So how’s that security and stability of the United Kingdom working out for everyone? The UK is a state which makes a mass temper tantrum at a toddler’s party seem like a plan for order and calm. Actually, anything at all that could pass for a plan would be a vast improvement on what’s happening in the UK right now. When the UK narrowly voted for Brexit in 2016, everyone in Scotland who isn’t one of those spittle flecked anti-indy posters in the comments sections of Scottish newspapers knew that this was going to end badly. But no one expected that it would go as spectacularly badly as it has done.
What is happening now is worse than even the direst expectations of 2016. Brexit was expected to be bad, but no one seriously expected the prospect of crashing out without a deal, the alienation and exasperation of the entire EU, the potential collapse of the Irish peace process, the undermining of the devolution settlement, the total paralysis of British government, and the reduction of the UK to the laughing stock of the world.
It is so bad that the idiotic Andrea Leadsom, who – heaven help us – is a senior figure in government, was twittering on the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC on Sunday that a no-deal crash out of the EU would not be “so grim”. It would just be a bit grim then. It would only be grim for poor people and people who aren’t hedge fund managers, disaster capitalists, and members of the British establishment. So that’s OK then. Andrea thinks that moving to WTO rules would be just fine, however Pascal Lamy, a former director general of the World Trade Organisation described leaving membership of the EU single market and moving to WTO rules as being like leaving the first division in order to play in the fourth. WTO rules, he said, are the lowest common denominator between Bangladesh and Canada.
British government has descended to a place where one of its senior figures is promoting a policy which she knows and everyone else knows would be bad for everyone, and has descended to a place where such an intellectually inadequate person is a senior figure in government in the first place, and moreover fancies her chances at a shot for party leadership. That’s not rain outside your window. That’s the gods weeping.
On Sunday afternoon, Theresa May released a video statement on social media. It was filmed as she sat on a sofa beside a large glass of gin. A large glass of gin that most people in the UK were wishing they could down in one in order to numb the utter futility of whatever it was that Theresa was about to say.
The video was entitled “Let me explain what’s happening with Brexit” as though we didn’t already know what’s happening with Brexit. We know it’s a disaster. We know that the government has taken a poor decision founded in a campaign of lies and deceit and has made it infinitely worse. We know that we’re in this mess because of the inflexibility, instransigence, and obstinacy of a Prime Minister who at every turn has prioritised the needs of her own party, and who now wants to preach to us about the national interest.
The video was shaky, amateurish, and more badly produced than a twelve year old’s upload to YouTube. So it was very much a metaphor for the entire Brexit process then. The Prime Minister warned that the UK needs a deal or Brexit might never happen. She said that like it was a bad thing. Her wee speech was accompanied by grimaces, twitches, ughs, and smiles that looked as though she had learned about smiling from a book. This was a woman trying to look comfortable and relaxed while perched on a hotplate studded with drawing pins. Panic? Oh no. No panic here. Apart from in her eyes. It was like watching a hostage video, only without the same production values.
The Prime Minister appeared to acknowledge that she has no chance of getting her deal through Parliament. She also acknowledged that the only thing that the Commons can agree on is that it doesn’t want the no-deal that Andrea Leadsom doesn’t think would be so grim. She clearly doesn’t want to say outright that we’re heading for a long extension to Article 50, because that would destroy what’s left of her government, but that seemed to be the gist of it.
Since she’s obviously incapable of reaching an agreement with her own party, she spoke about the need to reach an agreement with the other parties. Something that she ought to have tried almost three years ago. That was the purpose of this video, her justification for holding talks with the Labour party and her attempt to excuse herself from blame for the failure of her strategy since she became Prime Minister and decided to ignore remainers, to ignore the narrowness of the vote, to ignore the illegality surrounding the leave campaign, and to focus on achieving a hard Brexit that might appeal to the Brextremists of the ERG.
She said that both she and the Labour party had some common ground on Brexit, and the first thing she mentioned was that both agreed on the need to end freedom of movement. This will come as news to the large number of Labour voters who want to remain. There was however, no indication from her about what compromises she was prepared to make. Crucially, there was no mention of a customs union. Clearly, her fetish for ending freedom of movement remains as bright a red line as ever, her xenophobia remains central to her politics. As does the principle that compromises are for other people.
It remains possible that the UK will crash out of the EU on Friday without a deal. It only takes one EU member state to have so lost patience with this dysfunction that passes for a British government to make that happen. However it’s more likely that a much longer extension to Article 50 will be agreed, the so-called flextension mentioned by Donald Tusk last week. This would extend Article 50 for a year but would allow the UK to leave earlier as and when our chaotic and unfit for purpose political system manages to agree to some deal or other.
That means that the Scottish government now has a chance to press for another independence referendum while we still remain a part of the EU. It has reignited the hope that Scotland can achieve independence while we are still an EU member, and so ensure continuity of the benefits of EU membership for Scotland. The only political guarantee in the UK is the continuation of uncertainty and chaos. The chances are very high that the government will collapse as a result of a lengthy extension to Article 50, and so we are heading for an early UK general election. We are almost certainly facing European elections within a few weeks.
The question of the right of Scotland to choose its own path must be front and foremost in any election campaign. The SNP cannot and must not try to shy away from the independence issue. It needs to own it. It needs to scream from the rooftops that Brexit has taught us that British governments have zero interest in what is good for Scotland, for what Scotland wants, or what Scotland needs. Brexit has taught us that the precious union is a lie, that there is no partnership, no family of nations, within the UK. The failure of the Brexit process has taught us that the UK that Scotland was told it could be a part of in 2014 was a fiction.
These elections need to be fought on the basis of highlighting the shortcomings and inadequacies of the UK, of the threat that the British political system represents to our civil rights, our employment rights, and our futures. They need to be fought on the basis of establishing the right of Scotland to determine its own place in the British Isles, in Europe, and the world. These will be the elections which pose the question to Scotland, are we a country, are we a nation, or are we a subordinate region of a unitary British state. We either define ourselves, or we will be defined by Conservative PMs and governments which know little about us and which care even less. The time to decide is approaching.
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