Brexit and the corrosive force that is British unionist intransigence

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Commentary by Derek Bateman

I do wish you Scottish Nationalists would learn to accept the result of a referendum. You’ve lost twice now. So what’s your problem? Still bleating about a re-run of September 2014 and now you can’t live with the Brexit result. It’s called D.E.M.O.C.R.I.S.Y.

The people of our united island voted to kick out the foreigners and the scroungers and send them back where they came from. Next time they’ll be met by the strong arm of the British bobby demanding to see their papers. No blue passport? Sorry, matey. It’s back to the garlic fields for you.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Honestly, you’d think Britain was a charity for the rest of the world. We’re supposed to offer the hospitality of our sound economy to every queue-jumping chancer escaping their own failed countries – Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. It’s bad enough having to bail out the Scots.

There’s a limit to our patience. We’ve been tolerant for too long and where’s it got us? Our communities flooded with strange faces and voices, a changed culture – multi-culture something or other – and our national wealth feather-bedding them all.

It’s possible that re-negotiating with trading partners will come at a cost, maybe £66 billion or so. But isn’t it worth lost jobs and lower incomes to win our freedom and take our country back? And when I say OUR country, I mean the United Kingdom because the defeated Celts, the Picts and the Shovels, are ours whether they like it or not. We won. And we’ll go on winning. We built a mercantile nation, conquered half the globe and it’s time we reminded the world of it.

Gosh. That feels better.

Just trying to imagine what Tories are telling themselves as the doubts over Brexit mass on the border of reason and new alliances of cross-party interests are heard challenging what is beginning to look like at least the silhouette of a coup. The referendum went for Leave but did it mean demonising Europeans already living here and working in essential jobs? Did Leave mean stopping all formal agreements with the 27 including the single market? Did the Leavers endorse the loss of nine per cent of the economy? Did they vote to hand over to a Prime Minister with no personal mandate the absolute power to shape our relations with our continental partners without parliamentary scrutiny?

NO SAY

Did Scots, including those who support independence outwith the EU, believe their country would have no say in the deals done on their behalf?

Now I have to admit that not much of this comes as a surprise because, as a Scottish Nationalist, I’ve never thought a Westminster government would go out of its way to accommodate the Scots. Whatever warm words you hear – and you could fill your bath with them during the indyref – there is at base an institutional belief that we are appended to England borne under sufferance. In every dark corner the message emerges…from the memoir of Liberal MP David Laws on Cameron speaking about Scotland after indyref (‘I just don’t care. We’ve only got one Conservative MP north of the Border. Let Labour sort it out. It’s now their problem.’) From the frothing mouth below-the-line comments in the Press to, yes, the instinctive slur of John Cleese. We mattered when Blair realized that failure, again, to deliver devolution would bury his party in Scotland and we mattered when the threat of us leaving became real two years ago. Contrast Cameron’s ‘We want you to stay’ then with his words afterwards. The pattern couldn’t be clearer. You’re welcome so long as you behave.

I’m not sure when in our shared history things went wrong. Although antagonised at first by the loss of sovereignty, Scots made the most of the first century of Union and we still revel today in the enlightenment that emerged. We took to empire with military relish and exploited the international trading opportunities in tobacco and slaves. As Murray Pittock points out, for many years it was the educated, competent Scots who adopted a patronising air of superiority over the English. The collective endeavour and sacrifice of two wars united us more powerfully than ever. But it seems to me that something lay dormant throughout the Union years, a sense rather than an argument, struggling to find form.

