The problem now lies not in Scots understanding that the conception of the British Union as a ‘Union of Equals’ is nonsense, but in whether or not they care enough to do something about it.
One could write an analysis of the British government’s Brexit deal the size of a small book, but, for Scots, the main focus should be on the circumstances from which it was drafted. For these circumstances determine its negative content when it comes to Scotland.
At no point during the British government’s Brexit process did they consult or even take any cursory measures to recognise the self-determination of Scotland. We were once infamously told by Better Together, during the first independence referendum campaign, that Scotland ought to ‘lead and not leave the UK’. Those spouting this inane slogan didn’t even believe it as they said. With dismal consistency, Scotland’s Unionists, even those who reject the British Brexit deal, have made it clear that they’re willing to sacrifice self-determination for their Britishness.
Of course, many of them have never actually supported or recognised Scottish self-determination. British nationalism, for them, brings with it a form of regionalism that relegates the nation of Scotland to the same status as Greater Manchester or London. A region of England, essentially. To hand Unionists an obligatory Scottish nationalist cliché, Rabbie Burns’ warning in his famous ‘Parcel o’ Rogues’ of the Acts of Union turning Scotland into nothing more than a ‘province’ of England has never been more prescient (now Sark rins ower Solway sands/an’Tweed rins tae the ocean/tae mark whaur England’s province stands/such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation).
Even those with good intentions make the error of assuming Scotland ought to behave like a mere province of our larger neighbour. Ask them when the Act of Union between England and Greater Manchester or London was passed? It comes to something when I feel the need when talking about the ramifications of Brexit on Scotland to defend the foundations of our ancient right to national self-determination in such crude and crass terms.
But that’s where we’re at. And it’s where we warned you we’d be at in the result of a ‘No’ vote in 2014. Of course no one saw Brexit in our immediate future, but the dynamics that mean Scotland could be dragged out of the EU against its democratic will were elucidated. Indeed, it was the entire point of the referendum – an attempt by Scots to redress the combination of the democratic deficit in terms of Scottish self-determination and the increasing disparity in ideology between Scottish national politics and the politics of rUK.
And both of these things have intersected so acutely to lead us where we are now. At every step of the way, our current situation of powerlessness has been shaped by British contempt for Scotland and our organs of self-determination. Though many would place the beginnings of the current crisis in the conducts of the British after the referendum, it began before it.
The hordes of pathological anti-SNP and anti-Scottish independence Unionists, domestic and foreign, love to depict every move made and every word uttered by the Scottish government and Nicola Sturgeon as a calculated attempt to gain independence by stealth. The sneering nature of the main enemies of Scottish independence, depicted in its dim-witted liberal form by the likes of JK Rowling (after warning about the dangers of reducing politics to a simplistic binary, she once claimed Scottish nationalists were like the ‘Death Eaters’, the genocidal baddies from Harry Potter), believe none of their own British nationalist mantras. If they genuinely believed that the UK was a state of ‘four equal nations’, they would have got behind Sturgeon’s attempt to get Cameron to ensure that any referendum on UK membership of the EU could only pass if it passed in all 4 of the allegedly ‘equal’ nations.
David Cameron didn’t care about it and neither did anybody else, save Plaid Cymru and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn probably wasn’t even aware such a move existed – if he was, he didn’t ever acknowledge it. This wasn’t some mad Europhile demand by Sturgeon – it was a call for the UK to behave like most other advanced democracies that have federal or devolved set ups do. It’s a means to ensure balance and to stop democracy caving way to majoritarianism.
And this is what grips us now – English majoritarianism, buoyed by Unionists and British nationalists in Scotland who are so willing to cave and enact this English majoritarianism, no matter the cost. This form of English majoritarianism that is immovably wedded to anti-immigrant racism and paranoid British nationalist narratives of the EU as a ‘super-state’ eating up their sovereignty.
This is what determines the future of Scots. Not Scottish narratives that reflect the realities of Scotland, but British narratives reflecting the phantasmic prejudices that prevail among a significant portion of the English population.
And that is why the only progressive way forward for Scots lies in independence from this entity that no longer even pretends to care about Scottish self-determination. We have an alt-left Labour leader, who has, at almost every turn, supported the Tory government in its Brexit crusade, with the only distance between the two being Corbyn’s continued inane claims that he’d somehow, magically and form out of nowhere or any known political or diplomatic relations, get a better deal than May. If Corbyn were to say that he’d get a better deal by supporting a second referendum and endorsing a Remain vote, he’d wander into coherency. If he was even to say that it he’d get a better deal by endorsing a Norway-style solution, no one on the Remain side could doubt his credibility.
But Corbyn is saying none of that because Corbyn wants none of those options. It’s difficult to pinpoint the current Labour position on Brexit – as ever with the Corbyn cult, the main vacillations are between opportunism and the need to, above anything else, maintain their own power within Labour. Since the Tory deal was announced, Corbyn has come out vaguely against it, though has thus far been reluctant to move for a vote of no confidence in May that would get him the general election he appears to think would be the Great British Panacea.
