Shortly after The EU Referendum I was with a few like minded Labour friends discussing where we go from here. We had all been part of the No campaigns in the #IndyRef in 2014 and all bore the scars of that 18 month long campaign. We remembered the long days,the abuse we faced, the lack of sleep, the 20+ hour polling day – but also the celebrations afterwards.
In spite of this, we all agreed that, if there was another independence referendum was called, after the 2015 Election; after the Scottish Elections just past; after Brexit; after Theresa May…we’d vote Yes.
We were angry. We were angry with Brexit that Scotland opposed, but the UK accepted. We were angry with the Tories exploiting the situation during the election and presenting themselves as the only opposition voice in Scotland. We were angry with the UK leadership casually flirting with the SNP as part of a ‘progressive alliance’. We were angry and ready to give up.
But, in time, we all went back to No. The moment was over before it had begun. After the Summer passed so did our brief flirtation with independence. Our heads regained control of our hearts – and our hearts remembered what they really loved.
There is no doubting, I think, that Brexit has changed things. The dynamics in place in 2014 no longer apply in 2017, and won’t in 2018/2019. Something ‘feels’ different. I’m still not convinced a second referendum is needed – or, indeed, wanted – but it has been clear for some time that it was coming. Not because the country was crying out for it; not because Nicola Sturgeon particularly thinks she can win it; but because there is only so long you can promise to lead the faithful to the promised land before they leave you alone in the desert. It had to come – sooner or later, for better or worse.
But then, when you think about it, what does Brexit change, exactly? If notification under Article 50 is given by the end of March 2017 – we will be out of the EU by April 2019. So, unless Sturgeon is suggesting that we can go from referendum to independence within 7 months, Scotland will be leaving the EU. It won’t be ‘negotiating from the inside’ or seeking a ‘continued membership’ (as was dubiously argued by Yes in 2014), we would be on the outside looking to get back in. This has already been confirmed by EU (and NATO) spokespeople. This is now a fact no longer up for debate.
So – if we are outside we will, presumably be looking to get back in. This isn’t a given since remaining something is not the same proposition as becoming something – but if we didn’t re-apply for EU membership, what would Independence be for? So, when we apply we will have to meet the convergence criteria to join the EU – which include joining the ERM and agreeing to eventually join the Euro. At least that solves on of the 2014 #IndyRef’s biggest issues for the Yes Campaign – except the first 2 (at least) years where we won’t be allowed to use the Euro until we show we can meet the convergence criteria. So we still need to decide what we want to do for that time.
And then we have to actually go about meeting the convergence criteria which include a limit on the Deficit to GDP ratio of no more than 3% – Scotland’s is currently estimated to be about 9%. So we either have to increase tax or cut spending. Given that the current Scottish government have shown no inclination for the former (despite now having the power to do so – which they campaigned for during the 2014 referendum), one can only assume they would pursue the latter.
If that were the case, then how would their social policy, or investment in public services be any different to that currently being pursued by the UK Government? You can argue that the current party of government won’t necessarily be the first party of an independent Scotland’s government – but any government would face the same choices. We would need to get our deficit down if EU Membership was the end goal.
And it may not even be a choice to cut spending – it would almost certianly be required out of economic necessity. The most recent GERS figures show that Scotland has a larger than expected deficit. This taken with the fact that the Barnett Formula gives Scotland c. £1,400 per head means that some policy decision will have to be taken by necessity – whether or not EU Membership is the goal.
All this while we have to deal with the problems of current Scotland. Scotland where education is underfunded and under-resourced to such an extent that parents are having to take on classroom based roles. A Scotland where the NHS is facing budget cuts and in Glasgow had to cut £60million in one year to stay within budget, with the job cuts and reduction in service delivery that involved and when it’s newest shiniest hospital has faced issue after issue with no long term answers in sight. A Scotland where the Police Force is underfunded, the Crown office overworked, courts being closed, the already poorly paying Legal Aid budget shrinking in real terms year-on-year and cases take longer and longer to reach trial. A Scotland where Local Authority budgets have been cut – in Glasgow by over £300million in 10 years – and cuts of £58million this year alone leading to under-investment in roads, schools, breakfast clubs, bin collection and social care where a 15 minute care visit becomes the goal, not the baseline.
And that’s why, after a few weeks, me and my Labour Party friends returned to where we began – agreeing Scotland is stronger when part of the United Kingdom.
Because as ‘engaging’ as the first Independence Referendum was in 2014 – it was easy to forget that children still needed to go to school, people still got sick and people still needed to travel to work every day. Politics isn’t just the grand ideas – it’s getting on with life. A life that we share with our friends, neighbours, and strangers south of the border too. The same struggles of austerity and underfunded health care that people in Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle and Stoke face just as the people of Glasgow, Perth, Inverness, Dundee and Kincardine do. It’s this desire to fight these problems, together, that got me really involved in politics in the first place. That’s why I joined the Labour Party – part of a movement of like minded people up and down the UK aiming for a better Britain.
And – when we have been given the chance – Labour has created a better Britain. The creation of the NHS; Founding the Open University; de-criminalising homosexuality; Civil Partnerships; The National Minimum Wage; increasing Child benefit; Independence for the Bank of England; Devolution for Scotland and Wales; Peace in Northern Ireland; lifting 600,000 children out of poverty over the 10 years of the last Labour government; Health and Safety at Work; Human Rights. All achievements of Labour in Britain – only achievable and sustainable because of the UK coming together and using its strength to make positive change, because we believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.
But this, as well as Brexit, present another break from 2014 and a challeneg to those who want Scotland to Remain in the UK. Back then The SNP and Labour were virtually neck-and neck in Holyrood polls and Labour still 20/30 points ahead in Westminster polling. With a General Election just around the corner it seems possible, nae likely, that Ed Miliband could be Prime Minister and a Labour Government would always be better than a Tory one. Maybe, just maybe, it was worth giving the UK a final shot to convince us it would be that revolutionary reforming country once again. Now, just over 2 years and a 19-point Tory lead later – is it possible to see a possible future Labour government, in any form, to put our faith in again?