Sometimes I think everyone’s lost their minds.
As predicted by nobody (except those who were paying attention) the European Elections were a resounding victory for Remain-supporting parties in Scotland – who won every single voting area, as well as more or less matching the EU referendum result of 62% of the vote – and an unmitigated disaster for them in the rest of the UK.
And amidst all the hand-wringing and caterwauling about what on earth the UK Remain Camp can do to solve this crisis, they actually exacerbate the problem in the process.
Soon we’ll know the results of the European Parliament Elections.
I remember every major poll since 2014 vividly: almost perfect recall. This one stood out for me in ways that chilled me to the bone.
I’m an EU citizen, and I’m not willing to be left to the mercy of the UK Home Office. All Nicola Sturgeon’s sweet statements saying that “Scotland is your home, we want you to stay” are just that without independence: words. To protect New Scots, Scotland needs independence, and it doesn’t seem to be happening soon enough. If Sturgeon doesn’t feel she can help us, she should say so instead wringing her hands helplessly – it’s infuriating.
So I’m leaving, together with my Scottish wife and our children (aged 9, 11 and 13). We’re moving to Funen in Denmark (I’ve found myself a job in Bogense). We have our own company here in Scotland, but we don’t feel confident it can survive the recession caused by Brexit, so we’re shutting it down.
After 17 years in Scotland, I will always feel partly Scottish. I’ll always support Scottish independence, and I hope we’ll be back for an independence march from time to time. But we’re not willing to expose ourselves to Brexit Britain, complete with chlorinated chickens, a privatised health service, rising university fees, getting hounded by the Home Office, and potential no prospects of an independence referendum for decades.
It’s devastating to leave, but we don’t believe remaining here is an option.
Thomas and the other millions of EU citizens in the UK are perhaps the main reason I campaigned so strongly for Remain – to the extent of working with the official Remain campaign, rather than the SNP or another pro-indy pro-remain group. Inverclyde was the 5th highest Yes voting constituency, but a statistical knife-edge, and the SNP vote in 2015 & 2016 was “only” around 55% – meaning the other 45% might not necessarily want to talk with someone with Clootie or Yes badges. I figured that if I’m there not as an SNP member, not an independence supporter, but as part of an outfit run by people who would normally be my most dedicated opposition, I would be able to converse & talk to people who might not otherwise be receptive. It seemed to work well in Inverclyde, where we ended up the 30th-highest Remain voting constituency in all of the UK & Gibraltar. Certainly it was a lovely, if awkward, change to go to the count with the “regular” party activists & politicians on the same side of a campaign. (Indeed, of the 40 or so present at the count, there were exactly 2 representatives for the Leave campaign in Inverclyde.)
So I campaigned not just because we needed to hold the UK to a promise they made in 2014, and not just because we Scots benefit so much from working with the EU (when the UK Government allows it), but because I felt we had a great duty and responsibility to those born in another nation who made Scotland their home. I was certain that this would come before the end of March 2019 – it had to. And, like Thomas, I thought the SNP were fighting well. Then the 2017 snap election – which I maintain was nothing to do with giving Theresa May a meaningless “fresh” mandate, and everything to do with neutralising the SNP & stopping indyref2 – came & knocked the SNP for six. It’s quite demoralising when the 2nd best Westminster result in the party’s 80+ year history hurts like it did. At some point, the SNP decided to stop and regroup – and in doing so, let the deadline for an indyref that would allow Scotland to seamlessly transition from UK-region-leaving-EU to independent-nation-in-EU.
I think of all that time trying to reassure my colleagues, friends, & acquaintances who would be affected by this that the SNP wouldn’t allow this to happen. I don’t know whether the 2017 election rattled the SNP. I don’t know if this is all part of some big plan we aren’t privy to. But I do know that one great advocate and campaigner for Scottish Independence has launched his own lifeboat, taking his family to a confident independent European nation not too far away, because he lost faith. And I’m so utterly, utterly furious that we let that happen.
But even in the darkest doldrums, there must be hope. When the Yes Campaign told Inverclyde activists that “we probably won’t win Inverclyde” & had a wee table predicting a 25% Yes vote, we didn’t play that game – because the alternative was unthinkable. When SNP higher-ups were suggesting that Inverclyde might not be able to unseat the party which has dominated it practically uninterrupted for 80 years, especially after the referendum, we weren’t going to just let that deter us from doing our damnedest. And now, when some folk suggest that the SNP are just going to let a Triple-Lock mandate that is unprecedented in Scottish political history just run out, I cannot help but think I’ve heard that before.