From Remain to Hard Brexit, all in a couple of months
From Remain to Hard Brexit, all in a couple of months

I credit Margaret Thatcher with igniting a common sense of resistance among all non-Tory Scots which inflated Labour’s vote and led in time to devolution. And it was the collective cross-party effort required to produce the new parliament that showed the people what could be – progressive leadership shaping home-grown policies with an indigenous voice. Was it identity or just pride that made us feel good about ourselves? Devolution opened the door of possibility. But I still don’t think more than a clear minority – 30 per cent? – thought in terms of independence 15 years ago. I see how a steady release of powers and responsibilities to Holyrood could have contained the movement and stilled the resistance. I don’t mean the silly hoo-ha of Calman and Smith with their grudging, heavily qualified concessions (‘we’ll throw in control of road signs’) but an agreed, staged hand over through the years until Scots felt they had as much as they could handle and accepted that to function effectively the British state needed to command the levers of macro economics, most foreign affairs and defence.

THREE STOOGES

The most corrosive force in the Union isn’t nationalism or antagonism but intransigence. It is the continual sense of denial, the refusal to surrender wilfully; that everything is in London’s control and will only be conceded if you prove you’re a good boy first. I still fume at the three stooges denying us the pound. We are not equals. Not in their mind. We are barely worthy and can be bought off with baubles and smiles.

Not the UK you recognise? Well, I may be going a bit far but from my side I look today at the headwinds confronting the economy two years before Brexit and wonder at the airy dismissal of concern. There is nothing to worry about as our European partners plan our punishment, the currency bombs, the Treasury warns of tens of billions in lost earnings leading to tax rises and spending cuts with price rises hitting the poorest. But what did the same people say to Scots when independence loomed? Dire consequences were predicted in rising supermarket prices, the value of shares falling, the pound dipped (crisis!), our European place would be lost and the markets closed to us. Now the very thing – uncertainty and rising costs – we were warned against by taking control of our own affairs is blighting the whole UK. Where is Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown? Oh yes, working in international finance.

Scots were bought off with threats that they now have to confront regardless. No wonder many in England think we are gormless. We never learn the lesson.

Britain isn’t equipped for Brexit. We don’t have a sound economy broadly based earning its way. If London becomes less attractive for overseas investment – a real possibility – the inflow of money that keeps the UK afloat will start to run out.

Even the most basic part of the Brexit vote, immigration, is in trouble because the Tories have so decimated the Border Force that it can barely process people movement today. When everybody from the EU has to undergo checks at ports and airports, it will reach breaking point. Four thousand high-risk flights already come in without any checks.

None of them seemed to think in advance about Ireland and the risk to the peace settlement posed by removal of EU law.

INTERNAL STRUGGLE

To be told now that another bid for independence would just cause more disruption is about as insulting a remark as any that Mundell has conjured. He really is London’s agent, preparing for his humiliation in the history books. (The man who said Scotland no longer existed)

I don’t know how strong the bonds still are that tie Unionists to the UK but I’m suspicious that they are suffering an internal struggle. The signs to look for are references to extremism which they use as a kind of rhetorical shield to hold logic at bay. Thus, when Sturgeon said there was a higher point to independence than the economy, there were immediate references from Unionist opinion to blood and soil. This is deeply offensive and plays no part in modern Scottish nationalism whose template contradicts that of most European nationalisms in being based on civil society irrespective of ethnicity.

The other one I’ve noticed is the claim of Anglophobia. This seems to be logical at one level because of history but never stands up in reality. I know of no one who can be so described and can recall no discussion with any nationalist I know who has said anything racist about English people. Seriously. Never. It isn’t even something which anyone is ‘careful’ about. I don’t feel it and never have. But it is true that England is different in key ways from Scotland as a look at the Guardian today will confirm.

People writing about blood and soil and Anglophobia know it not to be true, much as they’d like it to be. But they project it as a way of saying words to the effect of… ‘no matter how much I loathe what’s happening in England right now and I want to distance myself from it, I can still push away independence by pretending it’s too loathesome for me to contemplate. They’re bigots, you know. So I can maintain my distance and deny the logic of what they’re saying.’

The pretence of extremism is the disguise they wear to deflect from the Brexit mess the Union has made.

It’s not easy, or pleasant, getting into the mind of your opponent. But sometimes it’s worth a try. Just remember, however it goes in the end, we’re all still Scots together.