2007 - 2020

Happy Endings

UnknownThere 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.

Comments (27)

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  1. Dougie Strang says:

    Great piece Peter. Not normally one for quoting Kipling, but: ‘If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs…’

  2. John S Warren says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this proposition in the article:

    “The priority right now is for …. …. respecting the mandate for staying in Europe that the voters of Scotland so decisively delivered”.

    It is to this end of Scotland remaining in Europe, whatever happens with respect to rUK, that the whole effort of Scotland should be directed to achieve, in direct discussions with the EU (and its institutions) and with each and every one of the 27 individual members. These efforts should be made strongly and directly at the highest level. This effort should be the first priority for the Scottish Government and people, and should precede everything else; for everything flows from what these efforts produce.

    The world has been turned upside down. What we have here is an opportunity; not just a problem. Scotland represents the kind of friend Europe appreciates. Anything is possible; at least we must act as if anything is possible, for we create our own future and at this extraordinary time we can effect real and significant change not just for ourselves, but for Europe itself.

  3. John Page says:

    Terrific, thank you, Peter.

  4. catriona says:

    Not sure how firmly our feet should be under Merkel’s desk but I like the tone of it all. Thank you!

  5. Alf Baird says:

    “Scotland has to be a player”

    Yes, and it is perhaps time to establish ‘shadow’ ministries for so-called ‘reserved powers’ – and to use them to engage with other EU members, the Commission, and the rest of the world, and to fully prepare the ground for independence this time. Scotland needs to be better prepared this time around with shadow reserved power ministries in place covering all responsibilities if independence is being considered. Let’s start acting like we are a nation that is able at the required time to assume full responsibility for its own foreign policy, currency/treasury, defence etc. Last time we left too many questions unanswered, so lets at least get the structures in place now.

    1. squirreltowers says:

      Excellent idea

    2. Interpolar says:

      Good proposition. I think this is one if Sturgeon’s strengths. She acts like a head of state, and treats the People of Scotland as if they were a nation. I like the idea of this being enhanced with shaddow ministers.

    3. bringiton says:

      England has backed Scotland into a corner.
      The proposal is now simply,if we want to retain EU citizenship then we must part company with Little England.
      All else will follow should we decide.

  6. Broadbield says:

    I agree with the sentiments and the comments. But let us not forget that the EU is also a problematical institution, and one of the problems is the hegemony of a few, rich northern nations and their leaders.

  7. Christie Williamson says:

    I like your idea of Nicola beating whoever agrees to go into Merkel’s office, but if we’re serious about being independent it’s imperative that Wolfgang Schauble isn’t in charge of our fiscal policy. Which will be a tough gig to pull off.

  8. Graeme McCormick says:

    Scottish councils, trade unions, business groups and the whole of civic society in Scotland as well as ordinary folk must contact their European twin towns, unions, business groups, friend, and staff and make it clear we appreciate them and ask them to support our cause to stay in the EU.

    Great idea if Nicola appoints shadow ministers of reserved matters. Let’s live as if we are already independent.

    1. peterarnott says:

      Acting as if is not only a biblical injunction..it is also the ONLY way anyone ever gets anything done.

    2. douglas clark says:

      Graeme McCormick

      Let’s live as if we are already independent.

      I think some folk, perhaps the Poles, already adopted that back in the days of the Warsaw Pact.

      Anyway, completely agree…..

  9. MBC says:

    Nicola Sturgeon and Tim Farron are the only politicians acting decisively and with any integrity at present. The rest are like rabbits staring into headlamps.

    A general election is possibly going to be called. Lib Dems likely to get more seats but so too will UKIP. More chaos. Labour will be humped in England by UKIP. Lib Dems might take back the Tory seats they lost in 2015.

    A highly disfunctional UK state.

    Who is actually in charge? Mark Carney

    1. MBC says:

      ….Mark Carney standing in for Osborne to make the Bank of England stability anouncement. Has Osborne had a nervous breakdown? Johnson and Gove looked depressed and shocked by their victory.

  10. Neil L Oliver says:

    I was one such “No” voter who thought stability in UK and EU were the tipping point despite the fact that the Yes side were more attractive. Ms Sturgeon hit exactly the right tone for me on Friday & Saturday. The economic cliff has already been jumped off and I want to hear the case for a strong independent Scotland in a European context.

    I hope the former “Yes” and “No” voters come at this with a clean slate to a new political context. There is no “45%” now. Who knows what the new percentage will be until after a vote, but if former “Yes” voters want Scottish independence from the UK, they’ll need to bring more people along. There is an opportunity to do so now, but no one wants to be told “We told you so” or treated as a “Johnny come lately”, times have changed so people’s position can change. Mine has.

    1. John S Warren says:

      A wise and generous statement, if I may say so. I trust it is read and given equally generous consideration by all sides. At lat we now really are ‘all in it together’.

