‘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.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

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.

NOT WORTH THE VELLUM IT’S WRITTEN ON…..

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Let me take you back to last year in the House of Commons, to one of the first pieces of legislation that was discussed in the new Parliamentary term. To the debate on the still then Scotland Bill. Remember, the newly installed Secretary of State proudly telling us about this ‘historic’ piece of legislation? We listened in awe about the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament and how the Sewel Convention would be ‘enshrined’ in law in the making of this, the most ‘powerful devolved Parliament in the world’.

We now know of course that this Scotland Act isn’t worth the vellum its written on and that this ‘most powerful Parliament’ can be simply done away with on a Westminster whim.

Letting the ermine clad cat out of the bag, Lord Keen, the Tory Government’s top Scottish legal officer at Westminster, helpfully clarified the situation for Scotland, when he said – ”the correct legal position is that Westminster is sovereign, and may legislate at any time on any matter.” In a piece of unusual candour and honesty from the Tories it was a case of you’ll have had your ‘most powerful devolved Parliament in the world’ then.

The Tories petrified that Scotland might have some sort of legal entitlement and say in their cluelesss Brexit were obliged to dispense with the myth of permanence, statutory footings and respect for our national Parliament. On ‘serious’ issues such as Brexit where large swathes of Scots law is impacted we are simply subordinate, as we are in every aspect of our relationship with Westminster. Keeping us out of any Brexit say was worth dispensing with the veneer of constitutional equality and respect.

Just to make sure that we fully knew our place, there was more from the noble Lord. Legislative Consent Motions, where Holyrood has to give permission for Westminster to legislate on its behalf, are simply “a self-denying ordinance, a political restriction upon Parliament’s ability to act, no more and no less than that” and “in no sense any qualification or inhibition upon parliamentary sovereignty.”

Ensuring that there was no dubiety the Secretary of State for Scotland confirmed that this was indeed the case to the Scottish Affairs Committee telling us that we should have been paying  more attention to what was being debated in the House of Lords….

I’m pretty sure in the next few years there will be another Scotland Bill. Perhaps when it kicks off we can just gently inquire ‘what’s the point? There is, though, serious issues about where powers lie when, and if, Brexit is concluded. The Scotland Act is unusual that all powers are considered devolved unless they are listed. Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act provides that list and big EU powers like agriculture and fisheries are not there. There is a sense in the clear ‘know your place, Scotland’ statement from the Tories that we are being softened up to be disappointed in the repatriation of those powers.

But that’s all for the future because road signs are now fully devolved. Just make sure that we don’t have one directing us towards a Scotland in the EU, because, who knows, Lord Keen and the Westminster Tories might just be back with a road closed sign and all traffic redirected to Westminster.

INDYREF2 WILL BE THE SNP vs THE TORIES

I remember when Scottish politics was pretty boring and predictable and nothing ever seemed to happen. When I was first elected in 2001 only one Scottish Westminster seat changed hands and in 2010 absolutely no seats changed hands at all. In the Scottish Parliament the steady decline of Scottish Labour was more apparent but was always considered to be a temporary set back and something that would, in time, be reversed. The great adversaries of the era were the dominant Labour party and the insurgent SNP. Everybody understood the rules and the terrain of the fight and we got down to the business of slogging it out.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

Now everything has utterly changed. The contest for political dominance is now between the SNP and the Conservatives profoundly changing the nature of our political debate and redefining the terrain that our politics are now conducted in. All of this has happened within five dramatic years and the changes in our national politics has been as quick as it has been overwhelming. Scottish Labour has all but disappeared reduced to one MP and a diminished rump of mainly list MSPs. The remarkable feat of the Conservatives beating Labour into second place in the last Scottish election has firmly established them as the main opposition in Scotland.

There may be several reasons why all this has come to pass but the only one that matters is the independence referendum. Where the Conservatives got it right in their pitch in the referendum Labour got it totally and utterly wrong. Labour took the gamble that they spoke for their support when they enthusiastically embraced the union cause. Their arrogance extended to believing that campaigning with the Conservatives would be uncontroversial and they sincerely believed that following the independence referendum they would be placed with a 1979 supremacy with the SNP humbled once again. The Tories on the other hand had absolutely nothing to lose knowing that there would never be an issue with their support.

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If fighting the independence referendum war was bad for Labour the way they have tried to prosecute the peace has been disastrous. Their former ‘centurion guard’ of seats now have unassailable SNP majorities and their unionism now only seems to antagonise those that they once represented. The Tories on the other hand quickly understood that the constitutional debate instead of concluding was only getting in to its stride. If they could remain the true defenders of the union they could enlist unionist support from a diminished Labour Party and establish a new potent pitch based around personality and a cause that secured fifty five percent support.

This is why the campaign against an indyref2 is just as important for the Tories as the SNP’s campaign for another referendum is important for us. Labour meanwhile are stuck in a meaningless no-man’s land pitifully wailing about the continuing constitutional debate, hoping, praying, that the Scottish people will move on. It could not be worse for them.

