like maybe addressing global poverty or some of the huge issues of injustice around the world, that might make it just about palatable, but no—we are doing it because the UK does not like immigration.

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That is the cold, beating heart of this bad British Brexit, and it underpins absolutely everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over everything else, and all other considerations are merely consequential.

The fact is that we live in an interconnected, globalised world where the movements of people have never been so profound, sometimes fleeing from persecution, or perhaps exchanging skills and ideas. Yet we are asked to believe the myth that a Brexitised UK will beat back this historic tide like some sort of Farageous Canute.

I actually laughed out loud when I heard all the guff about a global UK. A global UK is the last thing the Tories want to create—they are trying to create a drawbridge UK.

Look at the response from the rest of the world: when they are not laughing at us, they are simply taking pity on us. As the Foreign Secretary goes out of his way to insult the very people we have to negotiate with, they are thinking of nothing other than the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving.

The negotiating position seems to be to threaten our EU partners by saying that we will indulge in even further economic self-harm if they dare look after their own interests. Apparently we are even considering turning the UK into some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking its own interests. That’ll show them, won’t it?

It is not just the fact of leaving the EU that concerns me, ghastly enough though that is: it is the new ideology—the new world view—that has hastily been designed to accommodate this new splendid isolation. I see a Brexitised Britain as a world of weird, ’50s nostalgia and antipathy to foreigners—a reality that will feel very much like the pages of a Daily Mail editorial. People of Britain: work as if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK, because that is what is coming.

Scotland, of course, did not want any part of this, yet we have to be driven off the cliff edge with the rest of the United Kingdom. What we have now, though, is options. We have presented a plan to stop Scotland indulging in the worst of this madness. If that is not listened to, we have every right to reconsider our membership of this United Kingdom”.

WHY THE NEXT INDYREF WILL BE DIFFERENT

The next indyref will be absolutely fascinating and totally unlike the contest last time. Last time the unionists managed to ensure that the debate remained a choice between a ‘safe’ ‘continuity’ UK  which they successfully were able to contrast against the ‘uncertainties’ of a future independent Scotland. What was scrupulously avoided was any examination of the risks associated with remaining in the UK. The risks, as we now know, are manifest and an impending reality. Out of the EU, endless Tory rule, billions taken out of our economy, the probable need for visas to travel, a collapsing pound and the flight of business. The staying in the union was then not the risk free option that was so craftily presented.

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This is a trick that won’t be afforded to the union side next time round. Brexit has completely turned that on its head. There will be no seamless continuity choice and both sides in the next referendum debate will have to present/defend an opportunity/risk option. Scotland will have to choose on the basis of whether we believe that we will be better off in the new Brexitised UK or an independent Scotland with the risks/opportunities of determining our own future.

Already the Brexit option is becoming more apparent. We now know we will be out of the single market and customs union and that we will end freedom of movement. There are now hints that if/when we don’t get the deal that we want with the rest of the EU we may become some sort of offshore deregulated tax haven. This is going to be difficult to sell in Scotland particularly when it will have to fall upon the Scottish Conservatives to put this case. There is no doubt that the Scottish Conservatives will lead the unionist side in the next referendum. After being enthusiastic Europeans the Scots Tories will now have to sell the virtues of this new isolated Britain. The Scots Tories running the union campaign will also inevitably mean they will bring their own particular political values to the campaign, particularly when there is absolutely no prospect of a Labour Government in the UK. It will increasingly be a Tory union verses a future social democratic Scotland with a Scottish Labour party on the wrong side of this political divide, rendering themselves almost irrelevant.

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There is already alarm at how the next indyref will be fought from unionists conscious of the coming contest. The attempt to suggest that we will be cut off from the UK ‘single market’ and we will be ‘doubly’ worse off in leaving the UK is their favourite early desperate salvos in a attempt to fruitlessly rerun the economic arguments of the last indyref. They know, though, that ‘economic uncertainty’ will work both ways this time round as we see the ‘real’ evidence of an economy tanking with the prospects of its looming economic isolation.

