The past is a different country: they do things differently there.
So begins L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. With due deference to that author, so begins this blog post, looking back on the different country of 2014.
In the latter stages of the Scottish independence campaign, I became a bit more involved with the Yes movement than I had been up until then. Previous involvement had been restricted to the more than occasional share of a story on social media (sorry pals – I sometimes cringe when Facebook Memories reminds me of those insightful posts from more innocent times…) and, even if I had wanted to get actively involved, medical matters intervened a bit in 2013. As and when I finally nailed my colours to the mast with a blog post in June 2014 (albeit I think most friends knew which way I was leaning) many other people – on both sides of the campaign – had been doing far more legwork than this latecomer.
My decision to so nail my colours left me with a bit of catching up to do. The Yes Campaign and the Radical Independence Campaign were involved in door-knocking in Aberdeen right up until the end of the campaign. Through the power of social media and a couple of pals, I volunteered. One such door-knocking exercise involved going back to those who had told earlier door-knockers that they were swithering about their vote. A late but friendly chat from someone might cause them to swither in a particular direction, or so the thinking went, so off we went for another door-knock.
In this canvass, I duly chapped various doors alongside the fellow Yesser I was paired with. At one door, a young Polish lady answered, and twenty or so seconds later her partner joined her at the door.
We had a decent blether. Curious as this may sound, I struggle to imagine how I could have met more Polish Scots than these: they even made the “twinty smackeroonies” joke when the wide-ranging chat turned to currency.
The kicker and I imagine the dealbreaker that arose was the question about Scotland’s place in the EU. The lad asked whether I could guarantee him EU status if Scotland voted yes. I think it was fair to say he wasn’t ready for my reaction. Maybe one reason he wasn’t ready for my reaction was the fact I began my answer with a clear “No” – sorry, lawyer here, not so great at this politicking thing maybe. Having disarmed him and indeed myself with that initial negative, I then trotted through the various arguments that I had to hand as to why I thought a strong case would be made that there would not be an instant extirpation of iScotland from the EU. [This is a fight from the last war – or another country, as Hartley might put it – so forgive me for not revisiting this here, but I won’t resist the opportunity to note Better Together still has that tweet up about voting yes being the process for removing EU citizenship; it’s almost as iconic as David Cameron’s “chaos with Ed Miliband“.] The couple listened with either interest or politeness to my o’erlang explanation. At which point, the lady I was door-knocking with cut through it all by saying something like “Of course, the real risk of Scotland leaving the EU comes from Nigel Farage and his pals taking Scotland out when England votes for it.” Well, quite. We finished the conversation with no indication either way as to how they would vote.
I sometimes wonder what that couple would think now. No, I’ve not seen them since, and I am not sure they or their neighbours would appreciate me trying to remember which secure entry button was theirs, assuming of course they have not moved in the interim years. (Are they even still in the UK?) No, I’ve no idea how they voted or if they voted (although I do know they got a vote – add that to the “our referendum was better than yours” pile). What I do know is a dealbreaker has now, apparently, flown away. We had a pretty big referendum in 2016 and, sure enough, a bald analysis of the votes suggests Scotland is leaving because English (and Welsh) votes carried the day.
So what would the couple think now? Would they and others like them have been better voting for Scottish independence? Here we enter the counterfactual: the past is a different country, after all. What I will say is I’m not so naïve as to pretend the iScotland in EU point would have automatically been a seamless process, or that a Scexiting Scotland would have had an easy time of it. Of the many things the Brexit process has taught us so far, the timely reminder that asymmetric bargaining is a variable is welcome. Nor am I so naïve as to think we can argue the very existence of the White Paper “Scotland’s Future” puts us on some sort of a pedestal from which we can look down wi sneering, scornfu view on Brexiteers. I’m not even going to claim that my wee story about canvassing in and of itself justifies Scotland staying in the EU when the rest of the UK leaves, or that the we can analyse a referendum that was about Scotland in the UK staying in the EU as a mandate for Scotland outwith the UK staying in the EU: as I’ve noted before, it’s waaaaaay more complicated than that.
But what I am going to say is this country is such an absolute clusterbùrach at the moment that it really sticks in the craw that Theresa May or whoever happens to be standing up from the Government benches in the House of Commons can just turn round and not answer any question anyone in the SNP puts to them about the current shitstorm because “something something 2014” – I mean, what a ridiculous logical fallacy which really can get in the sea. (Or, from another perspective, the response “HA SNP GOTCHA you really like the EU so something something you want to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy so get it up ye.” (I paraphrase.)) And that is just from a treatment of SNP MPs perspective, let’s not bother with how much Brexit is debasing so many other aspects of public or political life in the UK. Fancy a ferry contract, anyone? No ferries, och, I’m sure it will be fine…
The past is another country. Part of me would quite like to go back. Absent a time machine, the other part of me wants to use the remaining 1000 or so hours until Brexit happens by operation of law (!) to call out all the deflections and the guff that we are having to deal with, and also to try pretty hard to make the case for at least some kind of delay in the process so we can get our shit together.
In terms of making cases, here is a case I am not going to try to make, namely the case for a No Deal Brexit. Now, there will be some out there who will attempt to make a cogent case for a No Deal Brexit. Be that as it may, surely it is time to accept that a No Deal Brexit now with the UK’s current level of preparation would be, eh, a bit of a jolt. I mean, I’ve relied on medical treatment in the past, can we actually, seriously be even contemplating jeopardising the supply of insulin for diabetics or the radioactive materials that are integral in cancer treatment? Really?
And I’ve not even mentioned Ireland.
Now, what about Scotland? Speaking as a serial referendum loser, I think I’ve been a pretty laid back loser when it came to accepting the 2014 result: losers’ consent, and all that. I hereby post notice that if the machinations of our two great parties at Westminster result in a No Deal situation I plan to have a massive and probably ineffectual Scottish strop about it.
Not yet though. I appreciate this does sound a bit like kicking the can down the road; we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it (and boy the bridge is getting closer and it looks pretty shoogly and rickety and I’m really not sure about this…). I know some people want to go all indyref2 mode sooner rather than later, but I really do think, to quote a very important woman for the Scottish independence campaign, now is not the time. (That was a plot twist, eh?) I appreciate that Theresa May’s phrase was deployed more to accord with the line of thinking that “we’re all Brexiteers now”, which I’ve always had some reservations about but it’s getting pretty close to such reservations not mattering, I grant you. But yes, now is still not the time. The other “now is not the time point” is the age-old strategy to not interrupt a (political) enemy when they are making mistakes. The rather difficult issue with deploying this tactic is the mistakes made and trajectories that any (political) enemies adopt could plunge us into a No Deal we are palpably not ready for, so maybe some interrupting would not go amiss. And with that in mind, I think every ounce of energy from any right-thinking MP (not just those in the SNP) has to be put towards avoiding No Deal, perhaps also with a side-order of not being bounced into May’s deal. Gosh, this is tricky.
Back to this blogging lark. Why else have I written this post at this juncture? Don’t get me wrong, I know another half-baked luke-warm take from another man with his own blog is not necessarily what anyone is asking for right now, but I wanted to get that story about the EU couple I spoke to in 2014 out there. It’s been gnawing at me for a few years. I literally started this blog post in 2017, when I typed out the kernel of the canvassing story, lost direction, and saved it for another day. I only came back to it by chance when looking for something on my old laptop. Now seemed like the time to develop my thoughts and get the original story out there to boot.
Anyway, this is a mighty confused minor Scottish Twitter personality signing off. Sorry if you’ve read this far expecting a solution. I don’t have one. But I do have a fond view of a different country.