Corbyn has also failed to say anything in opposition to May’s declaration that this deal ‘ends free movement’, namely because Corbyn himself has positioned himself firmly against freedom of movement in the post-Brexit era. After saying clearly last week that he wouldn’t and couldn’t stop Brexit, Corbyn came out following the announcement of the deal to say that he wouldn’t support a second EU referendum (the ‘People’s Vote’, as its proponents call it) in the near future (and even the one in the far future wouldn’t have a Remain option on the ballot – Brexit means Brexit), while making it clear that even if another referendum were to happen, he doesn’t know how he’d vote.
He might not know, but anyone with a brain knows how the lifelong Brexiter who abstained from the referendum debate will vote. The most recent Corbynist reaction to the deal is for the Leader to refuse to say whether ‘no deal’ would be better than this bad deal. Everyone is aware of ‘disaster capitalism’, but don’t for a moment think that the same concept – that political forces use socioeconomic disasters to reshape society in their own ideological image – doesn’t also apply to the Corbynist vision of ‘socialism’. The Corbyn cult might go from being inept to dangerous very quickly, with their left-wing cover for racist immigration policies and their idea that anything progressive can emerge from a disaster. Though they masquerade as a party that puts the interests of ‘working people’ first, they seem suspiciously blasé about the fact that Brexit is being led by Tories. The reality is that Corbyn’s Labour, entrenched in anachronistic dogma that masquerades as an ideology of the future, sees Brexit itself as progressively transformative. This, along with their own focus on maintaining party power, is why their opposition to the Tories has been muted, dull and often non-existent.
Brexit, even if run by a party that wants to nationalise everything and end (some) austerity (never forget that the great socialist hero Corbyn’s radical policies include keeping £7 billion of Tory welfare cuts and maintaining the disastrous and cruel Universal Credit).
But, immediate to Scots, Corbyn has shown the same sneering disdain for Scottish self-determination as May, with his minion Richard Leonard (the leader of the Scottish Branch Office of Labour, for those who don’t know and, trust me, most don’t know) stating that Scottish independence would be a far worse happening than Brexit. If you take out the Scottish independence aspect, Leonard is simply saying that Scottish self-determination has no value within the UK and, as ever, Labour are cool with that.
Sturgeon and the SNP, in contrast, reacted to the Brexit plan by demonstrating not only that it represents British contempt for Scottish self-determination, but that it would, pragmatically speaking, be a disaster for the Scottish economy. Leaving the ESM would in itself be disastrous for Scotland, but with the North of Ireland being allowed special status (as well as that colonial rock Gibraltar), status that would allow it to essentially remain in the ESM, it would create a situation where Scotland would be at a competitive disadvantage. It would mean that Scotland, which voted by a larger margin to remain in the EU than the North of Ireland, would be left to rot.
Now, it must be said that no progressive Scot begrudges this special status to the North of Ireland; in fact, I support it wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t mean that I support to the extent that I think the self-determination of the North of Ireland overrides Scottish self-determination. The Scottish demand, regardless of what the Unionists might say, has been simply for our self-determination to be put into the mix – the compromise is remaining in the ESM and CU. Theresa May, the alleged pragmatist and Unionist, could’ve played the Unionist card until she was red in the face – the only way to keep the Union together, she could’ve said to the crazed Tory Brexit zealot, is to respect Scottish self-determination and opt for a soft-Breixt.
But she chose to go down the route of crafting a Brexit dynamic that put anti-immigrant racism and the will of a relatively few English Brexiteer fanatics above all else. Of course, in the classic fate of the appeaser, those fanatics have tried to get rid of May – they cannot be appeased by any deal, as they want to drag every part of these islands into a no deal crash out. Only then could Britain truly be Great again.
Scots cannot expect to be treated like the North of Ireland on the part of the EU. Scotland renounced that right in 2014, when a majority of its people, out of fear, false promises, misconceptions and sheer conservatism, voted to remain stuck in this old anti-democratic Union.
Despite the layers and layers of complexities that comprise the current crisis, the actual choice for Scots is a simple one: if we want to have a future where we’re part of the largest market in the world, and a future where our choices and creations, good or bad, are at least our own, we must not only reject the current Brexit deal, but reject the British Union itself. This won’t be easy – there’s no majority opinion for Scottish independence, but this was always going to be a fight. City-to-city, street-to-street and house-to-house, the fight will be hard and everything will be put on the line.
But, as separatists, nationalists or simply supporters of independence, the question is now more than ideological one: it’s one that will determine not just our own immediate futures, but the futures of generations to come, faced with the contempt of the British towards our self-determination and a future shaped by the destructive politics of racism and isolationism formed out of the increasingly-venomous political essence of England. Though Unionists will continue to lie to themselves and others about Scotland’s place in the Union, the reality is that if we let them get away with Brexit, we will be precisely what we deserve to be: a mere province of England that has given a seal of approval to people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and even Nigel Farage in determining the future of the ancient nation of Scotland.
Unionists will say sneer that we lost the last referendum and, pointing to polls showing differing levels of a majority against independence, that we have no hope in another one, but to quote the great Jacobite rebel Alasdair MacDòmhnaill na Ceapaich contemplating his own fate and that of Scotland the night before he was killed by the British at Culloden, “Our enemies remind us in scorn that we are seldom met with success – and yet we never have been beaten completely.”
And that’s true until this very moment.