The Blog

#Indyref Isn't #Brexit

Where we must learn from this rather odd debate is in not letting go of the essential practicality of what we wish to see. We must also always seek to understand our opponents, because failing to do so will see us fall into a similar trap our opponents fell into during the first referendum.

The usual churn of politics has been somewhat more violent over the weekend. The papers, filled with posturing and opinion over the EU Referendum made it all seem suddenly very real; and constant drip of Brexiteers suddenly felt like it was something more flood-like when big BoJo blew his beans.

My opinions on the matter, such as they are, were outlined in a column last week: my plea for the Prime Minister and the rest of the Remain campaign to start getting passionate about Europe was well received. There was, however, an undertone of fairly patronising guff about the wee Scot-Nat who'd somehow finally understood that he was wrong all along about his own referendum which actually had the opposite effect: pushing me to ponder how different the two referendums are.

Let's deal with our Exit-facing chums first: They are a political group seemingly devoid of a consistent worldview: what is a (in many cases justified) series of gripes (or what for Yes-voters were called grievances) against an unwieldy European Union has transformed into a utopian fantasy of a Britain becoming something it is no longer capable of being.

I too have seen those I consider normally to be capable of reasoned analysis be dazzled by the lure of easy solutions: it was with some disappointment that I read of my predecessor in Glasgow South, Tom Harris deciding to throw his lot in with the Brexiteers: I had disagreed with Tom on the constitution before, but have always found him to be reasoned and principled, and had been looking forward to agreeing with him on this.

I have resolved to read as much as I can what has motivated people like him to seek such a radical solution, learning the lessons of those who choose to dismiss my own referendum beliefs without even a cursory glance. Sadly though, it seems if you scratch below the surface of the average Leave pitch, and you find precious little in terms of what they want to see Britain become.

Contrast this with the Yes campaign: much was made of the surface Utopianism; the wish trees, amateur poetry and other such soft soap: but this was all built on a solid, thought-out worldview. Scottish independence would be facilitated, strengthened and nourished by being part of global institutions.

The campaign to fund a statue for Professor Sir Neil McCormick revealed an intellectual lodestar for the movement, for the idea that Independence (firmly within the European family of nations) was but a first step. Many recently have recently written about his fundamentally utilitarian approach to the constitution: and I also believe that's where the surge that took us from 30% close to the majority in the referendum: people who, for many years, had resisted the lure of the SNP because they simply weren't convinced, finally backed the idea of independence because they could see it being this first step towards creating a better country.

In light of this, it leaves me speechless that there are still others who see our support for remaining in the EU as some sort of political calculation: wishing for Britain to leave the EU so Scotland could stay in it would be plain daft, and conflict sharply with the Scotland (and the England) we would like to see.

But what for the Outers? No one has put forward a convincing path towards Britain becoming anything else other than a medium-sized nation looking into Europe; a middle power, willingly denying itself of the last one thing that gave it any heft. Where are the thinkers on the leave side? Do we have to content ourself with Priti Patel and her desire to rid us of these pesky European labour laws in order to turn us into South Korea? Is there anything else to the Anglosphere idea put forward by Daniel Hannan beyond a common language and assumed goodwill?

I wanted to see Scotland become an active member of the community of nations, because I could see many good examples of similar smaller nations who had done so and thrived. These are the small states who helped cajole the bigger powers into a rules-based international order, because they demonstrated it would be to everyone's benefit. It is wholly depressing to me that today, as that system is being put under pressure from many sides, so many would try to abandon it, without any real idea of what they would replace it with.

My endlessly talented constituent Andrew Tickell wrote this week about how stark the choice in Scotland now was: but he also ended by sounding a note of caution about what the calamity of Brexit could do for the assumptions we have in the SNP. I agree to a point, but am not so pessimistic: we know our values, we are confident in ourselves, and we must hold our nerve - the dream of an independent Scotland in a strong European Union may be dented by Brexit, but that does not mean we should not still strive for it.

Where we must learn from this rather odd debate is in not letting go of the essential practicality of what we wish to see. We must also always seek to understand our opponents, because failing to do so will see us fall into a similar trap our opponents fell into during the first referendum.

Some pennies may be beginning to drop, however. I was glad to see Hugo Rifkind's tweet yesterday about the unnatural feelings he was feeling about voting Yes after a Brexit: and anecdotal evidence seems to suggest many others could follow suit. I can only hope that a strong vote to remain will result on June 23, but that even that will give many of our erstwhile opponents a chance to examine our proposition anew - we all have to be utopian sometimes.

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