2007 - 2022

Brexit and the Idea of Scotland

Boris-Johnson-No10_3576622bIt’s already a cliché, isn’t it? The Brexit campaigns, for leaving and remaining, are following so exactly the pattern set by the Scottish Independence Stooshie that you begin to wonder if the damn thing was just a rehearsal. Maybe Mark Carney and David Cameron on one side of this Blue on Blue Hate-Fest and BoJo and Nige on the other did indeed regard Scotland as a Testing Ground. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.

But if all of this Project Fear talk and Economic Crystal Gazing does make us reach for the irony pills to counteract the flashbacks, it’s worth thinking about both the differences and the similarities between these exactly similarly phrased bust ups…and that’s even before we get to the (I think) distant prospect of IndyRef 2 (The Revenge).

There were similarities of process. David Cameron actually originated and engineered both projects. He decided what the question was going to be (and not be) and Alex Salmond got to choose the timing. This time Cameron got to choose the timing after he got bounced (by an unexpected parliamentary majority) into holding the thing at all.

Spooky, isn’t it?

And beyond the rhetoric of boat rocking vs best of both worlds, there are also familiar distortions and simplifications on offer from both sides about North Korean isolation on the one hand and Oodles of Unregulated Cash for Gunboat Britain keeping the bloody foreigners out.

One can, I think, also characterise both the Leave campaign and the Yes campaign in Scotland as being reactions against the complacent hegemony of soul-less globalisation. Mind you, that mere dynamic of the local in itself would also stretch to cover al-Qaeda.

And it’s thinking in these broad terms, maybe, that gets us into historical territory, where we can look past the identity of the soundbites to the larger cultural meaning of what is happening to the idea of Scotland, the idea of Europe and the idea of Britain.

Europe first. Europe is in big trouble. It’s unity has crumbled before first the impact of the global downturn on its make-believe project of economic solidarity and now with the impact of the civil war in Syria. This week’s short term panic of grovelling to the appalling Erdogan to sort out immigration for us is the nearest Europe has come to unanimity for a while. And with Cameron hovering around the summit looking for a camera crew to whom to bleat “special status” “nothing to see here” over and over again, one can’t help thinking that the political behemoth of the EU will never really recover its shine if the Brits do decide to pull out. Both internally and in the face it turns to the world, the razor wire is springing up all over and the dysfunction and democratic deficit that was always there in the good times begin to look insuperable in this time of crisis.

So I’m voting for staying in.

Because the idea of Britain is in big trouble too. And no, the SNP and their diminishing band of MPs (despite their devoutly wishing it were so) are more of a symptom of the Idea of Britain being in trouble than they are the embodiment (yet) of the Idea of Scotland.

No. Britain is in trouble because the decision was incrementally made over a long period of managed decline that the only bit of economy left over from the Empire that still functioned was the Great Money River that flows parallel to the Thames. (It has some tributaries in Edinburgh). And by “period of time”, I mean that the Labour government of the 1970s was the last failed attempt to run the whole thing as a coherent enterprise on any other terms than those of encouraging the filthy rich to get even filthier and praying to God that you could persuade them to pay some tax.

And now, after Thatcher, after Blair and Brown…and after that project very nearly coming to grief in the banking crash, we have had the last stagnated decade which has changed nothing in response to that stagnation, that has an exhausted, pessimistic elite looting what’s left of the bling before the lights go out.

To my surprise, the Little Englandism that animates the footsoldiers of Leave from the both UKIP and the shire Tories has been entirely eclipsed so far by the bitch slapping going on in the Upper Echelons of the Elite as they squabble over whether Staying or Leaving is going to yield more Swag. We’ll get back onto who can keep out more immigrants later, I suspect. Which it will get just ugly as opposed to Ugly and Quite Amusing to Watch from a Distance.

Which brings us, in order of Size…to the Idea of Scotland., an idea which is getting an advance test in an election campaign which has yet to get the heather even mildly warm. Our enthusiasm for democracy seems to have dissipated like Morn’s Mist. I get the terrible feeling that in terms of ideas, all of the contenders who matter used up all their ideas weeks ago. Labour made a meaningless gesture on Income Tax to cheer up their troops (bless!) and David Cameron did a bad Scottish accent in a story about a chip shop and that was about it. The SNP are so assured of a win and a majority that everyone else is already posturing entirely on the basis of a foregone conclusion. So it’s a bit of a letdown. We got used to it not making a damn bit of difference who we voted for in elections for about twenty years…but then when we had the Indyref followed by the Up Yours Labour Landslide last year, and we got used to it all being quite exciting, so that our now sliding towards a new normal of Devo Max (which seems to have won the referendum without being on the ballot) headed up by the SNP…which would have been a revolutionary thought at the time of the LAST Scottish election in 2011…seems very boring and hardly worth getting up for.

