Behind Enemy Lines

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.

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?

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. 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 sings’) 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. 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.

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.

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Degrees of Estrangement

I thought I knew what we were dealing with. The British state in my lifetime has retained a privileged place for the few, lived off a centuries old legend of global reach and kept transformative powers locked in the Whitehall safe. But it could ratchet up the paternalism when things got too bad, it would worry about its fair-play reputation in the world and remained essentially permissive to social change.

What I didn’t expect and could never have imagined was the outpouring of brute xenophobia unleashed by a vote to leave the EU. Whatever private misgivings some politicians had about the numbers of foreign re-locators and workers arriving from Europe, the rhetoric for public consumption has been placatory, welcoming and inclusive. Anyone in the mainstream and especially those with ambition for high office knew the rules. All European arrivals were here by right, were our equals in every way, contributed to the economy and added flavour to white Britain. They were the symbol of a new, internationalist Britain and were happy to seek a new life in our society. Their presence made the reciprocal arrangement possible – of thrusting young UK citizens heading for jobs in Milan and Amsterdam and retirees opting for a life in the sun in Spain and France.

The baser motivation was that freedom of people underpinned Britain’s (and specifically Tory Britain’s) project of the Single Market. Goods, services and people interchanging seamlessly in the world’s biggest trading space.

Of course there were extremes which fostered racism. There was also the crime of omission. The Blair government ignored rising numbers and in his first four years in office net immigration quadrupled. At times Labour had no idea who was coming nor who was going. It was an error which led ultimately to Brexit as first the British National Party tuned in to dissent winning over half a million votes in 2010 and getting two MEPs elected. Migration Watch began appearing in the media and was treated as an impartial source of research and analysis instead of a right-wing anti immigration lobby group whose director is quoted today saying that naming and shaming companies with foreign workers brings ‘daylight’ to the issue and firms doing their best to hire UK workers, ominously, ‘ have nothing to fear’. This was all leapt upon by the vicious tabloids and turned into a long campaign to vilify incomers. With no pre-planned government message to the public to explain why foreigners were coming and how they contributed, the supporters of immigration were left defenceless. UKIP was the political wing of the xenophobes.

And they have won.

Imagine – David Coburn is right. He is on the winning side. He and Farage have beaten the left and the mainstream and they are turning Britain into an overtly anti-foreigner society with plans to restrict overseas staff from working in our hospitals, forcing landlords to check tenants’ papers, examining taxi drivers’ passports, singling out employers who don’t keep up their quotas of British staff and blocking students from studying here. Only it isn’t just Farage who is now saying this, it’s the mainstream Conservatives who are wallowing in bashing our European friends, using them as negotiating hostages over Brexit and employing language that plays into the hands of the ignorant.

Tory financiers are eyeing profits in an unregulated market. Without EU standards and protocols, the bankers and the Tories can change the rules on your pension, ending the need to balance deficits and reducing defined benefits. As one, Lord Flight, said: ‘My vision is for London to be what I call a super Singapore.’ (He also thinks if we cut benefits it will discourage claimants from breeding).

I say it’s the Tories who are doing it but what has been Labour’s response? The Labour Press Office put out a statement objecting that the Tories had failed to cut net migration. Words fail me. Where has Labour been over this British tragedy? Corbyn has been, like Blair, asleep at the wheel and Kezia…? She has been forced to denounce Labour’s press release but she has led nothing, challenged nothing and acquiesced as the Britain she swears to maintain undermines and threatens immigrants and promises to take Scotland out of Europe with them. Rachel Reeves, one of the most fearsomely right wing voices in politics, yet a Labour MP, has been warning of violence if immigration isn’t checked. She talked of an explosion over the issue, in a reference reminiscent of Enoch Powell.

It is difficult not to grow fearful of where this is all leading. The too-easy metaphor is 1930’s Germany and it is clearly absurd to seek comparisons between modern MPs and the Sturmabteilung. But…the world’s calamities all start somewhere and we already have a recorded rise in race crime as thugs read a green light in Brexit. Where did this intolerance in the British come from? What has happened? It’s only two years ago they were telling us we were the divisive ones, our driving force was hatred of England, we wanted to put up borders, we would be thrown out of Europe, be isolated. We were parochial and inward-looking. May was still doing it in her speech while she engineers a racist crackdown on European migrants and glories in small-minded English chauvinism.

Look, I’m a democrat. I know what the referendum decision was. And while I’m not part of an elite (another classic May irony there) I think we are making an egregious error both in coming out of the EU and in the approach taken. I’m not alone. I hear Tory MPs, Labour backbenchers, business people, all kinds of sane voices who are both disgusted at what this woman is doing without any parliamentary mandate – nor any plan to get one – and how Britain is now looking to the rest of the world.

We may be Scots and may be or not be nationalists but in the eyes of the world we are part of this revolting charade. This is beyond independence for Scotland, although that looms ever larger. This is something that must be repelled and reversed before we become not the buccaneering power of Brexiteers’ dreams but a shrunken, unwelcoming, xenophobic shadow of ourselves. I am reduced to wishing for an exit deal so bad and a ride so rough from the international markets and WTO that a re-run referendum is called. Once the detail emerges of the Brexit deal, it’s possible a general election could rid us of the anti-European zealots but Labour will need to up its game immeasurably for that to happen.

