The Appointment in Achnamara

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said,
“Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said,
“Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”
“That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
– “The Appointment in Samarra,” as retold by W. Somerset Maugham, 1933

This is an old folk tale of a self-fulfilling prophecy: where the very act of attempting to avoid it coming to pass actually leads to its fruition.

I thought of this story, as I watched the Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum) debate in Holyrood today.

The original motion:

Motion S5M-02488: Keith Brown, Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 14/11/2016
Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)
That the Parliament recognises the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in the EU; supports calls for clarity from the UK Government on its proposals to leave the EU, including whether it will seek continued membership of the single market; notes the reports of the Fraser of Allander Institute and the National Institute of Social and Economic Research regarding the negative impact that leaving the single market would have on the UK and Scottish economies; recognises the opportunities for business and citizens that come from a Europe-wide approach to trade, regulation and free movement and the importance of ensuring that the benefits of this are shared fairly across society; supports the Scottish Government’s efforts to assist businesses in Scotland to secure new international opportunities; believes that the UK Government should seek to maintain Scotland’s place in the single market, and, in the event that the UK Government cannot or will not secure that option, calls for Scotland’s place in the single market to be fully protected.

Note that the word “independence” is nowhere to be found: all that it says is that “in the event that the UK Government cannot or will not secure that option, calls for Scotland’s place in the single market to be fully protected.” Note, too, that there is absolutely nothing controversial in recognising the “overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in the EU.” Or, at least, there shouldn’t be. If we’re a Partnership of Equals, then that means recognising the different member states might have different ideas, different priorities, different political directions.

The problem is, the anti-independence parties don’t see it that way at all.

Motion S5M-02488.1: Willie Rennie, North East Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 14/11/2016
Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)
As an amendment to motion S5M-02488 in the name of Keith Brown (Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)), leave out from first “Scotland’s place” to end and insert “the UK and Scotland’s place in the single market; considers that voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination, and, with the ongoing contradictions and absence of any certainty within the Brexit Conservative administration over issues, including the single market, calls on the UK Government to agree to a referendum on the final terms of the deal that it negotiates and for all Scottish MPs in the House of Commons to vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless this is guaranteed.”

Yes, you read that right: Willie Rennie’s party demands another referendum. Apparently it’s ok for the LDs to have a re-run on referendums they lost, but Scottish Independence supporters just have to shut up. Where were their demands for a referendum on acceptance of the Smith Agreement? After all, you could easily say “voting to stay is not the same as voting for no change.” Yet Mr Rennie’s party were no better than any of the other Unionist parties in rejecting and blocking powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Still, at least this amendment keeps most of the motion. The second amendment, not so much:

Motion S5M-02488.2: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 14/11/2016
Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)
As an amendment to motion S5M-02488 in the name of Keith Brown (Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)), leave out from “overwhelming” to end and insert “vote of the people of the UK to leave the EU; supports the UK Government in its efforts to secure a positive trading relationship with the EU for the benefit of the UK economy; notes that exports to the rest of the UK from Scotland are at four times the level of exports to the EU, and considers that access to the UK single market should not be put at risk; welcomes the opportunities that leaving the EU presents in relation to developing Scotland’s growing trade with the rest of the world, and calls on the Scottish Government to specify its proposals for the future trading relationship with the EU, and for it to work positively with the UK Government to deliver the best outcome for Scottish businesses and consumers.”

Mr Fraser’s party only wants to keep the first 5 of the 169 words in the motion. It isn’t an amendment so much as a disembowelment.

They insist that the Scottish Parliament put the “vote of the people of the UK” before the vote of the people of Scotland, despite this being the Scottish Parliament, not the UK Parliament. But we knew this would be their perspective: after all, the party campaigned against this Parliament’s very existence. Nor should it be a surprise they falsely equate domestic trade within the UK single market (Scotland to rUK) to international trade within the EU single market (UK to rEU).

