There are large historical events that have been going on beneath our feet, I think, for a long time. But, like an earthquake, tension builds and the ground suddenly shifts…and temples come crashing down.
36 hours on from the shock of Friday morning, more in sadness than anything else, the new reality is sinking in. It’s everywhere in Scotland this morning.
“We didn’t vote to leave Britain in 2014. But Britain just voted to leave us.”
There’s a lot else to talk and think about. In England, in London, in Ireland (!) in Wales (!!) as well as in Scotland and Brussels. There’s still a lot of nuances and caveats. There is some mourning to be done for the hopes of unity that suddenly seem self-evidently delusional. But that little formula feels like a simple statement of democratic fact that now lies behind every other consideration of Scottish life : We didn’t leave Britain, Britain left us.
It isn’t a new thing to say. It’s a bit like when Nietzsche announced that God was dead. “You mean you haven’t NOTICED?” is the question behind the observation. And of course, the shifting of historical tectonic plates underneath the British Isles hasn’t gone entirely unremarked from the time when Britain first joined the EU as a desperate substitution for the lost Empire that sustained the welfare state back in the seventies. Tom Nairn, my particular hero, wrote the Break Up of Britain back then, putting what was happening in Scotland in a wider geographical and historical context with a degree of force and insight that no one has come close to matching since.
(When IS someone going to re-publish that? My copy is getting really trashed)
But something seemed to come to a sudden end on Friday morning. And no one should feel happy about it. The failure of the British project is not in and of itself a good thing, any more than is what might come next in Europe. Everything suddenly feels terribly dangerous, and suddenly, the people for whom safety came first in 2014 aren’t feeling anything like safe in Britain any more.
And that’s really the difference in our politics at this moment. Scotland remaining in the EU seems like the safe choice compared to whatever they get up to South of the Border as London recoils in confused horror from the “heartlands” as the Leave campaign called “the real England” with Farage’s “real people” in it.
(Real people…you just KNOW that doesn’t mean YOU, don’t you?)
The wish for safety, for a context in which just to get on with life, with making a living…should not be despised by hyper-active political types. The wish for safety used to be what it was an uphill struggle to cajole and persuade. No voters are turning towards the idea of Independence now…like it’s a port in a storm.
Which is exactly where the notorious “competence” of the SNP…it’s actual ambition to govern, to stay in power, to be “normal”…is of much more political importance for this moment than anything else.
(Compare the SNP for a moment with half_hearted English nationalists like Boris Johnson, who looks like a rabbit in the headlights right now, like Donald Trump will if he actually has to walk into the Situation Room like Martin Sheen. Let alone with genuinely barking haters like Farage. Boy, did the Labour party get THAT wrong…but that’s a digression for another time)
Right now it seems evident to me that Nicola Sturgeon got the sad but determined tone of her announcement yesterday exactly right. It IS a sad thing that the Great British project has come to grief , tripping over such a preposterous pebble as Nigel Farage to come crashing down. It is sad that the house of cards was already that precarious that it could come to ruin over something so ludicrous in itself.
But if there is going to be another move towards independence, it is vital that the former Yes movement understand and respond to how times have changed. And that stability, unlike last time, is the key to winning.
The priority right now is for that steady sense of competence and continuity, of respecting the mandate for staying in Europe that the voters of Scotland so decisively delivered – that vote for safety – be projected internally in Scotland, but that it also, as a matter of urgency, should insert itself as a distinct element into the thoughts and strategic deliberations of some very, very angry European diplomats. Scotland has to be a player,, and a source of good sense and stability, not just for the sake of winning over the No voters, but for Europe.
With the same crashing arrogance that decided that English Votes for English Laws was the only thing of substance or interest to come out of the Indyref, Both David Cameron and Boris Johnson would like those chaps in Europe to hang on a minute while they get the Tory Party sorted. After all, sorting the Tory Party was what this whole debacle was about for them. (Has a “them” ever felt more like a bunch of idiot Martians)
The Europeans, understandably, like angry head teachers ,have said :”Who the hell do you think you are? Get your mealy public school arses into my office right now!”
My ideal scenario is that when Cameron or Johnson or whoever come in to see Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon is already there tutting at them.
Historical forces, musing on the decline of the social fabric of welfare-ism that defined modern Britain after the Great National Moment of the election of Labour in 1945….on the failure of globalisation to engage democratically with the people of Wales let alone of Libya…all that comes later.
Scotland’s feet need to get under Merkel’s desk. Right now.