Tag Archives: Scotland

Brexit Anniversary

22 Jun

If a week is a long time in politics, then the last year seems almost like a decade – so many seismic events and unexpected twists and turns. And somehow, here we are, one year on from the EU referendum, a time to reflect on what has happened …

As chance would have it, last year, on the day after the referendum, I was booked on the train to Scotland.  I’d forced myself to go to bed at 2 a.m., when the first signs that Leave might swing it, had begun to emerge.  It was still a surprise to find that that was what had happened, as I scrambled to get the last of my stuff together, and headed out the door later that morning.  The atmosphere on the train was unusual – a lot of thrown-together people looking slightly shell-shocked and talking in hushed tones into their mobile phones.   As we powered through the country, there were patches of flags from either side of the debate – the mood seemed one of surprise.  The news was still sinking in.

When I eventually got to Edinburgh, my first stop was the pub.  Scots were juggling the results of two successive referenda – one over independence from the UK, one over membership of the EU. I got talking with a bunch of people having an after-work pint and chewing over the day’s news.  They were a mix of Yes and No voters in the Scottish referendum, but all said then, in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, that given a choice, they would vote to leave the UK in any second referendum, and seek Scottish membership of the EU.  Unlike in England, the subject of Ireland, the border and the peace process came up quite soon in conversation.  My unrepresentative little vox pop confirmed a picture of urban Scotland as firm Remain territory. I’ve often wondered if the people I met have changed their minds meanwhile, as the falling oil price and political turbulence in the year since, has seen support for a second Scottish referendum apparently diminish, and a desire for stability (ha!) become perhaps stronger.

What else has changed in the year since, concerning Brexit? In some ways remarkably little – in spite of the triggering of Article 50 and the recent snap election, we are only slightly further on in our progress towards exit.  When thinking about what will happen with reciprocal rights for UK and EU citizens living in each other’s countries, or overall freedom of movement, or being in the Single Market, I’m often reminded of that round in the QI panel show, where they ask an obscure question, and all the contestants wave a paddle in the air, signifying that ‘Nobody Knows’…. The form of Brexit we will eventually experience remains up in the air, and the complexities of disentangling ourselves from laws, supply chains and regulations often seem to be intensifying rather than resolving.

In other ways, things have changed quite a bit – the vote to leave has led to a greater understanding of divisions and inequalities in the UK, with analysis of voting behaviour showing fault lines between urban and rural populations, highly educated people and school leavers, older and younger voters.   UKIP is basically a spent force, and the recent election, paradoxically perhaps, heralded a return to two-party politics, as the Brexit vote made for a complex set of interactions with broader party allegiances. In the snap election, Labour capitalised on frustration with the consequences of social inequalities, while the Conservatives emphasised the importance of leadership on Brexit, in an electoral strategy which imploded around the failure of leadership demonstrated in the campaign. They won the election, but lost their majority, and are now all too aware of issues around Ireland and Brexit…

One year on, we have election winners who have lost, and losers who scent victory next time – which could well be considerably sooner than anticipated by the Fixed-Term Parliament Act.  Theresa May has just been  in Brussels for a dinner with the European Council, where she was looking to outline Britain’s negotiating position in more detail.  It seems that she may be aiming for Brexit a la carte. Funnily enough, we don’t have a ready English phrase for that – unless perhaps it’s cherry-picking – which is something we need Eastern European seasonal migrants to do …. There’s no chance of an all-you-can-eat buffet of options on Brexit terms, so can we hold out for some Chef’s specials? Brexit is often discussed in terms of having our cake and eating it, but we have yet to discover what proof of pudding is in our eating ….

 

 

Scotland: a story of engagement, not divorce

19 Sep

There aren’t many things that get me up at 4.30 in the morning, but the future of Scotland is certainly one of them. Turns out I timed it perfectly – results rolling in regularly from throughout Scotland, enabling the overall result to be forecast within an hour. Scotland has said a decisive ‘No’ and the UK remains intact – there is still blue in the Union Jack this morning.

No matter which side of this debate you were on, the level of civic engagement brought to this vote is a spectacular victory for Scottish people and the democratic process. People cared about the outcome of this referendum and they were proud to stand up – and to queue – to be counted. The last couple of weeks has seen us gripped in a political story of unusual passion and intensity, and rather than turning away towards apathy, the Scottish public – all of it – engaged. From the 16 and 17 year olds voting for the first time, through a surge in registration throughout deprived communities, to pensioners turning out in high numbers, all of Scotland wanted its say. And 85% turnout is unprecedented in the UK, where disillusionment has led to relatively low levels of participation in recent elections.

So what now? What’s really interesting in the fall-out from Scotland’s decision is that it cannot be isolated from the wider context of UK democracy. Over 1.5 million people voted ‘yes’ and they have to be heard and included in the decisions made from here. David Cameron acknowledged this in his response to the outcome of the referendum this morning. He outlined a programme not just to deliver further devolution of powers to Scotland, but the address democratic deficits throughout the UK. England must have its say, at the level of regions and cities. Devolution, one might say, is coming home. It is quite a feat for Scots to redefine English politics through a demonstration of the power of participation. But perhaps we should not be too surprised – after all, the Enlightenment that heralded modernity in culture, science and civic life did grow up in Scotland and show its ability to be an engine for innovation for the wider world.

In opening up the question of devolution for all, the Prime Minister has acknowledged the strength of politics when everyone takes part. The challenge now is to deliver this throughout the UK, so that unheard voices get their say in their affairs. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the patronising tone of parts of the Better Together campaign – if the unheard are really to be brought to closer the table this tone must stop, and moves be made towards genuine inclusion throughout the UK. The Scottish vote showed that people rejected the complexities of navigating EU membership and currency in an independent country locked in an uncertain relationship with the rest of the UK. Now the ‘no’ vote raises the complexities of representing the needs of local cultures, communities and markets whilst maintaining a meaningful UK–level government. Already the constitutional experts are pointing to the many complications of who represents whom in what way, whilst working to represent their constituencies on the one hand and make decisions for the whole of the UK on the other. Is the rest of the UK ready to participate with the passion and purpose of Scots? I hope so – engagement is a promise for the future.

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