The Brexit vote wasn't about independence
The Scottish Government has filled the post-Brexit vacuum, but can't jump the gun
It has been a week of many surprises. But one of the more audacious and faintly farcical moves following the Brexit vote has been a bid by the SNP MPs, on the back of Labour’s travails, to be crowned the official opposition at Westminster.
Notwithstanding the fact that they can’t possibly represent the country as a whole by dint of the nature of the politics they represent, they used the House of Commons parliamentary rule book, which states that the official opposition to the UK Government must be “prepared…to assume power”, to argue that given the ruinous state of Corbyn’s party, with its half empty shadow cabinet and resignations a plenty, that that point was moot and they should replace them.
A point of order was raised and was overruled but the wider point was made, that amid unprecedented political turmoil at Westminster which had rendered the governing party and its opposition near impotent to act, that Scotland was doing something.
It’s hardly believable that only a week has passed since the referendum. The Brexit result leaving in its wake a country of people, not least in Scotland, stunned, shell-shocked, zombie-like, not knowing what happens next.
And the harsh reality is that there was no plan for this.
In the immediate days following the brutal death of MP Jo Cox, when the country seemed to come together in collective condemnation at the senselessness of what had just occurred and there was a tangible anger at what had become an increasingly toxic Leave campaign, it just seemed impossible to believe that people would do anything other than vote to stay in.
But then on election night as the results filtered in, it became clear that people in one country occupy very different worlds. Broadcasters looked dazed, normally voluble commentators were lost for words and politicians who should guide the way were asking, ‘where do we go from here?’
The fact is, no one was prepared. Project Fear had turned into Project Fail leaving behind it a big barren landscape of the unknown. David Cameron resigned, political leaders went absent, the financial markets went into nose-dive, racist attacks on immigrants rose and those that had led us to this place went to ground. Some felt acutely bereaved and in a climate of uncertainty where emotions run high and motivations are complex, there were some that turned on each other.
Into that chaos stepped Nicola Sturgeon. In her first speech after the tumultuous events of the night before she spoke directly to immigrants and made clear that Scotland remained a sanctuary to those that come here and make it their home.
And to Scots who had overwhelmingly voted to remain, she said she would leave no stone unturned in her quest to find answers.
And of course, because in Scotland it is a prism through which most things are seen, the prospect of independence was put firmly back on the table.
She had already talked that morning to the Prime Minister and got some reassurance directly from the Governor of the Bank of England to assuage the jitters already being felt in the financial markets. And while the figurehead for Leave, Boris Johnson, was admitting he was searching for a plan, she had already spoken to her Cabinet and arranged for an unprecedented Saturday morning meeting at Bute House so that work could go on.
She later told the Scottish Parliament that she was fighting Scotland’s corner on all fronts – in Europe, in London, and at home, where she had already set up a Brexit council of experts to inform how Scotland could effectively play its hand and she was touring businesses with words of calm.
And as David Cameron went to the European parliament to give his regrets, Sturgeon went to fight for her country.
There is some scepticism about how far any of this will take Scotland from the position it is currently in - part of a United Kingdom poised to exit the EU - but we do have the potential to create a fun-filled sideshow that could, with some luck and masterful politics by Sturgeon, bring something much more substantial for our nation.
But we shouldn’t jump the gun.
The Scottish Government has thus far filled the UK political vacuum and should be commended but we should also remind ourselves that the Scottish people didn’t vote on June 23rd for Scotland to be independent or for it to be a stand-alone part of the UK and somehow in the EU.
Hearing SNP MEP Alyn Smith use the word ‘beg ‘ in an EU Brexit debate may have won him a standing ovation from a sympathetic audience of fellow MEPs but it also suggested we would take any offer that simply allows us to hang on in and show that we’re not only European but that we are also markedly different to the Little Englanders who have now become the focus of such despise.
The Scottish economy is in a hellish state, with the oil shock still looming large, productivity still too low, employment growth stalling and the rarely mentioned fiscal deficit ludicrously high.
These are still all perhaps viewed as somehow Westminster legacy issues but progress with the EU will also demand a high price.
The FM is on good form and showing true leadership but while we should all get behind her, it can’t be at any cost.
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