With a Conservative opposition the constitutional debate will therefore be promoted even more enthusiastically as Conservative support becomes increasingly motivated and dependent on opposition to a referendum. Having a Conservative opposition as the main unionist party is also immensely helpful for us in the SNP. That’s because they help properly define what unionism now represents. Westminster rule increasingly means continuing Conservative rule and voting for the union now means endorsing the right of a Conservative Government we didn’t vote for run its writ in Scotland. The case for the union therefore will in time become a proxy and a case for Conservatism. Having the Scottish Tories as the union’s main proponents in Scotland helps crystallise the clear options available to the Scottish people.

And what of Labour you may ask? Well they seem to have made their choice. No sensible person associated with the Labour Party is talking about any sort of Labour government for a generation yet they still seem to be asking what is left of their support to get behind what can only now be a Conservative led union. After the disaster of recent years it would seem Labour have learned absolutely nothing.

The new constitutional debate is therefore quickly becoming about whether we should have Scottish self Government or Westminster Tory Government. That seems quite a good place to resume hostilities.

REFERENDUM NIGHT

September 18th September

It’s finally here. I joined the SNP in 1995 when we had 4 MPs and were less than 20% in the opinion polls. Now today we are asking the people of Scotland whether they want our nation to be an independent country. It has been an incredible journey and I feel quite emotional as I go and cast my vote in Craigie Church, just round the corner from where I live. I started out believing that we had absolutely no chance of winning this but have been genuinely surprised at just how close we have run them. Even today I think there might just be a chance we could pull this off. It has been all down to this incredible new constituency for Yes that has been created in the last few weeks of the campaign. The old industrial working class vote has now almost entirely embraced Yes and the young people of Scotland have come on board embracing the many opportunities to define a new nation doing things differently from the UK. Will enough of them turn out to vote? Will the fear be enough to drive out the still hostile pensioner vote in the necessary numbers? Which way will cautious aspiring Scotland fall? All will be answered in a few hours time.

The polling station is mobbed and I recognise all the returning officer’s staff who said it has been going like a fair since they opened at seven in the morning. On polling day there’s always a little bit of trying to judge how people have voted through body language but it’s all just mainly nonsense. The only difference today is that people seem to be voting more purposefully, if that’s even such a thing. There’s also a feeling of powerlessness on polling day. There is nothing much you can do make meaningful interventions and it is all about knocking up the people you have previously canvassesd to ensure that they have been, or are, going out to vote.

I make a tour of the polling stations round the city and they are all busy. I take time to speak to the new comrades who have become involved in politics for the first time through the Yes campaign. For most of them polling day is a new experience and they are both excited by the event but equally bored by the drudgery of polling station duty and the early knock up of supporters who are inevitably out at work.

In the afternoon I head up to my rural areas and if anything they are even busier. Here the Nos seem to be out in real force and it would seem that they have their support mobilised. I go back to the office to help the get the vote out effort at the crucial early evening period to be told that this is probably an unnecessary exercise from Yes Scotland. Everyone, apparently, is voting and looking at our knock up sheets most actually have. I therefore do another tour of Perth with the van and the loud speaker. Call it a night about 9pm and return home for a break and something to eat before the count. Can’t relax though, and venture down to the Bell’s Sports Centre for the Perth and Kinross count early. Here we go. Can we, can we?

Evening of 18th September/19th September

An expectant Bells is mobbed. All the registered groups have the right to have a full compliment of representatives and there are people from all the campaigning groups such as women for indy and business for Scotland. All elected representatives have also been invited and there was an invitation extended to the Head and Deputy Head Boys and Girls from all the Perth High Schools. The start of the count is always a curious affair as we await the first boxes to arrive. We are all organised for the ballot box samples and there is lots of nervous pacing of the cavernous sports hall.

The first boxes arrive at about 11.30, later than usual. By midnight there is a steady stream of boxes being opened and their contents spilled in front of the many counters and supervising campaigners. You can usually tell from the first few boxes on how it’s going to go and already I’m beginning to feel that first sense of disappointment starting to find a place in the pit of my stomach. We’re also now hearing from counts elsewhere that it is not going our way. It is apparent that we are clearly behind here but in the last few weeks expectations was that Perth and Kinross would not be one of our better areas. Surely this can still be turned round in the places we can do well?

The first declaration is from Clackmannan. A decisive win for No in a county that we would need to win if we are to prevail. As further boxes are opened we look well behind in Perth and Kinross and the No campaign are looking increasingly happy. More declarations, more success for No. But then there is a bit hope in a series of results from East Dunbartonshire, Dundee and North Lanark where we win and for one beautiful moment we are slightly ahead. Didn’t last long though, as more declarations pushed our percentage share further down and down. This isn’t going to happen now.

