Not in our name
WHEN my mother was six she was evacuated from her home in Glasgow to live in a village in East Renfrewshire. Six years old, imagine that. Her parents wanted her safe from the German bombs that rained on the cities of Scotland in the second great war. It was a different world. She is now in her eighties and has lived in a country that has enjoyed consistent peace with its neighbours in Europe ever since.
Where was the truth of that story in a referendum campaign dominated by a group of chums from Eton and Oxford and the Bullingdon drinking club that treated it all as a wizard wheeze and our jobs and futures as legitimate pawns in a debating society game? Not in my name gentlemen, not in my name.
As I write I am in my office in Edinburgh’s magnificent West End but my heart aches to go home and embrace my three babies. I worry for the future they now face as their country is to be dragged into a divorce from Europe against its comprehensively stated will.
The economic fall out is immediately clear as billions are wiped off the value of companies and the currency we transact with. Whether it remains so time will tell but it makes the imagined smears and fears of the 2014 referendum seem like but drops in a tumultuous ocean storm of our own making.
I firmly believe that power should reside as close to the people as possible. I believe in the sovereignty of nations and feel no support for a European super state. But I also know that countries must co-operate to conquer the challenges we face and to take advantage of the opportunities the wider world offers.
Europe is a community of independent nations working together. It gets much wrong because nations get much wrong. But in working together we have achieved much more, not least peace for seventy years in a continent that had been at war with itself in some form or another for a millennium.
I watched the Prime Minister say that the people have spoken and their will must be respected. I agree but what about the will of the people of my country? Is our heartfelt and unified view to be ignored?
Well it can’t be. And the Prime Minister was good enough to recognise as much as he stated that the Scottish Government would need to be closely involved in the negotiations to come. Holyrood’s legislative consent will be required for the implications of what happens next.
The emotions across the UK are running high. Now is the hour for Scots of all perspective to reach for our centuries old reputation for canniness and common sense. Composure is the order of the day. There must be no place for “told you so”. We must come together across the Scottish parties and call for our finest minds and leaders to work together to secure our national interest.
The ideal outcome for Scotland is to have the ability to navigate storms like this with as much control of our own rudder as possible. We want to remain part of Europe but also to retain our centuries long partnership with the rest of Britain and Ireland. The family ties across these islands run deep and we have been through too much together for too long for it to be any other way.
But it bears no scrutiny for us to pretend that the UK is one unified nation anymore. One of the core arguments in 2014 was that the people of Bathgate and Bolton were just the same. Last night proved that their view of the world is in fact dramatically different.
Amidst it all every Scot can have one comfort and it is that in Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney we have intelligent, composed and experienced leaders that can be counted on to ‘caw canny’ and do the right thing. Far too much is at stake for short-term politics to be played.
Having endured the sneers of the metropolitan establishment for the last few years Scotland can strike a more confident note now. That we are an open, pro European, outward looking trading nation that supports the free movement of people, goods and capital is beyond doubt and will be recognised.
Our opportunity now is to be a magnet for talent, investment and jobs. We should erect a giant sign that reads “open for international business”.
There will be no urgent rush to an immediate second independence referendum but the possibility of one should strengthen her hand. The direction of travel may seem set for many though as we survey the emerging and desperate picture at Westminster.
Our immediate priority must be calmly considering exactly the sort of relationship we need with the rest of Europe and the rest of Britain and Ireland.
The First Minister’s hand is extremely strong. Unlike the Prime Minister and whoever replaces him she has the support and respect of her people, across the political spectrum. She must steward that respectfully and she will.
She doesn’t need to await a second referendum to start asserting the best interests of her country now. This starts with our economy, jobs and public services.
Scotland is not immune, at all, from the economic havoc being wreaked by the reckless leadership of the Conservative and Labour parties and the London establishment.
Public finances and services are under intense pressure. Jobs will be at risk across the country and people will be scared, very scared for their living standards now and their prospects for the future.
