Brexit

Rollercoaster of UK politics

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Ungagged asked me to write something about the current UK political rollercoaster so here goes.

Though where do you even begin?

For me it actually feels more like being trapped in a giant kaleidoscope with a new political pattern emerging almost every day. Yet nothing really changes.In a way UK politics has been held in a state of suspended animation since June 2016 enduring constant fragmentation and eventual paralysis. Perhaps the most alarming thing is how easily we have adjusted.

We’re all having those water cooler type chats where we discuss the latest madness and agree that only God knows how it is all going to end up before we shrug and go about our business. Most people have given up trying to understand it.  

I read a tweet the other day by someone who said that future historians will decide that the outcome of Brexit was inevitable. If so, they’ll be wrong. I think we are witnessing genuine political chaos. Some people find this exciting. I don’t.

I find it exhausting and unnerving. Because the people who are behaving like headless chickens are also the people who are in charge of the UK. And many of them don’t seem to care about that responsibility very much.

I am not a fan of Theresa May – that is putting it mildly – andI think she lacks the leadership qualities necessary to be a Prime Minister butI do credit her with being willing to sacrifice her dignity, her pride and her reputation for the sake of trying to keep people even more unsuited to leadership than herself out of power.

She is patently going through hell and becomes more like Monty Python’s Black Knight every day, guarding a bridge she doesn’t even believe in while the man-babies around her continue to hack away at her in pursuit of their political fantasy. It’s painful to watch.

The fundamental problem with Brexit is that there are very few functional benefits for the UK in leaving the EU. That’s why it has been impossible to come up with a deal that can gain broad support. No-one could come up with adeal that could gain broad support because leaving the EU will, overall, have a detrimental effect on the UK.

In their hearts I feel Brexiteers know this. The arguments they cling to so passionately are emotional arguments. They cannot with stand reality.

And what of Labour? People keep assuring me that Labour has a cunning plan to allow the Tories to destroy  themselves before they swoop in at the last minute to save the day in some unspecified way. I don’t buy it and – judging by the opinion polls – neither do most voters. The country is in a state of crisis.

There are people worried sick about whether they will be able to get the medicines they need to stay alive. The current UK Government is unable to get its Brexit deal through the House of Commons. To continue to wait until things degenerate even further before moving against the government is unforgivable. Labour made a huge mistake electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.Like Theresa May, he lacks leadership qualities. I don’t think he is going to save the day.

At the moment it’s hard to see how the UK can be saved from this self-inflicted wound to be honest. It’s extremely depressing to write that. I hope I am wrong. As a Scottish nationalist I have spent much of my adult life campaigning for Scotland to become independent but England will always be our closest friend and neighbour. Right now being a Scottish nationalist feels a bit like that scene from Titanic as people sit in stunned silence in the lifeboats watching the ship go down.

Of course it’s not really as dramatic as that. A post Brexit England would continue to sail, things would settle down eventually but the country would be badly damaged and diminished in every way that matters. I don’t want to see that, none of us should, it would be desperately sad.

The Scottish Government has done everything possible to protect Scotland’s devolved powers and to make the case for remaining a part of Europe and I have no doubt they will continue to fight to stop or mitigate Brexit right up to the last possible minute. The SNP has made it clear it will support any means to achieve this – a second vote, a general election, revoking Article 50 or a compromise which allows Scotland to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.

Some have criticised this, saying Brexit is not our fight -we should just turn our lifeboats around and row away without looking back. Ithink this fundamentally misjudges the mood of the Scottish people. They feel involved in this. In fact polling has found that SNP voters are the most supportive of a second EU referendum and that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. More practically,with the UK Government in a state of chaos it would have been impossible to get agreement to hold a referendum on independence at any point over the past two years.Like it or not, this drama must play itself out before we can take the next steps on our journey.

What should those next steps look like? The SNP has a fundamental decision to make. We could embrace the chaos, put on our yellow vests and join the populist uprising. Or we could reject populism and instead chart a more careful course to our destination. I believe with every fibre of my being  that we should – and we will -choose the latter option.

Populism scares the hell out of me. It’s a Pandora’s box out of which all manner of horrors can emerge. Sometimes I hear people question what we would have to lose by throwing caution to the wind, after all how much worse could it get? I think they mean this rhetorically but the answer is, actually,it could get quite a lot worse. That’s a risk we should not be willing to take.

There is a real danger that the political chaos of brexit could undermine confidence in the next independence referendum campaign. Yet there is no real alternative to winning a referendum in order to start the process of becoming independent. This is the challenge that faces us and it will take careful thought to navigate what lies ahead. I understand peoples frustration and the desire to somehow find a shortcut which enables us to leave the UK quickly and easily.But I fear this is as much a political fantasy as the Leave campaign was – and would fall to pieces just as fast.

The case for Scottish independence is primarily functional.Yes, there is an emotional and even philosophical aspect to it but most people support independence because they believe that Scotland having the same powersand status as other countries would lead to a more successful economy and to a more prosperous and equal society.

This is the case that must be taken to people who voted No in 2014. If they weren’t swayed by emotion four years ago they won’t be swayed by emotion now. Rather, they can be won over by being persuaded that Scotland will be a better country to live in by becoming independent. The arguments underlying this can be complex however – and the outcome of Brexit matters.

What will the UK’s trading relationships look like? What will relationships with the wider European institutions and organisations look like?  Will freedom of movement really be ended once and for all?

The answers to these and many other questions matter because these issues will affect our future relationships with the rest of these islands and with the rest of Europe too.

We will need to have detailed answers to the detailed questions voters will inevitably have – and we won’t have those answers until we know what the final outcome of Brexit is. This doesn’t mean that we can’t campaign on independence, far from it, and the more Yes supporters and undecided voters we can identify before the referendum period starts the better.

But we have a considerable amount of work to do before we can bring a detailed case for voters to consider.

There’s no getting off this rollercoaster just yet. Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

By Mhairi Hunter

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

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