    2. John Page says:

      A very welcome and wise post, Neil. A message for all of us about the tone to adopt………..an Independent Scotland in Europe is the sensible choice. Our English and Welsh neighbours are still our friends but they have made different choices which we do not share.
      Best wishes
      John Page
      It would be really good if you expanded your post to elaborate on ways in which 2014 Yes Voters can respond positively to these changed circumstances in taking forward the new conversation

    3. MBC says:

      No hard feelings. I’ve always recognised that No voters were a spectrum, and that there were ‘good’ as well as bad reasons for voting No, such as the moral argument you put for unity and stability. The ones that I was really mad at were the ones who thought we were ‘too poor, too wee, and too stupid’ to run our own affairs even when presented with copious evidence to the contrary. And who blithely accepted a raw deal, as if it was our just deserts.

      My beef with the unity argument is that it’s mistaken.

      We have divergent interests now, and Scotland should be free to pursue her destiny and opportunities just as England pursues hers. We can still be pals. We just don’t need to be joined at the hip.

      As in any partnesrhip, there can be a dominant partner, and a junior partner, and such domination can be OK, so long as you both want the same things anyway and the dominance is basically benign and not holding you back. But what if the dominant partner constantly thwarts you, stops you pursuing alternative avenues, doesn’t listen to you, tells you what is best for you, dishing out titbits of power like you were a child, and then finally endangers you?

      I don’t see that there is any obligation there.

      Personally, I have felt the English have been endangering Scotland and forcing unwelcome changes on us since 1979.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “Personally, I have felt the English have been endangering Scotland and forcing unwelcome changes on us since 1979.”

        Arguably a lot earlier than 1979 and moreover many “unwelcome changes” you refer to have been made from within Scotland given our near neighbours also form our largest group of ‘settlers’ (0.5m+) in the process taking a highly disproportionate share of heid bummer (i.e. decision making) posts, with some 80%+ of this group also voting ‘No’ in Sept 2014 implying they form(ed) one of the largest ‘categories’ of No voters.

        1. MBC says:

          English people living in Scotland obviously don’t feel any Scottish identity. Therefore the pragmatic reasons for indy are slower to dawn on them, but the good news is that it is becoming clearer to them and I for one welcome them with open arms.

  11. David says:

    Sorry to say this but the only brexit
    voters I have met are quite racist about
    immigration.Other point about trade with the rest of the world don’t we have both just now EU and rest of world.This point was hammered all
    the time during referendum but nobody said we actually still trade with
    the entire world at present,baffled
    David

  12. David Allan says:

    Another article which like Robin’s from Friday offers another slant on the EU Ref outcome and how we should pursue and maximise advantage from this opportunity.

    Caution and restraint need to be observed the pace at present is a little frantic , let’s not get ahead of ourselves and falsely raise expectations.

    Sure discussions must proceed with EU Countries we need recognise that initial talks are exploratory afterall.

    Who knows what will become possible.

  13. Justin Kenrick says:

    Excellent piece, excellent comments.

    In light of your call for stability to be the watchword guiding action going forward (and I agree that Nicola has played this superbly, mostly because she is extremely bright and genuinely means what she says) . . .

    I am wondering how those of us seeking far more radical change (that includes the kind of change Robin was talking about – e.g. NO LONGER having to abide by EU UK rules that stop us renationalising the railways) . . .

    Play this?

    1. douglas clark says:

      Kind of agree. I am genuinely concerned about the pretty obvious movement of power from elected assemblies to boardrooms. That just has to be stopped.

  14. john young says:

    If we do get independence the utilities must be nationalised for the economic wellbeing of the whole country,businesses could then be given fairer tariffs lessening the burden on them and hopefully encourage them to employ more people,travel and energy prices could be set at a fairer level.The people of England have spoken whether we like it or not,what will become of England? well the people will decide,isn,t that democracy,what is not democracy is that we do not have the same choice.

  15. Ex Pat says:

    Tom Nairn – Wonderful !

    Thank you for the excellent steer to Tom Nairn and ‘The Breakup of Britain’. A revelation. And criticized by Hobsbawm at the launch party for risking hastening the break-up ‘a willful betrayal of (his beloved) enlightenment principles.’ Ha!

    Perusing google books’s extracts, it looks like it will finally explain to this reader what the h@#$ happened to the ‘middle ground’ of my childhood, between Harold Wilson’s Labour party, with the unions round for cups of tea and talks in Number 10, and Ted Heath’s Conservatives; the same Ted Heath who vituperatively denounced Jim Slater – neo-liberal Billionare of the 7os? – as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism.’ Each so far to the left of the Thatcher and Blair Tories who came after them. Those were the days, afterwhich everything got weird and nonsensical in those Left / Right terms. And look like getting a whole lot moreso again.

    Published in 1977 for heaven’s sake. Discovered better late than never. ‘Education is never a waste’. We hope. ; )

    Tiocfaidh ár lá for Scottish independence from across the water.

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