2007 - 2022

Shit Just Got Real

Last Thursday, as the Americans say, shit got real. That is, to be slightly more “European” about it, reality got real in a subtly different way. History, politics, everything.

Like Scottish Independence in the months before September 18th 2014, before last Thursday, Brexit was a threat or a promise, depending on your preference. On Thursday December 12th 2019, unlike voters in Scotland in 2014, voters in England made it real. In retrospect, it turns out to have always been clear that in order to become a real process in the UK as it already was in Brussels, it needed BOTH the mandate of the 2016 referendum and a parliamentary majority to lift leaving the EU from the category of abstraction to that of “Oh Crap, this thing is really going to happen.” For the first time in the whole process what Brexit actually means in terms of the practical management of trade, of the economy and of the politics of the Union, is actually on the table. Till now, it was a game. On Thursday, as the Americans say, shit got real.

The other shit that just got real, of course, now that the issue is done and dusted in England by the electoral will of the people…twice…once as an idea and again as a willed practical process, is that we in Scotland need to decide properly whether we’re going along for the ride. It was always the case that it was only when one piece of shit got real that we would find ourselves having to get real about the other one.

Now it’s here. What was a bad joke in 2014, that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, armed with a ten year majority, would drag Scotland out of the EU and make devolved government a functional impossibility in the process…is no longer a half-baked threat of a worst case scenario for a No vote …it’s actually going to happen. It’s actually already happening. Shit, undoubtedly, got real.

Everything with which one might make a progressive case for the union, the prospect of a UK labour Government before 2030 and of meaningful federalist constitutional reform in the context of the necessary centralisation without which it is inconceivable that Brexit can happen coherently seems to be for the birds. Though it seems entirely possible this weekend that the Tories will bring forward some palliative constitutional tinkering next year in order to head off the threat of independence, I for one simply cannot see how even the limited “principle of consent” within the devolution settlements of Scotland, Northern Ireland , Wales and even London can be honoured within the context of having to make comprehensive trade deals (with the EU and the USA just for starters) that will absolutely demand renegotiations of the health and welfare markets, let alone farming, fishing and retail. In short, I can see it being possible for Scotland to take a full part in Brexit, or to have an effective devolved government. I cannot see it having both.

The “half way house” of devolution and full participation in a Full English Brexit simply cannot live together. We are either fully and whole heartedly on board the good ship Brexitania or we are in the lifeboat of independence. This has been the case in the abstract since 2016, of course. But shit, as I may have said before, just got real.

One of the consequences of this altered sense of reality is that you suddenly see your own history differently.

For example, it was May 2011 when the election of a majority SNP government suddenly made the prospect of a independence referendum a really possible future event, and not just something for individual daydreams and wistful collective longing in the pub. But in retrospect, the immediate test back then was of devolution itself, not yet of independence. Would the result of a Scottish election be taken sufficiently seriously in Holyrood and Westminster for a referendum to actually happen? That was the question then. Up until the last few weeks of the campaign in September 2014, Scottish Independence itself seemed, like Brexit until last week, an abstraction, a threat or a promise, depending on your point of view.

In practical political terms, the real priority for the Yes campaign was to ensure that the seemingly inevitable victory of No Thanks or Better Together or What You Will was not so overwhelming as to remove the threat of independence altogether for the foreseeable future. After all, for both Labour and SNP administrations, the name of the game from the seventies onwards was to extract concessions from Westminster with the use of a prospective threat to the status quo of the British order of things, and if Indy had been defeated 70/30 as seemed entirely possible in the early days of the campaign, then Scotland as a political entity within the union might well have been fatally compromised. If anyone had offered me 55/45 at any point before August 2014, I’d have bitten both their arms off.

That result, though it was a decision not to make the Indy Shit real just for the moment, kept the leverage real…and the electoral success of the SNP since, with a wobble or two, has maintained that reality of Scotland as a political entity, a factor in the calculations of any UK government, with a majority or not.

What really makes the difference is the vote; what England has just done. All those Labour voters who either stayed at home last Thursday or actually, unbelievably, voted for the Conservatives…have just done something very analogous to what the Scottish electorate did in 2011. They have killed the Labour Party stone dead as a serious electoral force for the foreseeable future (though as in Scotland then, the Labour party in England, left and right, will spend probably the next ten years in denial) and they have crucially decided that their democracy, their referendum, expressed though Brexit, is more important to them than anything. Than Party loyalty or the Union or any other comparative abstraction. In closing one story, in “getting Brexit done”, they have knowingly opened up another door, another pathway which only seems to lead one way.