Into such a boiling pot the poison of populist extremism could be poured. The good news for Scotland is that our leaders are much better than that and have the consent of the people behind them.
Now is the time for the leaders of Scotland’s government, politics, businesses and institutions to work together in our collective national interest.
Nicola Sturgeon should call former First Ministers, ex-Ministers like Alistair Darling and George Robertson and diplomatic titans like former Ambassador and head of the Foreign Office Lord Kerr into Bute House. Time for Team Scotland to come together for the good of the country.
Scotland needs to “tool up” with people of talent and experience to aid our discussions with the countries of Europe and our economic position more generally.
The Scottish Government needs to listen very carefully to the concerns of major businesses and institutions in Scotland and internationally.
It needs to adopt an unerringly pro investment, stability and job creation stance and do all in its power to support the companies we depend on through desperate times. Get this right and the long-term position of Scotland could be secured positively to all of our advantage.
Good can come of this if a rational, long term and composed approach is adopted.
We need to negotiate the best possible outcomes from the negotiations with Europe and secure our economic interest for the long term. Securing an open door for talent and investment is mission critical. Scotland has plenty of room for immigrants in a country where the track record is for “new Scots” to give more to the country than they take. They have added to the public purse and helped create jobs and opportunities. They are every bit as Scottish as a 15th generation Macdonald.
This country will succeed when it can be united behind progress not by wedging a few extra votes into one camp or another.
Substance is far more important than symbols. We have had our fill of partisan politicians filling the airwaves with empty soundbites and taking the people for fools. Enough of all that not in my name.
And in return it is time for the people of Scotland to give our politicians and leaders the space and support they need to get us through an era of crisis.
Time for us to stop the hollering and abuse and to recognise the legitimacy of different views, parties and perspectives. Time to recognise that those who give themselves to public service are of noble motive, especially if we disagree with their case.
Our starting point must be that we all love our country and want the best for it. Now we must work together as we figure out what best can be.
A referendum may well come, indeed the First Minister yesterday described it as ‘highly likely” and in her statement secured maximum leverage for the talks to come. But if it does it will be unlike last night or September 2014. It will feel more like the rubber-stamping of the settled mood of the people than a binary question we must agonise over.
Nicola Sturgeon will not seek an answer until the groundswell for both doing it and answering positively is crystal clear.
The early signs are there that such a groundswell may yet come. Previous opponents of independence have already signaled they may change their view. In the emotions of the early morning even the wonderful JK Rowling suggested as much. But it will take time for the mists of the Conservative created chaos to clear and a true picture of the country’s heart and head to be discerned.
What is unquestionably true is that all of the arguments of 2014 have to be completely reset. The central planks of the “no” campaign of economic risk, exit from Europe and that the people of Bolton and Bathgate are of same mind? They lie in smithereens.
But the core case of the Yes side must also now be transformed to recognise the new realties of Europe, the rest of Britain and, of course, our economy and public finances.
It is profoundly sad that the hollow drum of British nationalism is beating a march of retreat from the world and our neighbours across the continent and the Irish Sea. We don’t have to march to that ugly rhythm. But nor do we want any severing of the economic, social, family and cultural ties that bind us close to Ireland and Britain.
We must reach for the best of all worlds through all this chaos.
And we must also take heart and confidence from another truth we would all do well to remember. No matter how bad this all feels look to my mother’s generation. They grew up in a time of dislocation and war. They were evacuated, orphaned, bombed and hurt. Their tears flowed for 6 long years but they got through.
We will also get through this. We owe it to the generations that follow to engage our brains, conduct ourselves with grace and dignity and to reach for the unity of purpose that people like Farage and Johnson sought to drive a wedge into.
Who knows what our world will look like five years from now. But, if we are gentle on ourselves and each other and learn the lessons of a turgid campaign we can make Scotland into the country we all want it to be. Our conduct now is what makes the future, not the votes of last night.