Brexit: UK politics in a maelstrom of indecision

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Great fire of Rome

By Russell Bruce

When the only certainty is uncertainty, Scotland must take up the reins of positive direction and not keep hanging on to find out what the coattails of the British political establishment find themselves eventually snagged on.

It was reasonable to wait to find out what the Brexit deal would actually mean before deciding what Scotland’s response should be at finding itself out of the EU despite the clear majority – 62% to Remain. Reason and British politics do not mix and a rethink is required.

Westminster fiddling

Westminster infighting brings to mind an image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. This is what they enjoy, getting stuck into one another. Never mind the mayhem if there is a splendid fray to join, damage your party leader and divert attention from the need to find a viable political and negotiating position to resolve the biggest change in England’s relationship with Europe since 1066.

Talk of SNP civil war was a convenient diversion for the media. By comparison with the Conservative and Labour parties the SNP has maintained cohesion in the face of a difficult week and now has more members than the conservative party.

For 18 months May’s government has swivelled this way and that whilst never reaching a workable base for negotiation with the EU. The Tories are in open warfare with Brexiteers manning the barricades in an English version of the early days of the French revolution. So an ideal opportunity, you would think for the Labour party to get their act together, but then Labour does not work that way. Momentum, Corbynistas, Blairites and Brownies gaze at a future that might have been theirs and they bottled it producing vague solutions that emulated distorted Tory thinking. The idea that England’s major political parties could come up with serious policy solutions to the Brexit conundrum is off the radar.

Looking to Westminster is a dead-end

The people of the nations of these islands are frankly traumatised. That is a dangerous place for us to be. A traumatised people stop questioning, caught in the vacuum of inaction and indecision they need a positive direction to grasp and be willing to accept something, a solution some thought previously they would never support. The journey to independence is a process and a different relationship with Europe is open to us even under devolution. Independence is our route back into Europe. The Union is a dead-end for Scotland’s international aspirations.

Enough of waiting on London to make up its mind. As long as we defer and hang on for uncertain outcomes we will never achieve independence. Even if May gets something agreed there is no certainty she will get it through Westminster.

Scotland needs a positive message from our government and parliament about the real choices we have. We do not need to wait until the outcomes of Brexit might be glimpsed through the haze of a fog drifting over the White Cliffs of Dover. That is now a never-ending circuitous path with few glimpses to guide a weary population and businesses viewing contraction and relocation to an EU country, ever more likely.

At the end of March 2019, less than seven months away, we will be out of the EU with the rest of the UK. Re-establishing our European links can begin under devolution. We could seek independent membership of the single market and seek a customs union. The Faroes are part of Denmark and never joined the EU. Greenland, also a devolved part of Denmark, did join but left later giving rise to the drafting of Article 50.

As Lesley Riddoch argues in McSmörgåsbord the Nordic nations have varied relationships with the EU. Whilst, as the member nation the UK can object to Scotland actively pursuing this route it has not the same clout when it is a departing member with declining influence.

Scotland looks to Europe

For voters in England, leaving the EU was about taking back control, making their own laws and keeping control of their money. Scotland has none of these Brexit ‘goals’. With only piecemeal powers under devolution, limited ability to mitigate Westminster excesses and facing losing critical environmental powers and the loss of responsibility for fishing and farming, Brexit legislation imposes restrictions on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish ministers have been warmly received around Europe where there is understanding and sympathy for Scotland’s positive attitude towards European cooperation and EU membership. This is not 2014. Formal discussions may not take place until after March 2019 but that thinking and discussions are already in frame give a positive lift to a Scotland currently locked in a sense of helplessness over our future relationship with the EU. This is the biggest constitutional change for the UK since the end of Empire. For Scotland it underlines yet again the overpowering political differences that divide the Union.

Equally, cooperation between the nations of these islands will remain important and it is in England’s as well as Scotland’s interests to retain dialogue as we each find a new future. End of anither auld sang.

‘Dancing Queen’

Last week we witnessed ‘Dancing Queen’ PM May out and about in Africa. To what end? There will always be difficulties in the UKs relationship with its former colonies. ‘Mrs Stable’ cannot achieve stability at home far less sort out Africa with bits from the aid budget. If there is money to invest in Africa then they will be polite and happily talk to businesses extending their African interests. Any pretence that UK has lashings of aid money or is a big player on the continent is a fallacy. China is, by a long way, the biggest player in Africa.

