My article for the Edinburgh Evening News published on 17/10/19. You can also read the full version on the Evening News website here.
The Brexit debate is raging on and the issues are becoming well known to all. We are constantly debating the need to avoid a border on the island, customs checks on people and goods, different currency regimes between the north and south, how you have a land border between two countries that have different regulatory and trading regimes, the folly of turning away from your largest trading partner. It must all sound very familiar by now.
However, I’m not referring to Brexit and the conundrum of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic but the proposition being put to Scotland by the SNP for an independent Scotland. It will not be a surprise to anyone that the arguments of Brexit and Scexit are the same.
Everyone who believes that the best deal for the UK is the one we currently enjoy as a member of the European Union has been rightly arguing the border question in Ireland is irresolvable. You simply can’t have different regulations for goods and people without checking them as they cross the border. So why are the border arguments different between Scotland and England? They are not.
All the wrong-headed arguments for Brexit are the same wrong-headed arguments for Scexit.
The SNP is making the same arguments as me and others against the UK leaving the EU but are, in the next breath, using the opposite arguments to justify Scotland leaving the UK.
It’s incomprehensible. The SNP conference this week has proven this: an admittance from the SNP Brexit spokesperson, Mike Russell MSP, that there would be an inevitable border with England; confirmation of ditching the pound for an untested Scottish currency; even a move to declare separation without any referendum. All with a Boris Johnson-esque “stop talking our country down” mantra to bat away the difficult questions.
People’s Vote doesn’t get a mention
The comparisons with the tactics of the Leave campaign and Boris Johnson are stark. This week Nicola Sturgeon demanded that the UK Government gives them the power to call another separation referendum. She knows this will not be granted but will give her an excuse to blame someone else. That is the tactic Johnson has been deploying with the EU.
And then I wonder if the SNP really does want to prevent Brexit. It transpired yesterday that they were so passionate about maintaining UK membership of the EU that they spent less on their EU campaign than they did losing the recent Scottish Parliamentary by-election in Shetland.
Whilst the rest of us were campaigning day in, day out for a Remain vote, their commitment was just £91,000 (only 13 per cent of their allocated budget).
Then there is a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal passed by Parliament with the option to Remain. I’m over the moon this is now Labour Party policy as I helped set up the People’s Vote campaign back in April 2018. The SNP came on board six months later and I thought their conference speeches this week would be littered with demands to send any Brexit deal back to the people for a final say. But no, not a single mention of it in the Westminster leader’s speech nor in the First Minister’s. She mentioned “independence” 22 times, but nothing on a People’s Vote that she claims to support. Maybe a hard or no-deal Brexit helps their separation cause?
I am clear that Scotland leaving the UK doesn’t resolve Brexit. In fact, it makes it worse. The new extreme separation the SNP is offering is the equivalent of not just cutting of your nose to spite your face but cutting your head off. Maybe all the talk of separation and demands for the powers to deliver it are to distract from the SNP’s dreadful record with our cherished public services. So bad, they didn’t allow the Scottish Health Secretary to speak at their conference.
Politics has been dominated by constitutional politics in Scotland for too long now. It has never built an affordable home, never lifted a child or pensioner out of poverty, never employed a nurse or a teacher, and never ever brought a country together. It merely creates more diversion and division.