THE SNP has sufficient reason to mourn the conclusion of the mechanism of Brexit. Over the past four years, the chaotic, prolonged nature of the exercise has provided it with a safe haven: a place to escape to when the heat of domestic politics threatens to consume it.
The recent Holyrood and Westminster elections may have given the SNP an overwhelming mandate for a second referendum on independence, but none came close to the sheer moral reinforcement offered by the EU referendum in 2016.
Here, it appeared, it became apparent just how far in this political generation Scotland had separated from England and the rest of the United Kingdom. When England voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted to stay by a far greater margin.
Moreover, the powers unleashed by the Brexit process seemed to underpin the ethical integrity of the Scottish vote: radical English nationalism bordering on racism and the whiff of a revived empire. As the BBC gave permanent room and board to Nigel Farage in its Question Time studio and Jacob Rees-Mogg paid tribute to Agincourt and Trafalgar, a vision of the European Union began to be formed by those on the left.
The EU became a land of unicorns and sunbeams in this rosy restoration, where lions lie down with lambs. Staff and managers coexisted together in Europe, enabling each other to benefit from the opportunities that can only be granted by a trade bloc of the world’s richest nations. Only the scarecrow conservatism’s rockets and firecrackers will want to be removed from such a friendly location, right?
The British political elite, supported by a caricatured, right-wing press, depicted EU bureaucrats as slightly sinister banking types who wanted to humiliate Britain in trade talks in order to tell the remaining 27 nations, to paraphrase the great California beat poets Frey, Helder and Henley, “You can always leave, but you’d better not,”
Meanwhile, in the Scottish left-wing boutique, a curious mutation took place. Et voila, we were all, all of a sudden, enthusiastic and good little Europeans. The SNP MEP, Alyn Smith, demanded that Brussels keep the lights on for Scotland. It seemed to establish that in Brussels the nebulous bromance at which Scotland’s political class had been playing was reciprocated.
Smith’s treasonous pronouncement was repeated by Nicola Sturgeon in the days after the UK’s formal departure from the EU. A Scottish government video, bordering on crude propaganda, emphasizes our European qualities once again. In another video that looks like an advertisement for one of those single executive places, a young woman declares in a breathy tone that “will always find warmth on our shores.” On the shoreline, a lighthouse stands proud and erect.
This was not all about enticing Europe to approve our club membership application after we achieved our independence; for the next four years, this was a campaign launch for the political narrative of the Scottish government. This is ingenious and carries all the features of the shrewd political preparation of the SNP over the last four years.
During that time, to the degree that the last 16 opinion polls suggest a strong commitment to independence, the party successfully fostered a sense of national frustration at being part of the Union. Some of this is true: the unilateral austerity policy introduced by the British Tories over the past eight years; the hostile atmosphere for Caribbean-descended British people and those perceived as the wrong kind of immigrants. However, some of this is conceived and exists solely for the purpose of saying, ‘Look, we may not be ideal, but we are not Boris Johnson.’
A boon to the Scottish government has been the chaos of Brexit, the annexation of the British government by the far right and its state-sponsored gangsterism around PSA contracts. The Brexit horror show prevented an investigation that might otherwise have come down to haphazard education policies and the continuing inability to better the lives of people in Scotland’s poorest communities. In doing so, by suggesting that things would be different if we had all the levers of true democracy at our disposal, the SNP clearly dodges any criticism of its shortcomings in key, devolved areas.
Brexit has now given a new cover: if we had not been excluded from the EU against our will, we might do a lot more. It I it I