I’ve hesitated to write much about Brexit: there is so much uncertainty, so much chaos. But we on the left need to get ourselves organised, if we want to prevent this chaotic uncertainty from blighting our future for generations to come. I want us to work together to stop Brexit from happening.
Scotland voted remain by a clear majority. As a nation, we understand the importance of being part of something bigger … not in a ‘being shackled to’ sense, but in a sense that while our own small country is beautiful there is a bigger world out there that we want to look out to, not close ourselves down from. I am, unapologetically, an internationalist.
I can’t not mention the disdain with which the UK treats Scotland: SNP parliamentarians being told that suicide was the best option open to them when they were not given a say in changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement; the wishes of the Scottish Parliament being completely ignored. Westminster is a farce, and it has been for some time. But it is a symbol of just how broken British democracy, is. Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken.
And this should matter to us. The 2016 EU referendum was called in order to hold the Tory party together. But there was then NO attempt to explain what it would actually mean. We were sold a completely false prospectus by the leave campaigns (still waiting for the £350 million a week for the NHS). There was no attempt to articulate what was good about the EU. No one talked about what sovereignty or “take back control” actually mean. And there was no real opposition to Brexit in Westminster. The Labour Party failed to argue either that that the EU was worth fighting for (given it has secured workers’, women’s, LGBT, environmental and so many other rights, freedom of movement, and a consolidated economic force) or that Brexit was a good idea because the EU is an anti-democratic structure that needs to be defeated in the interests of human and environmental rights.
In Scotland, we have an opportunity to offer something a little bit different to the debate. We are used to talking about politics, about how decisions should be made. We understand, here, that local power and local decision-making matters. So let’s lead the charge against a British Empire 2.0 Brexit!
Because none of the three prospects for Brexit that I think are possible is very palatable.
First, we have Brexit in name only, or BINO. This looks like an EEA sort of relationship that brings with it contributions to the EU budget, requirements to abide by Commission decisions, access to the single market, freedom of movement of people. However, it also means no say in EU policy development and implementation. And it brings with it the very real – and quite terrifying – risk of a right wing rebellion at Brexit denied. I am sure that none of us wants to see the fascism of the far right gain any purchase in our politics … we certainly don’t want a deeply racist anti-immigrant, racist backlash.
Second, we have what we might call Tory Brexiteer Brexit – “Global Britain” – signing trade deals, reorientation away from the EU and towards other markets. But this brings with it a period of deep economic reorganisation once we’ve moved to WTO rules and before we’ve negotiated any other trade deals or relationships. The economy in this context will be low wage, low regulation, no worker protection, increasing inequality (the removal of all social protections) – privatisation and full charging of NHS like US model, privatised education, road user charging, marketisation of all local government services (rubbish collections, environmental wardens, etc.). This is the Jacob Rees Mogg model. If you disliked TTIP, this brings a TTIP with every trade deal, only with even more loss of sovereignty because our negotiating weight is substantially less than that of the EU.
And thirdly, we have what we could call the Jeremy Corbyn model – Britain insulated from the global economy, much less access to global goods, the replacement of some of those with domestic industries, but the move away from having as many consumer goods, because they’ll become much more expensive. This is a much poorer country, but probably more equal and more solidaristic. But, it requires a massive reorientation of what people’s life expectations are. It’s also not really clear that it is deliverable, possible, desirable, or what anyone wanted.
I don’t want any of these futures for Scotland, or the UK, for that matter. The reason the UK government is making such heavy going of Brexit, though, is that none of these scenarios is desirable to anyone other than small groups of people. It is very hard to derive a national interest out of all of this.
So where does all of this leave us?
The truth of the matter is this. We need immigrants. We need reforms within the EU (because it is obviously far from perfect as it is). We need to make the case across Europe that the Brexit experiment is one that has failed and should not be repeated. We need to make the case that it is the idea that is bad, not simply the execution of the idea.
We are in an awkward position, however. If the question is “how do we get to where we want to be?”, the most accurate answer is “I wouldn’t start from here”. But we are here. We are here because of decades of an ideology that destroys community and creates a political elite that seeks to strip power from the people it is supposed to serve.
These are the same reasons that I argued, and still do so, for Independence for Scotland. The case for independence is stronger than ever; not because of Brexit, but because of the things that caused Brexit. Brexit is, I believe, the culmination of three important, and completely intertwined, crises: a crisis of the British state, a crisis around the collapse of a political consensus, and a deep industrial crisis.
And I firmly believe that a solution to these crises lie in transforming our democracy. We need a radical shake up of our representative democratic structures. AND we must have a new and invigorated participatory democratic society. So that is where we must focus our energies: in getting people involved, in making a noise, in demanding democracy. The fight back must be of our making, because it is our movement holds the key to a better future.