Time To THINK and Act Anew

Fifty-seven years in politics has taught me to listen to a spectrum of voices and always to recognise that none has a monopoly on wisdom. I can, therefore, read Alex Massie’s attack on SNP, and accept his identification of the SNP leadership’s failings post-Brexit. There may be 120,000 SNP members, but on policy, there are effectively three – Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Peter Murrell.

Since the result of 23rd June last year that troika has shown an ability to talk but not think. They have failed to understand that Scotland and the UK has entered a new political and economic paradigm, the contours of which will not become fully clear until details of the final UK-EU deal are known; and that talk of a second referendum should be held in abeyance until then.

The price of lack of thinking is there in the Supreme Court judgement. Anyone who read the High Court decision, and the side-blow it dealt to any idea of a decisive role for the devolved administrations, by its emphasis on the sovereignty of Parliament, should have expected the Supreme Court to take the same line, it did.

Some of us knew this, and advised against the First Minister’s decision to send the Lord Advocate to London. Had he stayed in Edinburgh, there would be no Supreme Court decapitation of the Sewell Convention, thus enabling the SNP Government to continue to use it as a means of levering itself from the fringes of negotiations to nearer the centre. Instead, having submitted Sewell to a witheringly dismissive legal judgement, May’s hand is strengthened and Sturgeon’s weakened. Curiously, since a nationalist Government sent its Chief law officer to argue that the Scottish Parliament was a special case, why not challenge the Dicey view that Parliament is sovereign by citing Lord Cooper that “the principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English Principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.”?

Our 2014 referendum was in the context of the UK in the EU, whereas next time it will be out. A very different set of political and economic circumstance, which call for careful examination, and much research, before a rational case can be deployed for independence. It is a fantasy to believe that Scotland as part of the UK, which the 2014 result confirmed, can be in the single market while the rest of the UK are out.

It is difficult to understand the obsession with the single market as distinct from having access to the EU27. The ‘single market’ is a framework of rules, monitored by the Commission, and adjudicated by the European Court of Justice. Its procurement rules demanded that the Western Isles ferry services contract be put out to tender, whereas most people would have preferred CalMac to have it in the public interest, and ensured that most of the money for purchasing construction material for the new Forth Road Bridge, left the country. Free of it we can decide our own procurement rules.

Access is what matters, the USA, China and the rest of the world have it under WTO rules, and they seem to manage just fine. US exports are $247.4 bn, and China €355.5 bn. Mrs. May is seeking an even better trading position, with freer access; which she might get, given that Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and others export more to us than we do to them. Germany alone has an £89 billion stake in our economy, and the total for the EU27 is around £690 billion with us exporting to them around £629 billion.

The leadership should remember the question posed on the ballot paper, which asked if “the UK should remain or leave the EU and they should stop pretending that Scotland voted for Scotland-only approach to membership. Again, Alex Massie is correct. The Remain and Leave votes here have no greater weight than elsewhere; and to believe that the 1.6 million Remainers will, in an independence referendum, vote to quit the UK is foolish. Ruth Davidson’s Tory voters, a good part of the Remain block will not vote to quit the UK. The SNP is fortunate at present with its opposition. Labour has collapsed, and Ruth Davidson with single minded purpose is concentrating on building new strength by farming the Unionist vote in the North East, Galloway , the Borders, and Edinburgh, before she has any chance of tackling the central belt. But the SNP should beware, it will not always be thus, the leadership might profitably learn from the words of Abraham Lincoln; “It is time to think anew and act anew.”