I am open to the accusation of anti-democrat but this is too important. We were told lies in the campaign. There was no detailed exposition of the case. The media was a disgrace and the entire process of democracy was abused. The views of the Leavers have changed since the vote. They are concentrating all on curbing immigration to the exclusion of single market access. A poll this week showed most people want to stay in the market even if that means compromising on immigration.

This is madness. I am ashamed. The treatment of democratic impulses in Scotland is bad enough but the racism and relish for severing our links of solidarity with Europe take this country into a different realm of intolerance. This is the age of the little Englander.

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Did I Mention…?

It ain’t mannerly, I know, but the more I ponder where we are with Brexit the more I’m tempted to say told you so. Just this once, mind, to get it out of the way. Didn’t we warn that voting No two years ago was handing back sovereignty to whoever held sway at Westminster…that however much you worried about the meaning of Yes, the one thing we knew was that our power as a nation would be returned to the Crown in Parliament and the British state, and, as it turns out, the Bloody Tories.

The fragrant Theresa couldn’t make it any clearer. She will decide our fate. One nation indivisible. In together, out together. Or, as John Cleese might put it: Shut up, you uneducated scheme scum and take what’s coming to you.

This is what Union means now…purringly polite camera opps at Bute House with wee promises as conciliatory accessories added in – of course we’ll listen and consult – followed by: Grow up, chumps. You had your chance. If we are to go down we will go down united. It’s a kind of economic and political suicide pact.

I’m afraid my first thought on hearing her speech was a grim tale of my father’s. He was instructing wartime rookies in parachute jumping when two panicked, grabbed each other and fell to earth still in deadly embrace.

Isn’t there panic in government? Are they beginning to understand what this all means in negotiations, both in principle and practice, in law and statute, in endless unpicking and repackaging while hoping, desperately behind the bravado, that others will smile kindly on us? At least in the indyref we had a plan. Not tested – how could it be – but worked out scenarios, sage advice from renowned experts and years of debate. There was a white paper. There was time and resource for it all to be challenged. God, was it challenged.

And this time? We had a bus with a false spending promise which was ditched within 24 hours. Inside was a bunch of flat-earth free-traders and quasi racists – who now call our civic, internationalist, left-leaning movement divisive nationalism That was a mistake. A stupid, provocative, inexcusable error sold for a cheer from the English (divisive nationalist) audience. Do any of the knee-jerk anti-Nats in our politics or journalism seriously think that acceptable? Is there no depth to which they will not descend as they defend the insults to their own voters and readers?

This is all being done it seems to defend our borders – defend them from the workforce our economy needs. We will bar east Europeans with a work ethic and a need for hard cash from doing the jobs the more demanding and lazy Brits reject. Wages in Huddersfield will rise overnight. Asda shelf stackers will do a three-day week for the same money. Zero-hour contracts will become pensionable employment. And Mike Ashley will box trainers on the Christmas Eve late shift. According to a minister, British youngsters will swing their knapsack, whistle Westering Ho’ and march off to the cabbage fields of Lincolnshire. They will breathe the British country air and hail the healthy life…drop a poached hare or two over the vicar’s hedge to fill his pot. Look, there’s Matron cycling to the bridge club at Rose Cottage. Latvians? Poles? Na. We’ll get our own young folk to dig our own veg. The ruddy-cheeked Land Lads and Lassies of merry England will feed the nation with home-grown, hand-dug produce. Don’t you doubt it.

But it’s also becoming clear that while the unskilled who shore up the UK by paying in more in taxes than they take out, will be stopped at the border, other European incomers won’t. It’s already being floated – by the British Chancellor – that bankers should be excluded from any embargo on free movement. Oh yes. Essential workers must be exempt, just as in wartime when the factories had to keep running. Thus, the financial institutions which corrupt our economy and bankrupted businesses, destroyed investments, jobs and pensions for millions, who are again paying themselves Monopoly money, must not, cannot, be treated like the worker drones of industry. They are, as we know from nine years of debt and crippling austerity, the Masters of the Universe. Come, brothers and sisters of Mammon and feed here. Let this be your sanctuary.

And it isn’t just the Tories. The Labour Lord Thingy of London, Sleekit Sadiq (Sorry, I’ve been reading the Sun) is meeting government ministers to ask that London more widely be exempt from immigration restrictions after Brexit. It is, after all the only place in Britain making money so can’t be treated like the provisionals in the sticks who only cling to the purse strings. When London can draw talent from around the world, including those pesky Europeans, it would be suicidal to prevent them adding to prosperity with their energy and ideas. (Which of course would be wasted north of Watford.)

So the lobbying is heavily under way to make sure, in that special British way, some people can continue to benefit but, things being what they are, sadly not all. Not even Scottish universities which have campaigned long to let overseas students work here after graduating, are being entertained. There is a British pilot scheme but no Scottish university is included. Seems someone wasn’t listening after all. Shame.

On the told-you-so theme – just to be insufferable – Pat Kane is right to query why we haven’t got an indy-leaning research institution relentlessly digging and innovating on a Scotland of the future. It’s a good question which I asked in 2011 when the SNP won the election. I tried to get funding to get it going and have returned to the topic from time to time. Nobody wants to do it or they don’t think it’s worthwhile. I don’t really know. We have Common Space and occasional academic work but there is no unimpeachable, independent, think tank taking seriously the prospect of an independent country. So we have less of the hard work and modelling done and fewer respected sources with which to fight. And there it is.

Did I say told you so? (Sorry)

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