We are yet to discover if we are going to get some excitement back in our lives if Britain decides to get even more declined and awful by voting to pull up the lifeboats…but the accident of timing means that we are voting for the bosun who just maybe has the key for launching the inflatable for a getaway before the UK floats into the Atlantic in search of an iceberg. “Boring” politics in Scotland just may be devoutly to be wished.

Comments (30)

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  1. catriona grigg says:

    Don’t despair! We shall be free one day and hopefully I live to see it.

    1. Brian MacLeod says:

      Just need to declare a UDI

      No need for Westminster’s permission if the majority of the people decide to exercise their sovereignty.

    2. John Russell says:


  2. bringiton says:

    If England votes us out of the EU,then the right wing Tories are going to have a field day with things like human rights abolition.
    If England votes to stay in the EU,Cameron is going to have to throw a very big bone to the right wing of the Tory party in order to keep them Better Together.
    Either way,we are headed for some nasty nasty policies coming our way in the not too distant future.

  3. George Gunn says:

    Good article, Peter. The SNP government are dementing everyone and you are right – it doesn’t seem to matter. But we will see what the results actually are in May. As far as our friends across the wall I think it’s going to get a lot nastier and like the English Civil War of old it will spill into our body politic with its corrupting bottom line of asset stripping and fortress building. Already the BBC have completely forgotten – if they ever knew in the first place – that there is a Scottish election in May. This is BBC Scotland I am talking about. This is the day that Reporting Scotland blessed us with a news story about a dog sized rabbit finding a home in North Ayrshire.

    1. Crubag says:

      The “English civil war” actually involved all of the British isles – it’s sometimes referred to now as the war of the crowns in recognition of this.

      For Scotland, this included the Bishops’ War, the invasion of England, Marston Moor, the battle of Preston, the battles of Dunbar and Inverkeithing, and ultimately led to the Hanoverian/Jacobite rivalry, brought to an end at Culloden.

      By the 1600s, you couldn’t have an “English” civil war without Scotland (or Ireland).

      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        Thanks Crubag

        That’s one of those things that is repeated thoughtlessly (by e.g. me)
        but then is blindingly obvious once you’ve said it!

  4. Callum says:

    I’ll make a prediction. That’s risky, but I think it’s a sound one.

    1) England will vote to leave by about 50-48.
    2) Wales vote will be split evenly.
    3) Northern Ireland will vote in, but nobody pays much attention to them. Which is sad, but their vote won’t matter for the agendas afoot after the vote.
    4) Scotland will vote empathically to stay.

    The votes from Scotland will put the UK back into the EU.

    The day after the referendum the Mail and the Express will launch a campaign to eject the Scots who denied the English this historic opportunity to “leave the EUSSR”.

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      Liking your Crystal ball…

  5. Crubag says:

    Not a bad article, but the idea of Europe (like the idea of Britain) is larger than the ramshackle and unaccountable union that claims to represent it.

    At the EU’s current rate of disintegration there may not be a union left to join for much longer. If Fortress Europe does roll out the razor wire, and Greece does go under due to uncontrolled immigration, then I think we will see something closer to the EEC emerge.

    A trading block with customer protection standards – no one size fits all currency and economic policy, no foreign policy and no uniform citizenship.

    We might even get control of our fisheries back.

  6. Douglas says:

    Scotland free or a desert…

    1. kailyard rules says:

      As long as it’s no’ a desert wi’ windaes.

  7. John S Warren says:

    There is a difference between the Scottish and European referendums: the European referendum has been constructed wholly by the Conservative Party so that it is on both sides of the argument. The referendum has thus been carefully designed by the Conservative Government to guarantee that whatever happens, the Conservative Party can’t lose. Every other political party COULD lose. The Conservatives have devised a campaign so that it must win. The loser could be Cameron, or Osborne or Johnson (but frankly, who cares?) but not the Conservative Party.

    Because of this utterly absurd party political maneouvre by the Government (a gross insult to the electorate) that has been constructed solely to save the Conservative Party from its own utter folly, the whole referendum has already been reduced to farce. I do not think I have ever seen such a low-grade debate, and that is saying something.

    Nobody from any non-political source can say anything without being accused of being “political”; so only politicians are allowed to speak, yet effectively both sides of the whole debate is being run by and for the Conservatives. It is ludicrous, not least because of the absurdity of the arguments about what is or is not ‘political’ that has managed even to entrap the Governor of the Bank of England on the hook of a dilemma.

    For the information of Conservatives everywhere, the correct title of the discipline of ‘economics’ is “Political Economy”. There is no way out of the ‘politics’; not anyhow or anywhere. Your whole campaign is nothing but a ‘canard’.

    1. Alex Beveridge says:

      Your summation is entirely correct John.

