Zut alors! Nicola’s double speak over Europe has got us all tongue-tied

Nine months ago, the shackles either broke or the roof caved in. 

To those unmoved by Brexit, good luck to you; you get to march merrily on, oblivious to the tumult thundering around you. Bliss was it in that dawn to be at IKEA/ But to be choosing sofa throws was very heaven.

How the rest of us envy your equanimity. Brexit is like the 2014 independence referendum: Where nationalists derived joy — Rallies! Street art! Wish trees! — unionists wanted it all to go away. Rallies! Street art! Wish trees! The muddling middle, that greatest of British institutions, has been getting squeezed out of late.

For my part, I have a concussion and have still to pull myself out from under the rubble. What were manacles to others were lifelines to me. I cannot feign an emotional attachment to Brussels — I simply do not feel European — but the economic case for remaining was formidable and, in the end, unanswerable. Just as important, the malefic Leave campaign deserved to be rendered the public’s judgment for its dishonest and incendiary rhetoric. Sadly, it was. 

So when Nicola Sturgeon pledged herself to fighting Brexit, to recognising the 62% Remain vote north of the border, I was open-minded — even if it meant independence. 

In the months that have followed, the prospect of Scotland exiting the EU has prompted well-kent Unionists to change their stance on the constitutional question. Celebrated philosopher AC Grayling, a supporter of the Union in 2014, now backs a breakaway Scotland. (The enthusiastic tweeter has not taken Brexit well. If Godwin’s Law carried custodial penalties he’d be doing 25-to-life in Belmarsh.) 

There is anger, fear and despair at what seceding from the EU has in store for us. There is also sincere discontent at the apparent democratic outrage of Scotland voting to stay then being huckled out the back door by Mrs May’s heavies. But just as strong is the allure of an alternative nationalism, a refugees-welcome, we-are-the-world nationalism, one fronted up by that nice Miss Sturgeon. Quislings no more, Unionist sinners may repent and be welcomed into the warm embrace of the new Scottish establishment. 

Before they’re born again, these lapsed No voters ought to give their new church the once-over. Because while congregants chant with evangelical fervour, their doctrinal fidelity is ecumenical indeed. Nowhere was that clearer than at the SNP’s annual spring conference in Aberdeen, a curious gathering that was all about the EU and yet at pains to avoid the subject. Even the term was used interchangeably with ‘single market’, a rhetorical sleight of hand worth noting. In his address to conference, economy secretary Keith Brown equivocated. Six mentions of the EU; six of the single market. 

‘We are a European, internationalist party, leading a European, internationalist country,’ Miss Sturgeon told the delegates, and they hollered in approval, though she could have said, ‘We are the eggmen, we are the walrus, coo coo ca-choo’ and got much the same reaction. The SNP is a European party in its latest incarnation and yet its leader made not one reference in her speech to an independent Scotland joining the EU. 

Well, you may say, what about her pledge that EU nationals would get the right to remain in an independent Scotland? Surely that was a bold statement about the SNP’s commitment to Scotland in Europe? It may well have been, just not the statement the newly signed-up Euronats were hoping for. Question: If Scotland would be an EU member state, and fast-tracked to that status, why would any guarantee need to be made? 

Let’s not forget, Miss Sturgeon has form here. When the SNP was told in 2014 that a separate Scotland would be out of the EU and would have to apply for membership, then deputy first minister Sturgeon floated a test balloon, warning: ‘There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland… If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.’

But that was just positioning. The First Minister really means what she’s saying now. Right? 

Those of us who backed Remain conveniently forget the four-in-ten Scots who went the other way. Miss Sturgeon has to bear them in mind, and contend with Brexiteers making up (we’re told) one-tenth of her Holyrood parliamentary group and a sizeable chunk of her voter base. Former SNP depute leader Jim Sillars has become a thorn in the side of the Court of Sturgeon but when he questions the point of throwing off the yoke of Westminster for that of Brussels, the Nationalist hierarchy know the sentiment will resonate with some. 

Miss Sturgeon could press ahead and ignore these voices but that risks placing them outside the pro-independence tent. She could abandon the EU altogether but then her new friends would leave again in a huff. The best compromise at her disposal is to play both sides for as long as possible with carefully crafted rhetoric and go for the halfway house of EFTA membership, placing Scotland inside the single market but outside the EU. 

True, the Nationalists have been committed to ‘independence in Europe’ for 30 years but they were opposed to Nato membership for 30 years and U-turned for political expediency. Would Nicola Sturgeon like Scotland to be in the EU? Undoubtedly. Would most of her members? Probably. Would they ditch Brussels if it got in the way of securing a majority for independence? Faster than you could hum the opening bar of Ode to Joy.

All this should give the Euronats pause for thought. To make common cause with the SNP in pursuit of the European ideal is one thing. If independence can keep Scotland in the EU, Nicola Sturgeon deserves a fair hearing. But to sign up for one nationalism to escape another, and get only warm words and perhaps a trading partnership in return, is not the act of idealist. It’s the self-deception of a useful idiot.

*****

Gordon Brown — Son of the Manse, Father of the Nation — has popped up with yet another model of federalism.

He does it every few months now and always while pacing back and forth on a stage. There must be a way for him to take exercise without adding to Britain’s burgeoning constitutional crises. 

The former Prime Minister’s comments prompted a civic and joyous response from his SNP successor in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. Roger Mullin, a man who would lose an IQ contest with Pete Wishart, tweeted: ‘It was argued by Labour insiders Gordon Brown is psychologically flawed. Given his intervention we can add intellectually and morally flawed.’

Being called morally flawed by a nationalist is like having your parenting abilities questioned by Rose West. Smarter Nats will see an opportunity, heralding Mr Brown’s speech as proof Downing Street could concede more. Gordon Brown helped save the Union in 2014 but the most useful Vow he could take now is one of silence. 

*****

Cringe-induing scenes at the joint press conference between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel last week. First the toddler-in-chief refused to shake hands with the German Chancellor then he cracked a joke about her being bugged by the Obama administration. Merkel’s look of incredulity said it all. It was like JFK’s trip to Berlin in reverse: Ich bin ein Grown-up.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Feature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.

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