Like I’ve always said, Breaking up the Union has always been a job for the English.

And now that Belfast has got three out of four nationalist MPs, now that Scottish voters have once again, and with a renewed sense of purpose, entrusted the SNP to navigate our way through the stormy weather to come, (can I take it that the subterranean mumbles about the SNP leadership will shoosh for a while?), we are faced in a subtly different way with defining, asserting and protecting our identity in these islands. And, as in May 2011, I would argue that here and now in the real world, the choices to be made are not yet about independence, they are once again about devolution. Is devolution a real thing or not, is Scotland at THIS moment a real entity within the UK or not. If Boris now has a real mandate for a real Brexit, can it possibly be argued that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have one too?

I don’t think so. I think, once the mince pies are digested, and at least SOME of the civil service can be dragged away from the all-consuming process of Brexit, that even this Tory government will settle on a consensus that, in the event of an SNP/Green…and maybe even LABOUR super majority for a second, binding Indy Ref after the elections of 2021.

And this time, unlike in 2014, the referendum will be different. This time, right from the outset, with a real possibility of winning, the real possibility of real independence will be on the ballot paper. Shit will be real next time. So everybody on all sides had best be ready.

And despite online assertions to the contrary, I don’t think anyone on either side is nearly ready yet. Getting ready, getting all the real arguments in place for a real world future as either an independent country or a fully subsumed status as a region of Boris’s Brexit Britainnia Inc. is the real job for 2020.

Comments (17)

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  1. Douglas Wilson says:

    It just got real for you Peter, but for EU citizens in the UK and Scottish citizens in Europe, it’s been a real drama for three and a half years now….

    It’s been a demeaning and humiliating process, one in which we weren’t even given a vote. We’ve been shafted by the moronic Brexiters and what exactly the practical effects in terms of where we live is up in the air. And always will be now. So much so I think the only thing for me to do is move back to Scotland if I can get a job.

    My freedom of movement has gone, my European citizenship removed by a rabble of Etonian twats with no mandate in my country…

    It’s time we ended English rule in Scotland. I’m moving back for it, and the more resistance that oaf Johnson puts up, the bigger the boot up the arse he’s going to get…


  2. bringiton says:

    It’s not so much Brexit itself that has been the death knell for British Labour in Scotland but the destruction of their idea
    of trans national worker solidarity.
    England,or rather it’s establishment,has made it crystal clear that the only sort of union they are interested in is one in which
    they are in charge.
    The smoke screen of solidarity with workers in the North of England has been dispelled as those same workers assisted in electing
    a xenophobic right wing government in England.
    There is no now future for the “British” Labour movement in Scotland,it is a dead parrot.

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I read George Kerevan’s piece in Monday’s National with interest. In some ways he is right; if our Prime Minister refuses a Section 30 order for Scotland to hold an Independence referendum then it is not good enough to just say OK then. If and when political options are tried and fail, we must take other action. Clearly the courts are an option but, as he says, it is within the power of Westminster to change the law to suit what it wants as was done not so long ago in another case the Scottish Government was involved with.

    He suggests that we need to take non-violent direct action at some personal risk to raise the profile and achieve what we want. In that he may be correct but what actions might be needed to create enough fuss. He suggests things like blockading the Scottish Office in Edinburgh but I’m afraid things like that would hardly get a mention in the Scottish news, never mind raise ripples in Westminster.

    Yes, we must test all options politically and legally first but if these fail then real action is the next step. Nothing we do In Scotland will do the trick, we must catch the attention of the whole UK and that means creating a fuss in London. The National’s article has a picture of Martin Luther King on the march during the segregation fight in the USA. They had what they called a “Million Man March” to Washington and that certainly got the attention it deserved. If enough of us take our cars to London, with flags flying, drive down in convoy, circle the M25 slowly a couple of times and then make for central London then we might see some attention being paid. Disrupt the rush hour every day for a month and I think we catch the attention of those that Boris listens to. Then there might be a softening of the opposition. It seems to work for the French farmers with their tractors.

    1. Bill says:

      Let the SNP commence political action- as if we were an independent country. Let us have the ground rent approach on taxation. Let us resolve the issue of currency. Let us then return to the Declaration of Arbroath and use it in order to resile from the Treaty of 1707. To hell with a referendum, what we want is independence. As I say, let us begin acting as if we were free. Get 250000 to picket Faslane. That would be a better idea than a march through Edinburgh or to London.

