Derek Bateman reflects on that astonishing Brexit result
I began to feel European in the early nineties when the arguments about the single currency were raging through Westminster and I was flying to Brussels and Strasbourg with other youngish types from Ireland, Denmark or Greece. We got it, were part of it and sat in Kitty O’Shea’s within sight of the Berlaymont with a glass, scoffing at live broadcasts from the Commons of plummy MPs demanding “freedom” from Europe.
Sad, backward, exclusive and borderline racist would be a widely-held view of their antics, like 19th century warmongers voting for full military powers to be given to the East India Company. I liked being Scottish over there because I felt connected to the continent-wide movement that was embracing the old warring nations of Europe and was quite distinct from the faintly detached English journalists with their put downs and comes-as-standard sense of entitlement. We, the Scots that I knew, seemed to be moving with the grain, modernising and opening up to influence and enlightenment. A key difference of course was that we didn’t see the EC as a threat but as an ally and a bridge to prosperity. To anyone schooled in the ways of London, on the other hand, the whole Euro contraption was a vehicle for ludicrous no-hopers trying to catch up with the real global power.
The messages beamed back to Blighty – by, among others, Boris Johnson of the Telegraph – reflected the readers’ own prejudices about foreigners and half-developed civilisations playing at being real countries ‘ like ours’. The officials I knew despaired. The politicians admitted we weren’t really Europeans at all. But I saw how Scotland could fit right into this network of influence and make friends. Spending time with colleagues from every country in the club opened me up to a positive influence which was underlined when reporters from about-to-be entrants Poland and the Baltics showed their amazement at our wealth.
So my starting point for the referendum was Yes. In. Remain. Restez. An exit was the view of the ill-informed and the right wing cranks.
And, frankly, it still is. The right wing cranks are a parade of sorts who make me recoil on sight – Redwood, Duncan Smith, Fox, Farage. None of these people has the faintest interest in European solidarity built on workers’ rights and a work-life balance. They are money spivs, manipulators and exploiters who used the dispossessed to win. Those same dispossessed will now pay the price for the Brexiters’ success.
You aren’t supposed to blame the voters. Always respect them. Don’t patronise. But if you ask just what plumbers in the Midlands or potato pickers in East Anglia are going to get out of this, it’s hard to escape the worry they are the unwitting dupes in a power game.
This referendum had no alternative manifesto. There was no White Paper. The same Unionist politicans and tame journalists who harried the SNP and analysed to death their prospectus in 2014 said nothing about a total absence of a plan. Who supported it? Who in the Commission had hinted at a deal? What’s the timetable for a trade arrangement? How many migrants will be allowed in? We don’t know and neither do the Brexit voters who have supported an emotional idea minus any practical prospectus. Nothing wrong with emotion – I’m a nationalist – but without a plan it’s meaningless and potentially destructive.
A chimera was created in which all the grievances of the dispossessed and disenfranchised were conveniently bundled into a big bag called immigration. Even areas where there is virtually none bought it. This is how you hit back, they were told. Forget the facts and the nuance. Smash the system by kicking the establishment – and replacing it with another establishment which, almost unbelievably, cares even less about you.
What I hate is the idea that all across Europe we are now viewed as xenophobes and quitters regaled by Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders. Instead of quaint, eccentric, one-foot-in, one-foot-out Brits we are now the revolting guests shunned by all.
How refreshing to hear the First Minister pay her respects to our European friends living in Scotland yet denied a vote. Those who don’t want to play the disgusting guest any longer now have the starkest of choices and a way of extricating ourselves from what looks like a brutish rather than a British nationalism.
Without rushing into the teeth of a indyref2, Sturgeon was passionate and, for me, scarily committed to securing our place in Europe to the extent of preparing legislation. Exciting stuff. I know the case in some ways is harder to make for independence now, but as I wrote recently, that overlooks the grim state of Britain after Brexit. We were told Yes meant no EU membership…it meant the national credit rating falling…the currency losing value…shares tumbling…companies relocating…damaging uncertainty. And what have we got?
I think we should remove the claymores from the thatches, make friendly noises to foes, get a plan, breathe some heady air – and prepare for independence. Right now it looks like England may have delivered the opportunity for self-government that Scotland itself couldn’t grasp. Thank you, friends. Thank you.