What might be surprising is that Mr Fraser’s party now expects the Scottish Parliament to specify its proposals for the future trading relationship with the EU, given they have just demanded that same Parliament ignore the will of the Scottish People, and instead “support” the UK Government. Why should the Scottish Government have any proposals for a UK-wide vote? That’s the UK Government’s job, isn’t it?

leaked-memo-no-plan-for-brexit

Oh, right.

The third:

Motion S5M-02488.3: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/11/2016
Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)
As an amendment to motion S5M-02488 in the name of Keith Brown (Single Market and Trade (EU Referendum)), leave out from “supports the Scottish Government’s efforts” to end and insert “further recognises the importance of Scotland’s place in the UK single market and the opportunities for business and citizens; notes the Scottish Government’s efforts to assist business in Scotland to secure new international opportunities; calls on the Scottish Government to expand opportunities for business in Scotland to the rest of the UK, and believes that the UK Government should seek to maintain Scotland’s access to the single market and to retain the benefits that it currently derives from the EU customs union.”

This would’ve been fine, had Jackie Baillie not then spelled out exactly why the anti-independence parties have such a problem with even the vague wording of the original bill:

baillie-single-market-independence-eu

So in other words, if it was a choice between Scotland being out of the EU Single Market but in the UK, or Scotland being out of the UK but being in the EU, then Jackie Baillie and her party would choose the former. They, not the SNP, are the ones who “broke the Holyrood consensus,” as they drew the line to which they would support being part of the EU Single Market as being “not if it means independence.”

And do you know the most infuriating, frustrating, mind-bendingly ludicrous thing about all this? The anti-independence parties have just made it more difficult for Scotland to remain in both the UK and the EU:

What they have done of course is undermine Scotland’s long-term chances of getting a hearing in Brussels for any kind of exceptionalism, never mind a deal. That may depend not on Nicola Sturgeon and her skills but on a country united and imploring the 27 to look kindly on us as fellow travellers. A country that can unite across parties and with everything else, including independence, put in second place, presents a case that’s hard to dismiss. When roughly half the voters are represented by voices that are seen to be actively against membership or couldn’t care less, the entire case is weakened.

If the anti-independence parties had even a modicum of sense, they would take any option they could to try and keep Scotland in the Single Market – because far from preventing independence, they’re making it more likely that the choice is, indeed, between the UK and the EU for Scots. By refusing any sort of compromise, or even attempting to achieve a special deal for Scotland, they’re just driving that wedge deeper and deeper.

Imagine, for a moment, that we got “Devo Max,” “Home Rule,” Near Federalism,” or anything remotely like what was promised. Imagined the UK Government didn’t vote down every single amendment put forward by the SNP. Imagine the Carmichaels and Browns and Mundells could point to real, substantive, compelling new powers that would put Scotland somewhere on an equal footing with Gagauzia or Bavaria or Wallonia. Would the SNP landslide have happened to the degree that it did? Would SNP voters who didn’t want independence feel compelled to vote for them as “standing up for Scotland” when the other parties seemed to be doing just as good a job? Would Scotland even be leaving the European Union at all, if it was treated as an equal partner in this family of nations, whose vote was considered valid, rather than just part of a greater British vote?

Perhaps they were so back-footed by the failure of a Scottish Parliament to “kill Nationalism/independence stone dead” that they figured anything that could help the SNP must be stopped. Faced with the choice of risking independence, or making it all but certain, they went with the latter. Why? Who knows.

They’re so terrified of independence that they’re bringing it closer and closer by their very actions.

3 thoughts on “The Appointment in Achnamara

  1. Essential understanding of where we are. I’ll probably be waving a Euro Flag along with the Saltire drowning in the sea of YESNPeers. All arguments done.

  2. Kangaroo says:

    Well it finally became obvious to even the Yoons (unaware Unionists) that the tories, slabs and libdems are Truuns (treacherous Yoons)

  3. Jimbo says:

    Re Rennie’s amendment: … leave out from first “Scotland’s place” to end and insert “the UK and Scotland’s place in the single market…

    Maybe Willie’s had a premonition. His motion talks of Scotland as a separate entity from the UK.

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