Scotland is international … we must not let the world forget that
SO, Brexit has happened and, having committed my thoughts to paper in last week’s column, I pledge here and now to never use the word again.
We will be spending lots of time agonising on what the future relationship with the EU is going to be, but Brexit has now happened and cannot be reversed. Even yesterday, with a neck of pure brass, Michael Gove admitted that there will indeed be a full panoply of checks at the borders out of and into the UK. Of course there will be, we all warned of this, it was the other side that lied and lied and lied, aided and abetted by the credulous, the uncaring and the foolish. Now they contradict themselves and expect us to let them away with it.
I hope they’ll be held to account for it in due course. Even as Gove was making his jaw-dropping announcement, most of our media was having a ripping laugh over a non-existent bridge to Northern Ireland. Don’t get me wrong, I like bridges, and a bridge to Northern Ireland would be cracking, in the same way as extending Edinburgh’s tramline to Portobello and on to Oslo would be great too.
How about a stairlift from the capital of the Forth Valley to space? Stirling, Gateway to Saturn has a ring to it. So much banter. Instead of calling out this utter garbage, too many were happy to just write about some light fun stuff rather than the boring old reality. We’re in dangerous times.
So we need to avoid distraction, even as our opponents are generating so much of it. Our focus in the Yes movement has to be on what comes next for Scotland. We tried to keep the UK in the EU. We failed, not because of anything we did or did not do but because of events elsewhere. They can bluff their way in the domestic debate but the very second their bluster comes into contact with the outside world it crumbles, so our focus must be on the outside world as much as it is on winning the domestic debate in Scotland.
It was entirely right that Nicola Sturgeon was this week over in Brussels, meeting the highest levels of the Brussels machine and impressing with every conversation. The European Parliament met in Strasbourg this week (the first full session without our participation) to sign off on the terms of the future relationship negotiations with the UK. All in plain sight, broadcast on the internet for all to see, the document is worth reading. As the European Parliament’s UK relations co-ordinator German MEP David McAllister said: “By leaving the European Union, the UK has lost the advantages of EU membership.” You’re darn tooting. And now it will become apparent to every industry and every community just how much worse off they’ll be and how much they’ll lose unless we go for independence. So keeping doors open in Brussels and across the EU is of direct relevance to each and every community, business and organisation in Scotland.
We’re an international country with an international economy, and the Tories are making our connections, by their own admission, more difficult. Damn sure we need to get on our bikes and speak to people beyond our shores. We face an existential threat. It is telling that the Tories have been out in force demanding that we all be quiet.
So last week I was in Washington for a series of visits with my old pal Stewart McDonald. We caught up with the excellent David Linden, who was also over for the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. It is an important part of the Global Britain plans – to the extent I can make any actual plan in amongst the bluster at all – to rely on a fantasy trade deal with the current incumbent of the White House.
And it is an important part of our resistance to highlight just what an empty prospect that is. Did you know, the US president can’t sign off trade deals? Not unreasonably for a developed democracy with functioning checks and balances, it needs to be signed off by their parliament. Nancy Pelosi, who one can assume has a good grasp of these things, has been quite unequivocal – no trade deal that undermines the peace process in Northern Ireland will be approved. This seems a pretty important thing to get Scotland into too, supporting the Irish but also making our own case. We met with a number of senior congressmen and women, all to highlight that while we entirely support the Irish policy, the UK as they know it is a complicated place and could be the source of, as they might see it, a lot of instability.
We need to ensure our friends and allies are not surprised by what comes next from Scotland. To say the response was warm would be an understatement. We have a lot of open doors in Washington and we will need to be back soon enough to maintain those connections.
We also met with a variety of other folks – the Brookings Institute to discuss Scotland in Europe; the Woodrow Wilson Centre to talk about on disinformation; the State Department to focus on trade policy more generally, efforts to counter disinformation campaigns and the current debate over Huawei.
The UK Government has got itself into a hell of a mess on this one, and we should not spare their blushes.
They have greenlighted Huawei to provide big chunks of the UK 5G network, and yet simultaneously admitted that there are concerns over Huawei itself as a reliable provider and the technology as it develops. The US has been pretty forthright, and I agree with them. There are sufficient concerns over the proximity of Huawei to the Chinese state, and the policy of that state in exploiting its economic strength for political ends, to justify excluding Huawei from the roll-out. There are other providers, and the UK should not be gifting big chunks of critical infrastructure to organisations beyond our control.
In the big brave world of Global Britain, the people who currently pretend to be in charge of the ship will be found wanting soon enough. We need to keep channels open with the wider world to show what sort of state we’ll be.