      The longer the issue goes on in the way that it is at the moment, the less likely independence – ironically the more likely the SNP in power. Do the SNP really want independence? what would be their raison d’être after the event? Labour might revive!! Wonder why ‘the letter’ suggesting a pro independence stance is going round?

      Nae pasaran


      1. Douglas says:

        Look, Bill, the problem is we do not have an overwhelming majority of Scots in favour of independence. If we had 65% or 70% of Scots in favour of indie, then we could just declare independence, there is no legal need for a referendum… according to Scottish Constitutional history, the Scottish people are sovereign, over any king or parliament or pope or any other body…

        …the referendum is required because the Scots have been up till now divided, and the question of legitimacy arises. Do you have the consent of the majority of Scots to declare independence? That is the question. Hence the need for a referendum.

        As for George Kerevan and others like him, I don’t think it’s very smart to start factoring in a refusal from London for indie ref II already. That is bad psychology and displays no awareness of the politics which Sturgeon and the SNP will be trying to play….

        There is a certain order we have to follow here, and right now, we should leave it to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to move things on…. there is no need to talk about civil disobedience or anything like it at the moment…

      2. Lorna Campbell says:

        Bill: I honestly do not believe that a second referendum is winnable. I think we’d be shafted again. We need to take independence out of the domestic arena and take it to the international courts. This is how we entered this accursed Union and it will be how we end this accursed Union. It has never, ever been an equal Union, not even when the two populations were quite similar. England hi-jacked it from day one and we have just sat back and taken all they have dished out. If this were a marriage between two people, England would be facing a long sentence right now. We have the Treaty. We have the UN Charter. If the SNP does not start to put into place the necessary actions to resile it, then they will find themselves left behind. The Treaty does not require a supermajority. It requires only evidence that we have not been treated fairly as a nation, as partners in the Union, and that the Treaty terms have been breached consistently and unilaterally by the UK (England) – which no one but a fool or an extremely selfishly deluded person would dispute. The implications and fall-out from this one-sided Union have become intolerable and the detriment to Scotland is unarguable. We have been shown already that devolution can do nothing to help us, and the S30 Order will be refused. The most pressing problem right now is that we have to move quickly or we will find ourselves not only locked into the Union by a refusal to countenance our independence, but also by locking us into contracts and deals we cannot get out of without massive loss. So long as we go along with Brexit, making feeble little whimpers, they will plough ahead. We need to scream and shout, kick and struggle, swear and howl. The UN Charter also affords us the right to self-determination (not necessarily independence); it affords the British/English Nationalists no such right. That is what we need people to understand: our home-gown Scottish Unionists, the British Nationalists and the English Nationalists in our midst, as well as those at Westminster, have no right in international law to prevent our independence; they have no right under the Treaty to treat us like the poor relation; and they have no right to tell us we cannot leave the Union because they do not give us their permission. Tell them to go to hell. They are not the majority. WE are. They are minorities that have come together to frustrate our human rights, and they care less than nothing for us as a nation. Don’t listen to them when they tell us they are a majority; they are not. They are a group of disparate minorities that share the one goal of taking away our human right to decide our own future. No more pandering. No more cosseting. They have cost us too much already.

    2. Papko says:

      Civil disobedience may work in central London. Camping in Parliament Square etc.
      But blocking the M25 or any other tactic that stops England’s working class getting about will be met with short shrift, did you not see what they did to those protestors atop the tube trains?

      The English working man does not “scare” easily, hence the fact they voted for Brexit in the first place and spite of all warnings are continuing regardless.

      Its the exact opposite of “canny Scots ” who weigh up the alternatives and decide what’s best.

  4. Douglas Wilson says:

    I came to live in Europe right at the time of the European Exchange Rate Crisis, Black Friday, SEP 92, sold a false prospectus. ..

    It’s been one long never ending embarrassment as the English establishment have been sparing the lives of Europeans for almost 30 years now, you know, opt outs, “hoards of immigrants” (Cameron) , not turning up to sign the Lisbon Treaty ( Brown).