I’m not entertaining the possibility that this will happen any more than I entertained the possibility that Inverclyde would be one of the lowest Yes-voting constituencies, or that there’d be an Inverclyde-shaped gap in Scotland’s 2015 Yellow Blanket. I don’t see the point in it. Come the end of March, whether it’s May’s ruinous deal or the ultimate goal behind the UK leaving the EU in the first place, the SNP won’t really have a choice at all. That’s why there wasn’t a referendum in the 2007 Parliament’s lifetime, and why there was a referendum in the 2011 Parliament. In both cases, the Parliamentary arithmetic was academic. That remains the case here.
I’m sorry, and frankly ashamed, that we didn’t grasp the thistle in time for Thomas, his wife, and their children to stay. I cannot stand the thought that more have already made this exodus, and that even more are considering it. They don’t want, or need, “caution,” or to wait for “the best time,” or fiddling about. They need confidence, they need determination, they need hope, that the party whose entire existence is to make Scotland the best country it can be is willing to push the boat out as far as they can. We all do.
This land is mine. This land is Thomas’. This land belongs to all of us who make it our home. But Thomas isn’t the only Scot in exile who longs to return.
I mention it only because it always makes my heart glow. The phrase “New Scots” is a well-intentioned and rather sweet one, but I prefer a simpler version – such people are Scots. They say you can’t choose your family but you choose your friends, and nothing makes me prouder of my country than that those from far-off lands should choose to come here and become, wholeheartedly, one of us, and to bring up their offspring in the same way…
… I want Scotland to be independent with my head, for the reasons exhaustively detailed on this blog for the last seven months. But I realised this week that its reluctance to stand up and take its place among the nations of the world gnaws at my heart and my soul too. Scotland is vastly more different to England than Newcastle is different to Birmingham or Norwich or Southampton, and it makes no sense on any level for it to continue to hobble along in the ill-fitting, badly-repaired shoes of Britain.
So if this rambling old post has a purpose, it’s to answer a question I’m often asked by surly Unionists. Why do I campaign for Scottish independence when I don’t live there? It’s simple: because I want to go home.
Let’s tidy up, get the tea on, and prepare for the homecoming.
This land is mine
God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land To me
And when the morning sun
Reveals her hills and plains
Then I see a land
Where children can run free
So take my hand
And walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me
“Irrevocably and Forever” is a curiously emphatic phrase which turns up in otherwise dry legalese. United States law not only waives “the performance and discharge of any and all obligations and restrictions” in the cases of amendments to bylaws, but does so “irrevocably and forever.” On 25th November 1802, Count Ferenc Széchényi donated his collections “for the use and benefit of my dear homeland and people, irrevocably and forever.” The phrase crops up in all sorts of discussions, from secession to forbearance agreements to international treaties.
Forever is a long time for something to be considered irrevocable, and according to the European Union Court of Justice, Article 50 is not something which can be issued “irrevocably and forever.” It is, it seems, something which can be withdrawn by the United Kingdom, should it wish to do so between now and the 29th of March next year.
So the question becomes not if the UK can do it, but if the UK will do it.
Ever since the wee hours of the 19th of September 2014, I’ve been desperate to be proven wrong on some things.
After a few weeks of recovery, I attended The Big Debate at the Beacon in Greenock in the later months of 2014. Stuart McMillan, then-MP Iain McKenzie, and Mona Siddiqui were present. When discussion of the Smith Commission came up, Ms Siddiqui warned us that we shouldn’t “go into something expecting to be betrayed,” that we should have good faith that the parties of Westminster would listen to Scotland. I knew then that we shouldn’t, because how many times has Lucy snatched away Charlie Brown’s football before now?
All through the referendum campaign, I didn’t think about what would happen with a No vote. Then I had to deal with what happened, and all the things that were lurking the back of my mind came flooding out. And in every single case, I was desperate to be wrong.
There are some subjects I can discuss without fear or reservation. Scottish Independence is an obvious example. Nuclear disarmament another. Pacifism – as in real pacifism, not the pathetic “passivism” strawman beloved of warmongers with vested interests in presenting their insane idealogy as the natural state of affairs. Expressing these views has lead to disagreement, ostracism, even abuse over the years. Yet it wouldn’t even occur to me to keep those views to myself. Bravery doesn’t enter into it: to be brave, you have to overcome fear. I don’t have any fear discussing these subjects, so I can’t call myself brave in doing so.
I don’t know the mind of the First Minister of Scots, but were I in her place, I would view her repudiation of Steve Bannon and everything he stands for not as bravery, but as simple common sense.
The responses to the First Minister’s decision prove it.