There’s a looming freight train coming down the tracks. But don’t worry. It won’t hit us because it will end up stalled in customs for days. That’s essentially the pitch that the Conservatives are making to the UK about the trading future between Brexit Britain and the EU, and all this is going to be negotiated on our behalf by a part time prime minister. In the meantime we also have coronavirus, flooding, snow, xenophobia, Trident renewal, the MoD dumping radioactive waste in the Clyde, and soaring homelessness. We have a governing Tory party which raked in over £37 million in donations over the general election period and which still refuses to publish the report into Russian interference and meddling in UK politics. Здесь нечего видеть. That’s Russian for there’s nothing to see here.
Meanwhile the guy in charge of dealing with the UK’s response to a pandemic is Matt Hanson, a man who has principles for every occasion – which would be spine-chilling if Matt actually had a backbone. Michael Gove oozes his way through TV interviews refusing to acknowledge that the UK is staring no-deal in the face because no deal is really an Australian style deal and threatening to walk away from the negotiations in June, and in the process producing more slime than ten times his weight in garden slugs. Priti Patel spends her time in her office smirking as she pulls the wings off flies and gloats about her purposely cruel immigration system. Dominic Cummings thinks that the more racist you are the more you’re qualified to be a government advisor. And Boris Johnson alternates between hiding in a fridge and fnaugh fnaughing.
So yeah, we’re doing just great. Living the dream. Sunlit uplands. Jam exports. Union jacks on driving licences. Blue passports. The Brexiters have got their country back, innit. What a shame it’s so shit. It’s like the Tellitubbies but with no TV reception and Lala being deported for being an illegal immigrant who can’t speak English. If the UK was a school it would be in special measures. If it was a hospital in Scotland its crappiness would be the only thing that Reporting Scotland ever talked about. If it was a Eurovision Song Contest entrant it would get nul points. If it was an episode of Star Trek Spock would have broken down in hysterical tears. It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.
The sole consolation is that at least the UK will soon be over. It’s just frustrating that it has to descend into such appalling crapulosity in order to make a majority of people in Scotland realise that we could make a far better fist of things in an independent country. It would be difficult to do worse, and even if in the unlikely event that our political classes were even worse in an independent Scotland, we could always vote them out. We’re stuck with the Tories despite the fact that Scotland hasn’t given the Conservatives a majority of Scottish seats during the lifetime of anyone under pensionable age. Or at least what used to be pensionable age before the Tories raised it. You had to be 21 to vote in 1955, when the Tories last won a majority in Scotland. That means that the only people alive today who were of voting age the last time that the Conservatives won an election in Scotland are now over 86 years old.
There’s a lot of talk, especially in the media, about the economics of independence. However the real reason for wanting independence is to do with arguments about basic democracy. It’s important we don’t lose sight of that. It suits opponents of independence to focus on other issues because they have no answers to the question of the Scottish democratic deficit.
Scotland’s democratic deficit is about more than the fact that this country rarely gets the UK government that it votes for, and only does so when England votes the same way. It’s also about how the institutions of the British state cannot and will not accommodate Scotland as a distinct nation within the UK. This goes back to the very foundation of the UK, the institutions of the UK understand Scotland’s political authority to have been extinguished by the Treaty of Union of 1707, but England’s was expanded. We see it in the way in which Brexit was sold to the UK population as the restoration of British parliamentary sovereignty, and was immediately followed by Conservative executives which used it as an excuse to arrogate yet more power to themselves at the expense of Parliament, which reached its pinnacle in Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliamentary democracy in order to deprive Parliament of time to fillet his Brexit plans. And he’s not finished yet, the Conservative manifesto included the promise that the UK government will restrict the powers of the courts to hold it in check. That’s a deeply alarming development in a state which lacks a written constitution and which already invests the Prime Minister with the powers of a dictator.
We see the democratic deficit in the way in which the British Government reacted to Scotland’s vote in the EU referendum. The way Scotland voted was seen as an irrelevance. Scotland was given no input into the shape that Brexit would take. Scotland’s concerns were not taken into account. Worse still, the British Government announced that Brexit represented a substantive change in circumstances enough to justify it making unilateral changes to the devolution settlement – to Scotland’s detriment – while denying that Brexit represented a substantive enough change to justify another independence referendum. This despite the fact that a key promise of the Better Together campaign in 2014 was that only a vote against independence could secure Scotland’s place within the EU.
The UK is in a mess, a mess which is only going to get worse, and yet within the framework of the British state the people of Scotland have no remedy. That’s the core reason why independence is a necessity. The Scottish media bangs on relentlessly about Scottish education, about the state of our hospitals, while never examining the constraints placed upon Scotland and our public services by the British state. The key point however is that while the electorate in Scotland have the ability to vote out a Scottish Government, it is powerless to do anything about the British Government which writes the rules that the Scottish Government must operate within. That’s why we need independence. Not merely to escape the vile policies of vile Conservatives, but to have the power to set the parameters within which the Scottish Government operates, to have the power to reject that government at the polls, and to change the parameters if they no longer suit us. Independence means the freedom to choose, the freedom to adapt to changing circumstances. The UK means being subject to the priorities of a political class for whom Scotland’s people are at best an inconvenience.
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My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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