Cast your mind back, if you will, to the days pre 23rd June 2016, when it was possible to take an intelligent interest in current affairs without wanting to bang your head repeatedly against the wall. When it was possible to have reasoned political arguments on social media and agree to disagree without being insulted, harangued or threatened. When it was possible to read political analysis without wanting to boil and eat your own eyeballs afterwards. When it was possible to hope for better days ahead without being a deluded, naïve fantasist. Remember optimism? Man, I miss that…
Back in those days, I followed all kinds of political stories from all kinds of parts of the world, tried to educate myself as best I could on the issues at stake and revelled in being a bit of a politics nerd. I was careful, though, not to get opine about issues which I did not feel it was my place to preach about; no one wants to come across as a well-meaning but ignorant outsider, variant of the ‘Brit abroad’ stereotype, telling other people how to live their own lives. So during the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum campaign, I didn’t really take a stance one way or the other because I didn’t feel it was my business to, as a resident of England. I liked the idea of Scotland gaining autonomy – really, who with a grown-up view of the world wouldn’t? – But this was tempered with some apprehension. This apprehension, I’m now ashamed to say, was rooted in utter selfishness; if Scotland left the union, I would be stranded in an England which would be perpetually ruled by Tories.
Despite always having been a socialist, I have never lived anywhere but in a solid Tory constituency and I feared that weirdly genteel Home Counties brand of viciousness and venom would grow more powerful without the brake and sense of Scotland’s influence. There is plenty of poverty and depravation here in Southern England, as there is throughout this whole broken country and my argument then was that those people who most needed the prospect of change – which would evaporate if Scotland left – would be utterly abandoned by their departure.
I can’t remember now thinking that independence for Scotland would be a bad thing for the Scots. I remember thinking, during the Independence referendum that the argument about Scotland possibly having to leave and then apply to rejoin the EU seemed plausible enough, although I was never sure if it would actually prove to be an issue in the event of independence. The forecasts of economic ruin were also hard for me to parse; were they stark but necessary warnings, or the worst kind of scaremongering, designed to play on peoples’ insecurities?
However, here we are 34 months on and an unintended consequence of Brexit has, of course, been to blow both of these arguments out of the water. Firstly, Scotland’s 62% majority wish to remain in the EU is being totally disregarded in any case; an independent Scotland would surely be warmly welcomed back into the EU, should the need arise. Scotland’s attempts to be included in the Brexit process have been rebuffed, as Nicola Sturgeon has said,
“Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence”
And nobody does brick walled-intransigence better than Theresa May. It is pretty much her defining feature.
Secondly, even if there were some truth in the scare stories of a post-independence economic downturn, surely they can’t be any worse than the Brexit recession which is already starting to unfold, the pain of which is already being felt and which will only get markedly worse as negotiations stall, stagger and stumble on to some sort of mad conclusion?
Of course, a mature, functioning democracy would not have a system has citizens in poverty in the first place. I have been thinking about how the fact that it does, is not accidental. I have been thinking about how a confident and outward looking country would be seeking to enable rather than enslave its citizens. I have been thinking about how a country which pays lip service to notions of freedom, equality, justice and tolerance would not need to bind, belittle and plunder adjoining countries. I have also been thinking about how, in life as in politics, you ultimately reap what you sow. And I have been thinking about how people in England need to take responsibility for their own choices.
England and the people who live here need to grow up and accept that austerity, poverty, deprivation, despair and homelessness were always going to be the end result of voting Tory. If the people who live here don’t like this, then it is up to us to effect change ourselves, rather than relying on more radical voters in Scotland and Wales to provide the numbers needed to oust the Tories for us. And if more people vote for more of the same punishment again and again, than vote against it, well, at some point we have to take collective responsibility for that too. Perhaps voting reform is necessary; perhaps a different, less adversarial parliamentary system is needed. Or perhaps our politics is now irredeemably damaged, battered and broken.
It certainly doesn’t seem fit for purpose any more. (Another of the unintended consequences of the protracted danse macabre which has characterised the attempt to withdraw from the EU has been the exposure of flaws in the parliamentary system; at the very least there does seem to be an urgent need to reform the extent and consequences of executive power held by the PM.) Whatever changes are needed, a truly grown up country, wishing to maintain global reach and influence and aspiring to be seen as a beacon of tolerance, civility, prosperity and, well, good, would treat adjoining countries as equal partners, surely. Instead of dragging them down with us, as an unnamed government minister obligingly and revealingly said last month:
“Once you’ve hit the iceberg, you’re all on it together”
So there you have it. We’ve crashed the ship so you have to perish with us. Just because.
Of course, Theresa May could take the wind from the sails of the independence life rafts in Scotland and Wales and scupper their progress at a stroke by halting Brexit. A more clever, agile politician might well explore ways to do this, or at least factor it into her deliberations. But we are a long way from having any sort of sensible, thoughtful or astute presence at all at the heart of government. The grown-ups have long left that particular room. In her intransigent, robotic, tunnel-visioned-lemming-like way she is appears to be fundamentally incapable of doing this.
Recent reports say that she believes delivering Brexit is God’s mission for her; that would certainly explain her acceptance of the biblical, apocalyptical plagues upon all our houses which doing so will unleash. So be it, then. Her place in history will be assured as the cruel and heartless politician whose xenophobia enabled the toxic culture within which Brexit flourished. And also as the inept and obsessed Prime Minister whose myopic inflexibility inevitably led to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Having previously been studiedly neutral on the whole issue, then, I now believe that both Scotland and Wales should be given the chance of independence, if that is what the people who live there want. Both are beautiful and vibrant countries, rich in natural resources and with proud histories. Each is blessed with what seems to me to be an abundance of creativity and vibrant culture; for such small countries, both punch significantly above their weight in these areas.
Each already bears the scars of their unequal union with England. Meanwhile, England is drowning in a sea of intolerance, greed, and hatred, fuelled by our current siege mentality and obsession with isolation from the biggest trade bloc in the world. Why should we be allowed to drag the others down with us, as we sink further into our self-created ocean of troubles?
If I lived in Cardiff or Edinburgh, I would vote Plaid Cymru or SNP in the forthcoming elections, without a shadow of a doubt. I would also vote for independence too, given the choice, and really hope this option becomes possible for Wales and Scotland.
Alas, for now I’m marooned here, in the constituency which returned both Nigel Farage and Dan Hannan (shudders forever) as MEPs in 2015. This is my pain to bear. Disillusioned, disenfranchised and deflated, I nevertheless can no longer expect my Celtic cousins to make things better for me. You all deserve better.
Cymru am byth and Alba gu bràth!