Hearing good things from Glasgow. Could a huge Yes vote from there bring us back into the game? We’re grabbing at anything now. Perth and Kinross is declared at about 4am and we get beat soundly 60% to 40%. I was just grateful that we got 40. Head home knowing that we are beat. Glasgow is finally declared and we won. Not enough to make a difference though and it is now officially all over. At 6am the First Minister makes a speech conceding the referendum and congratulating the No campaign. In a dignified speech he says we will now hold the unionist parties to their promises of more powers. An hour later the Prime Minister is there accepting the victory. In his speech he seems to say some things about England and more powers for the rest of the UK and some stuff about voting rights of Scottish MPs. What on earth is this? Certainly something that will be mulled over in the coming hours. Finally the Chief Returning Officer. Mary Pitcaithly, announced the final result. Yes 44.7% No 53.3%. It’s all over we have lost. I lie down for a break, absolutely exhausted and bereft.

Friday September 19th September.

Must have dozed off and awoken by the first of several phone calls from journalists wanting my response to the results. Ignore them all. Can’t help but look at the extended results programmes on all channels and the scenes from the various counts. There are of course the looks of jubilation on the faces of the victors in the No camp and looks of despair and despondency on the faces of my many friends and colleagues I recognise in the Yes camp. Both camps seem to accept the result in good grace and there is no sign of any rancour predicted by so many on the No camp. Try to examine the national picture from across the country and make a few calls to close colleagues to see how they are.

Then there is an announcement that there will be a further statement from the First Minister from his Edinburgh residence, Bute House. Expecting this to be a further concession speech Alex instead announces that he is to stand down as First Minister and leader of the SNP. It is at this point that I eventually lose it and the tears come rolling down and I appreciate what we have lost and that this is finally all over. Alex recruited me to the SNP and I served as his whip in his time at Westminster and I just can’t believe that he is now no longer going to be there to lead us and lead our nation. The rest of the day I spend in a fragile state before going out in the evening to meet a few close colleagues in the Yes campaign in Perth. Have to concede that I had a little bit too much to drink and finally fall into a deep sleep. It’s all over.

 

2 MONTHS ON AND I’M NO CLOSER TO BEING RECONCILED TO THIS AWFUL DECISION.

Brexit hasn’t properly started yet but just the sheer fact of it being decided has profoundly psychologically impacted on how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world. Everything feels different. There’s a feeling of being more constrained, smaller, of being culturally alone and communally detached. Being on holiday in Europe there was a real sense that all these other nationalities are part of a club that I’m now excluded from and they are planning all sorts of new co-operative shared initiatives that I can now only observe.

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Marooned on this small island, governed by the most right wing ideologues in this section of the planet, doesn’t help this sense of being adrift in an interconnected world. The rest of Europe will be getting on with building shared institutions whilst isolated Tory UK will be getting down to the business of scrapping the Human Rights Act. The loss of access to the free movement of peoples across our continent is probably the most self damaging decision we have made in our island history. The access that my generation had to mix, work, learn and build relationships with our European friends will be lost to the next generation as Europe reciprocates in kind by closing down the continent to Brits. This decision has denied our young people all those opportunities and experiences that we simply took for granted. This generation of young people have every right to feel angered and aggrieved at the isolated, inward looking United Kingdom they will now be bequeathed.

And then there are the reasons that underpin why we’re doing all of this. A massive distrust, even contempt, of others who want to come and live and work amongst us. An agenda based on suspicion, insecurity and most of all fear. What a cultural basis to start this singular, self dependent journey into splendid isolation. Departing the European Union as a project is the culmination of decades of work by UKIP and right wing Conservatives. It is their agenda that has prevailed and will influence our journey into solitude.

Then there was how this was won. The biggest pack of lies ever presented to this nation. £350 million per week would to be returned to our NHS just being the most obvious example of the rubbish claimed by people no longer a feature of our national politics, and rightly returned to the obscurity where they belong. Then there is what has happened since. The sense of trauma, a feeling of ‘good god what have we done!’, a rise in racist attacks and intimidation of immigrant communities, a ‘philosophical’ approach to declining currency values, downgrading of credit ratings, stock market crashes and deep, deep uncertainty and insecurity. There is still a feeling of disbelief about all of this and the looking for someone to pick up all these shattered pieces.

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I’m now told that I should look for the positives in this appalling decision. We’re back ‘in control’, our borders will ‘be secure’, powers will be ‘returned’ and we are free from ‘unelected bureaucrats’. They can frankly shove all that nonsense where the European summer sun don’t shine. There is absolutely nothing positive to be taken from this vote and it still feels like something to be mourned.

But Brexit means Brexit, we are blithely reassured, as if making it alright. What Brexit actually means is unfettered Tory rule unconstrained by the positive influence of partners. It means isolation and deep introspection. It means insecurity, uncertainty and absolutely no plan on how we deal with it. It means closing down the continent to our young people and denying tariff free trade to our businesses.

I still hope that my nation, a nation that voted for continuing partnership and inclusion, can still escape the ramifications of this vote. Scotland wanted none of this and Scotland’s view should be respected. I think you can tell I’m still struggling to be reconciled to this awful decision. Scotland should also continue to be angered and unreconciled about it too.