  8. Peter Arnott says:

    I missed out the Idea of England…which is that which which dare not (yet) speak it’s name…but we’re getting there: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/6986518/Queen-hailed-as-a-backer-of-Brexit.html

  9. Alf Baird says:

    “the Idea of Scotland” ?

    We are more than an idea. And we don’t need a UK or an EU; they need us.

  10. David Sangster says:

    “…irony pills to counter the flashbacks”: I like that, reminds me of Milosz’s Pill of Murti-Bing. But the rest of the article is a counsel of despair. You know fine and well that the EU is rotten to the core, and is probably about to become deliquescent. Vote to stay in? Nae fear. Out of the EU first, then out of the UK. Way to go.

  11. Blair paterson says:

    I want independence to mean just that no e.u. No n.a.t.o. No United Nations and no union with England no one will look after Scotlands interests better than the Scots

  12. MBC says:

    I don’t know what stuns me more – the ineptitude of the EU or the ineptitude of the Conserative UK government.

    Division everywhere. Leadership and vision nowhere. I’m just glad I have a Norwegian passport.

  13. James Coleman says:

    Very poor negative article. Nothing like the Scotland I know. Do you actually live there?

  14. Justin Kenrick says:

    Nice piece Peter,

    If you’re in danger of getting bored by the May elections then try pushing for a strong Green vote and you’ll find the responses make the boredom vanish like the mist, especially if you argue that we need to radically reshape the economic system so it is no longer exploiting and destroying people and planet, even more so if you suggest that radical change is possible here and now. I guarantee you a lack of boredom thereafter!

  15. Nate says:

    I find it difficult to be optimistic at present, whatever the outcome of the May election and the June referendum. For all the gibbering about project fear (which was being said before the remain campaign even started) there would be some obviously negative economic effects from leaving the EU in the short-term. The markets would give us a kicking, the pound would come under pressure and even if you support independence these aren’t good things for Scotland – it’s our currency too and a severe economic downturn can take years to wipe out.

    Would it push us toward independence? I honestly doubt it unless the economic effects were so severe we had no choice. The SNP aren’t idiots and they know fine well the situation at present isn’t conducive to becoming independent. The case during the referendum was built on the 2011-12 GERS report when we generated 9.6% of UK revenue, that fell to 8.9% in 2012-13, 8.6% in 2013-14, and is now at 8.2% for 2014-15 (while our spending has remained around 9.2-9.3% of the UK total).

    So we’re likely going to either be part of a ship that’s heading for a disaster (the UK and its Brexit fiasco) or we’re going to be forced into prematurely jumping off the ship into economic waters that are about as bad as they’ve been in the last two decades.

  16. leavergirl says:

    What? Has Westminster banned vowels? What will they think of next…

    1. ben madigan says:

      site seems to be swallowing them – particularly i

  17. bill fraser says:

    The whole debate on both leaving the U.K. and leaving Europe is centred on England not wanting to lose a major contributor to the U.K.economy and Europe wishing to further integration

  18. David Allan says:

    I believe the turnout for the EU Ref will reflect voter apathy on the topic. There is no transparency or accountability it’s direction is corporate led , workers rights are not being enhanced they’re being eroded all over the EU .

    Politics was once a topic discussed round the family table knowledge readily available to form opinion. Who apart from the elite Eurocrats have any real knowledge of what the future of the EU holds . It’s not there to benefit or enhance the well-being of it’s citizens it exists for one reason only to satisfy corporate greed.

    It’s Scotexit for me, time to gain control of our own future out of UK (eventually) and EU. Independence without Hypocrisy. lets take back our right to influence policy and our ability to discuss and debate our own political destiny. Indyref2 can come another way.

    Peter – The BBC used the IndyRef to rehearse as well . Cameron opted early EU Ref to ensure all over before the TTIP deal became a factor in the decision for voters.

  19. John Tracey says:

    I remember my mother telling us that Britain only became ‘Great’ when Scotland joined. Technically/politically/really is Scotland a part of Britain?
    Brexit apply to us? Apply to all of the United Kingdom?

  20. Fearchar says:

    The postal ballots will swing it for remaining in the EU. It’s the British way.

  21. Daisy says:

    Hi everyone,
    Here’s my most recent blog post, ‘SNP Spring Conference: The Call of Hope’

    Feedback much appreciated – thanks!

  22. ben madigan says:

    I always held the view that Scotland should vote In, hold IndyRef2 if the UK voted brexit and as Scotland was remaining within the EU it could not be ejected. Once Scotland had bedded down its own independent parliament and had time to consider the pros and cons of EU membership another referendum could be held to decide whether to stay in the EU.

    However, if the Uk votes Brexit – I doubt very much if it will permit any UKexits, whatever people in Scotland and Northern ireland may want. https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/brexit-no-ukexits/

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