The FTSE 100 is stuffed with resource companies already active in a resource rich continent. Miners with a London HQ and FTSE listing have very limited connections to the UK but the money pours into London and fortunes gained by African politicians and businessmen find a ready welcome and safe place to lodge sometimes ‘ill-gotten gains’.

Pretending that Britain is what it was at the height of the Empire is delusional. The largest investor in Africa is China and the sums dwarf what even the US committed to back in 2014.

“In 2014, the US committed to investing $14 billion in African aid over the next decade, but that is only a fraction of China’s commitment to invest an additional $175 billion over the same period. Nearly half of China’s foreign aid goes to African nations”

That reality somehow failed to get a mention in media coverage of May’s African adventure. Yet, May has proved something of a survivor following the disaster of calling the 2017 general election. Hints of an October general election may be a smokescreen, more haze and diversion but it is not impossible if May’s tenure has run its course or she decides she should seek the backing of the country as party unity is beyond the pale. No point in Scotland looking to Labour, they are just as conflicted.

During WW1 there was a problem with some naval munitions. The admiralty and the company did not understand the source of the problem. My wife’s grandfather was a lathe operator at Weir’s of Cathcart. As the Admiralty toured the factory James explained that two of the materials used were incompatible and gave a demonstration of the problem on his lathe.

May and Corby, both lead parties with incompatible and explosive elements continuously managing the trick of exploding in outward rage and imploding like the WW1 flawed naval munitions.

It is time for Scotland to choose its own course and past time to keep hanging on for Westminster to find viable solutions for the most disruptive change Westminster has ever pursued in international relations and trading partnerships. In the modern world no country is an island despite physical geographic characteristics.

The timing of the next Independence Referendum is in the hands of Nicola Sturgeon. This article is not a plea for that date but a plea for clearer direction in the work to be undertaken at grassroots level in the run up to that decision.

England is on a divergent path

Traumatised voters are incapable of action. Uncertainty leads to a sense of fatalism because nothing is happening at Westminster level to give them a sense of confidence. In Scotland we are more fortunate because both the SNP and the Scottish Parliament have charted a route to protect Scotland from the worst effects of a bad Brexit, backing membership of the Single Market and a Customs Union. Pursuing the McSmörgåsbord route will not be easy but Westminster hindrance and opposition will only increase demand for independence.

The Best for Britain Scottish poll of 1022 voters by Deltapoll offers clear indications that Scotland increasingly understands that Independence is the solution to Brexit and Westminster turmoil, with the numbers now tipping in our direction. But there is another so called ‘poll’ of even more significance, highlighting the dangers of being tied to the direction of hard Brexit opinion in England.

Beware the ambitions of Johnson

Not to be outdone by the Best for Britain polls from Deltapoll, Global Britain commissioned a ‘survey’ of 22,000 electors in 44 Conservative held marginals.

The results, shared with The Daily Telegraph – there’s a surprise – found 73 per cent of voters dissatisfied with the Government’s handling of Brexit negotiations, 45 per cent of voters believe Brexit and the EU is the most important issue facing the country, compared to 17 per cent who believe the NHS is the most important and only 7 per cent thought the economy to be the highest priority.

Three Scottish constituencies were included: Ayr Carrick and Cumnock; Gordon and Stirling. These constituencies all voted Remain in 2016. Global Britain has been selective in the way the ‘survey’ was compiled. The twin targets are the Chequers deal and Theresa May. The survey did not seek to uncover whether dissatisfied voters wanted a good deal with the EU or an rapid hard exit.

The clear objective is to remove May. At this stage Boris Johnson looks the most likely successor, given the fall in conservative party membership leaving the hard Brexit, no deal believers most likely dominant.

The IQR survey results, for what they are worth, can be found here. IQR is a market research company. It is not a member of the British Polling Council. The intention of the ‘survey’ is to shape opinion rather than to gauge it objectively.

As the French philosopher Voltaire said: We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation. Now more than ever, Scotland needs to look to Europe to ensure we continue to have a positive European reputation in the years to come.