    Good riddance to England The Europeans will be glad they’re gone. Now we need to tear up the Union and start again…

    European friends in Scotland, we need to harness all that anger you must feel having come to live in Scotland and being ignored By the UK govt. I hope you’re all ready for a fight, because with Johnson and Gove, it can only get nasty…

    1. Papko says:

      I worked 8 years in Germany in the 90’s (done well out of Black Wednesday as all my savings were in DM )
      I agree it has been a laboured relationship between the UK and the EU.
      But the EU did not get rid of the UK, it was the other way round.
      And the UK did pay its dues etc.
      I am optimistic for a new relationship with the EU, though I voted Remain and am sorry to see the wasteful mess leaving it has become.

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        “The UK did pay its dues”….yeah you’re right, I suppose that is no small thing given the moral depths to which Johnson, Gove and Cummings have sunk already, paying things which you have signed up to pay can’t be taken fro granted with such shysters at the helm.

        The days of the UK being a reliable and legit partner and following the international rule based order are well over, those days are in the past. People in Europe used to look up to the UK as a great democracy. That’s all gone now. I’m talking about what people on the street think here in Spain.

        As for “the UK getting rid of the EU and not the other way around”, guess what? There is no legal mechanism to expel an EU member State you see? That is not contemplated in any of the Treaties… the EU is quite like a social club or something. Once you’re in, it’s very difficult to be kicked out, you have to do something reeeeealy bad. And, say, sending 15,000 Guardia Civil to beat up little old Catalan ladies out voting for the day just ain’t enough.

        Sorry, not to share your generally sympathetic tone, but the country of England can go to Trump’s America for its friends and alliances from now on.

        If it wasn’t for Scottish soldiery, Enlightenment, invention and the Labour Party which is virtually a Scottish creation, England would be a country with about the same weight as Belgium is today.. England would never have become an international powerhouse like it became without the Scottish contribution over three centuries…

        And they do not respect the democratic will of the Scottish people. Therefore, the Union is over….let’s try to get it done as soon as possible…

  5. Douglas Wilson says:

    Sorry to harp on but feeling a tad tetchy today…. You know, we were actually insulted by a British PM, that old battle-ax Theresa May. She made a speech which singled us out and insulted us. That is unprecedented.

    By the way, is there a process to make a person non grata in Scotland? If there is, can we make Grove a persona non grata In Scotland. That man does not speak for Scotland and if we could declare him persona grata in Scotland that would make my day.

    The citizens of Pontevedra in Galicia declared Mariano Rajoy persona non grata. It’s his home town….Gove should not barred.

  6. Douglas Wilson says:

    You know, we’re not something bit player in this Union, you know? I mean, that wasn’t the deal in 1707, okay? The Union of 1707 says very, very clearly, AS ITS ESSENCE, that Scotland and England will be treated in the same way, as equal partners.

    Well, Scotland hasn’t been treated like England for decades now. Starting with Trident. Why should the citizens of Glasgow have Trident parked on their doorstep, and not the citizens of London? You know, they can park it in the Thames now, right?. We’ve had it forty years on the Clyde, now it’s their turn.

    I think the English elite / Etonian twats have forgotten where the soldiers which made up the Thin Red Line came from, for example…

    I kind of hope Johnson refuses us a referendum.

    Because if Johnson does that, they’re going to get such a blast of angry Scots writing, they’re going to remember why they had to offer a Union to us in the first place back in 1707.

    And the reason they offered us a Union, is because England never could militarily conquer Scotland. England tried for five centuries to conquer Scotland, and they failed…

    And if they think they are just going to arbitrarily impose the English will on Scotland, they can think again…

    1. Steven says:

      That was before they spent 300 years stealing our resources and manpower. Now, it would be a picnic for them with such a disparity in population. From one-fifth of England to one-twentieth, Scotland has haemorraged its people. People are its resources, and the best have gone .

  7. Jeel says:


    1. Jeel says:

      “Nothing I have seen convinces me that people in Scotland will be better off with Scotland being independent.” – ?

    2. Jeel says:

      “a fully subsumed status as a region of Boris’s Brexit Britainnia Inc. “ – ? Then say goodbye to international status at any level. Including sport.
      No more careers built on representation, darlings.

  8. MMT is right says:

    You are travelling at 100 miles an hour in a juggernaut on an icy road to hell. With Ode to Joy blaring out of the radio.

    If ……………

    a) You get us stuck in the EU fiscal rules with the IMF as our partner.

    b) Make us stand in front of a court at EFTA and get down on our knees to beg to get economic policy through.

    I know who will get the blame.

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