This is the world of little Britain and Scotland wants no part
Sunday Mail, June 26th 2016
This is what the death of a nation looks like – petty nationalism, populism, fact-free politics, and surprises everywhere. This is the world of ‘little Britain’ – and it isn’t pretty.
These are unpredictable times. There is anger and frustration. Whole sections of British society feel that politicians, elites and experts don’t understand them. Such is their desperation and feeling of powerlessness that many felt that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are the answer.
This referendum is about Europe, and has been a long time coming, but is also a proxy about so much more. It’s about the right-wing English press, the media and public obsession with personalities (even in politics), immigration, austerity and the ‘left behind’ working class.
Cameron gambled a second time for high stakes in a referendum and lost. That is bad enough, but he has lost the main strategic union for the UK internationally, and may have brought the union between Scotland and England to a bitter end.
This is the biggest Prime Ministerial disaster since Eden lied over Suez in 1956, and Chamberlain went to Munich in 1938 to appease Hitler. Both had to resign and their reputations never recovered. Perhaps the only greater disaster for a PM has been Tony Blair’s Iraq folly and subsequent fall from grace.
Pressures abound. There is the Irish question and issue of the Northern Ireland border – which in the event of Brexit could become a hard border between an EU and non-EU member and jeopardise the peace process.
Scottish independence is back on the agenda – after the country voted emphatically to remain in the EU. It isn’t going to be easy or simple. Leave aside the perma-political campaigning of the last four years, and there are going to face numerous obstacles.
First, there is a complex mess to navigate. The UK will begin negotiating to leave the EU, and the Scottish Government, along with the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations will be consulted on this. Nicola Sturgeon will want more – direct access and a voice in critical discussions.
Second, Sturgeon has to gain herself time and wriggle room to balance those impatient who want a referendum as soon as possible, and those more cautious. This entails both being calm and building a sense of momentum and inevitability about independence.
Third, progress has to entail a post-mortem over the 2014 offer. This has to examine, as the Nationalists have so far refrained from doing, what stopped people voting for the previous package, what they were feart of, and what were the most flawed and unconvincing details.
Finally, we cannot march forward under the banner of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and the nebulous ‘idea’ of independence. A plausible package has to come up with better answers on the currency, monies, national debt, difficult choices, and a version of an independent nation that isn’t under the tutelage of the Treasury and Bank of England.
Something else has to change. The SNP has to govern and do politics in a different way, instead of giving the impression it always has all the answers. Many No voters last time were not completely indisposed to Yes, but worried about tone and attitude. This coalesced around concern over Alex Salmond, the limits of nationalism, and SNP centralism and arrogance.
Sturgeon has to strike out in a number of directions. One could be an independent panel of No voters to act as a check and balance, to refer any new proposals to. Maybe it could be headed by a high-profile No voter – someone like J.K. Rowling, rather than any fading or former politician.
Across swathes of England, a rather mean, nasty, narrow-minded nationalism has arisen. Our nationalism is civic, moderate and profoundly outgoing, but this is not a moment for Scotland to speak with a nationalist voice. This is a time to stress democratic values, consensus and unity.
Scotland has voted, not just last week, but repeatedly to stress its progressive, modern and European credentials. Unfortunately, whereas once these could be taken as a given, now each is in crisis and decline. All over the developed world, what it means to be centre-left and a modern nation, along with the idea of Europe, no longer have the certainty they once did.
Everywhere in the world bar Trump and Putin, there is sadness and loss at how Britain has voted. This is what a people’s rebellion looks like, kicking against the sticks, and not knowing what it will result in.
We cannot escape the choppy waters that surround us and define our age. But we can choose to react with calmness, empathise with our confused English and Welsh neighbours, and demand of our national leaders that they speak for us, and the national interest, not just for their party. The stakes have never been higher.