Of Blair and Brexit
Judging by the response so far in the newspapers and online, Tony Blair’s attempt at intervention on Friday morning in the headlong rush to Full English Brexit – or what he called, “Brexit At All Costs,” his call to neo-liberal arms – has been still born, poisoned by the toxicity of both his legacy as the begetter of the Iraq debacle, and by his being, like Hilary Clinton, exactly the wrong mouth to open at the wrong time. What was strange, however, in watching that speech on Friday morning in London while I was, coincidentally, in London, was firstly, the strange sensation of listening to a political leader who, no matter what one might think of him, spoke in whole sentences, making a logical argument…like a grown up. (The Guardian editorial on Saturday made the same point.) The other marker of Blair’s sudden “re-presence”, as it were, was the stark relief into which it threw the utter absence of anything like a coherent, mainstream opposition to what, a year ago, was being categorically denounced by exactly that mainstream as a lunatic act of self-harm. He was absolutely right to remark on the distance we seem to have travelled (and I include Boris Johnson in that “we” for the moment) to the point now where to cast doubt upon the ineffable wisdom of economic and cultural suicide is a crime against democracy and hope.
The Corbynite Left Wing of the Suicidal Tendency have, of course, focussed on their former leader’s denunciation of their own hard won incoherence as predictably as John McTernan has gushed over with an ejaculation of nostalgia. While, thoroughly unnerved in way that they have not been since their genetic surrender to Brexitititis, Boris and the rest of those who now claim to exclusively represent the Settled Will of the British People (whoever they are) have exhorted their “people” to jolly well turn off the television and go and do something less boring instead.
Because, like it or not, and there must be very few of us on the Yes side of the binary divide in 2104 who do, Blair’s speech on Friday was undoubtedly and incomparably the best and nearly the only effective political utterance in favour of the 48% of us in this disunited Kingdom who voted to Remain …including during the campaign last year. The “opposition”, for different reasons, has been absent or without relevance. And that very much includes the SNP, whose advocacy of a differential Brexit for the Nations has, in a UK context, been easily dismissed by the Tories (in the absence of collaboration with any UK party and yes, I KNOW that’s not entirely their fault…) as just the Jocks whining again.
Nonetheless, the political strategy adopted by the SNP in Westminster, that of, in the meantime, acting as if it still mattered that they were there, is unequivocally the right one. But the logical concomitant of that stance is to offer solidarity to anything, no matter its provenance, that looks like a coherent UK strategy to averting Brexit before the Tories chuck us off a cliff into the low wage, tax haven waters around an offshore Empire Museum. And right now, Tony Blair is the only sprat in the Channel. And in that light, toxic or not as his brand may be, I thought when Nicola Sturgeon responded with a degree of positivity to Blair’s speech beyond what even the Blairites in London could publically bring themselves to muster, that that was the right thing to do in principle and practice. It was smart politics that the wider Yes movement needs to wise up to.
For one thing, in 2014, we lost. The Scottish electorate voted by 55% to 45% to give the British State another go. However much some of us may regret it, especially now, that’s what “we” did. So, despite the aforementioned suicidal self-direction of said anachronistic Statelet, fast evolving into a bad remake of an Ealing Comedy Little England, from EVEL to a Tory Majority in 2015 to Brexit and its potential disintegration of everything that once held the British polity together, it remains the first duty of the democratic participants therein, including the Jocks, even among the ruins, to try to find a British way out of a British disaster. Tony Blair’s call for the Remoaners to Rise up and reverse the decision of June 23rd 2016 is the first thing I‘ve heard since then with even a ghost of resemblance to political agency about it.
As a matter of purely practical politics, If we act now as if it were already a given that there is only a Scottish Solution, to the oncoming catastrophe; if we fail to even try to make common cause with those who want to see a British reversal of direction, whether via a second referendum or, (as seems SLIGHTLY more likely) a shared-in-common pro EU and anti-Brexit stance in the general election of 2020 at the latest, then we firstly condemn ourselves to continued national irrelevance on the UK stage, and secondly, we kiss goodbye to the votes of those who kept us in the UK last time precisely because they wanted to give the wheezing old Lion one last chance. What is worse, even if we do scrape a win in indyref 2, we would be at loggerheads from the very off with those in our nearest, larger neighbouring country who might otherwise be disposed to wish us well. And it will be in the future, as it always was in the past, in the Scottish National Interest not to have them too pissed off with us for too much of the time.
It may well already be too late to find a “British” way out of Brexit. If all “they” can come up with is Blair and Major taking a nostalgic globalist stroll over the Millennium Bridge, the very embodiment of an unlamented, elapsed era of our political and cultural life, then it may well be that the bumpy road to independence and EU membership as a new nation is the road we’re going to go down. But unless “we” do what the people told “us” in 2014, and give being British one last try on this issue above all issues, then we’re not going to take the people with us that we’d be miles better off taking with us.
No matter how uncomfortable the company, being a grown up country means that not everyone likes to sing the same songs.