There is also the key question of what type of country we will want to be? An independent Scotland will now be very different beast from a Brexitised UK. The Faragists and rightist Tories having won the terms of our departure from the EU are now carefully assembling the social agenda of this new UK. It will be one of antipathy to ‘foreigners’, weird nostalgia with a healthy dose of economic chauvinism. Shunned by the EU these Brexiteers are likely to seek solace in a Trumpian embrace. A Brexitised UK pulling away politically, economically and culturally can only seek some sort of new accommodation with this strange new president.

The choice this time will then be huge with massively contrasting options available. The Scottish people will be invited to scrutinise precisely the details of remaining in the UK just as they will consider what would be involved in securing full self Government. We will also have to properly consider what sort of Scotland we want to be. It is going to be so different from last time, as will the outcome.

A LOATHSOME BREXIT

We’re now only a few weeks away from starting the process of leaving the European Union and I am still no closer to being reconciled to this dreadful decision. We now know that it is to be the hardest of hard Brexits with economic costs that are as yet unimaginable.

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But it is more than that. I actually loathe the idea that I might be out of the European Union. That the right I had to live, work and love in a shared community of 28 nations will be lost to my son, his generation and those that will follow.

And it’s all so ridiculous and ludicrous. Never before has a nation indulged in such a pointless exercise of economic and cultural self flagellation. Never before has there been such a clamour to participate in such national self harm, and for what?

If we were perhaps doing this for some lofty ideal, maybe to tackle global injustice or assist in alleviating the condition of the world’s poorest, then perhaps it would all be a bit more palatable.

But no, we’re doing this because the UK doesn’t like immigrants.

Stopping immigration informs everything concerning our departure from the EU. It takes precedence over anything else and all other considerations are merely consequential. The costs associated with this obsession is simply to be borne in this grand mission and dismissed and discounted. No price is too high to ‘take back control’.

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The thing is we live in a global, interconnected world where the movement of peoples has never been so profound. From the exchange of ideas and skills to people fleeing wars more people are on the move than ever before in history. Somehow we are asked to believe the myth that Brexitised Canute UK will beat back this historic tide.

It is now clear that it’s the Faragists and the hard right Tories who have won the terms of Brexit. People who have hitherto inhabited the fringes of our politics are now mainstream and their world view is now convention.

I actually laughed out loud when I listened to this guff about a ‘global’ UK. ‘Global’ is the last thing that the new UK wants to be or will become. ‘Drawbridge’ UK would be a much better description.

And look at the response from the rest of the world. When they’re not laughing at us they are simply taking pity on us. As this joke of a Foreign Secretary goes out his way to insult the very people we have to ‘negotiate’ with they are thinking of nothing but the hardest of conditions to deter anybody else from considering leaving.

A negotiating position, you ask? Well the negotiating position seems to be threatening our EU partners that we will indulge in even further self harm if they don’t do as we want. Apparently, we are actually considering turning the UK into some sort of off shore de-regulated tax haven if the EU actually thinks about looking out for its own interests. That’ll show them….

Its not just the actual act of leaving the EU that concerns me, though that is ghastly enough. Its the ideology – the new world view that is hastily being designed to accommodate this new national splendid isolation.

The biggest cheer leaders of the Prime Minister this week have been UKIP. Paul Nuttall actually said “it did sound like a UKIP conference speech and the Prime Minister is now applying some of the things that we’ve been talking about for many, many years”

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People of Scotland – work as if if you live in the early days of a UKIP UK. A weird world of 50s nostalgia, being antipathetic to ‘foreigners’ and a reality that will feel like living in the angry, agitated, ultra Conservative pages of a Daily Mail editorial.

Scotland of course wanted nothing to do with any of this but yet we are to be driven over this cliff edge with the rest of the UK. If we don’t get out of all of this soon we will be marooned on this small island with these ultra right Tories running the show. If we meekly go along with this they will feel emboldened to do whatever they want with us. Backbench Tories hate the Barnett Formula and when the post Brexit economy tanks (as it very quickly will) it will be things like Barnett that they will have the confidence to tackle.

Things are coming to a head. We have tried to compromise with this, to deliver a plan that will spare us the worst of this madness, but we will soon be forced to choose again.

This time the choice will be very clear. Stuck in a new isolated UK ran by ideologues we didn’t vote for or determining our own way in the world according to our own national values.