The petitions which appear on change.org cover a wide range from deeply serious campaigns to eccentric ‘hobby horse’ issues. Perhaps the best I’ve seen appeared yesterday. Expressing the exhaustion many people feel with the current state of politics, a petitioner proposed: “Can we all agree that there will be no news on Friday. None. Nothing will happen. At all.”
The last week has of course been turbulent; in many senses unprecedented. It’s not just that the referendum result wasn’t what many people were predicting in the final stages, it’s also the astonishing lack of preparedness on the part of the Leave campaigners. They have brought us to this critical and complex situation, and they appear to have not the first clue what to do next.
When I was growing up our dog, a wee westie, always did her terrier best to chase after the usual targets; cats, birds, squirrels, occasionally a rabbit. Almost inevitably she got nowhere close, but still finished the chase with the excited defiance that glorious defeat can create. Once – just once – she actually came out as a winner. The cat she was after took an unlucky turning and ended up cornered, with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. But no fight ensued. No claws were needed, no fur was sent flying. The poor silly dog just turned back to look at us, completely unprepared for this new situation. This game wasn’t going the way she was used to… what now? What now?
I recognised the very same look on Boris Johnson’s face on Friday morning last week, and again yesterday as this architect of the most manipulative and dishonest political campaign I can remember abdicated responsibility for clearing up the mess he had helped to create.
This time of course it’s just a bit more serious than a cat and dog chase. The game he has played so recklessly will have profound consequences for people in this country and far beyond. It will give a momentum boost to even more toxic far-right anti-European campaigns in other countries, and it will result in political and economic chaos which may last for years.
I don’t think I can put it any more clearly than Johnson’s fellow Tory, Michael Heseltine when he said “There will be a profound sense of dismay and frankly contempt… I have never seen so contemptible and irresponsible a situation. He must live with the shame of what he has done.” If only Boris and his fellow Brexiteers had to live with it, I’d shed no tear for them. But in truth these wealthy and privileged people will not be the ones most hurt by the consequences.
The price may be paid by public sector workers in Scotland, where a draft budget cannot even be drawn up until the UK’s new Chancellor, after a leadership contest and perhaps a snap election, savages public spending even more than before. The price may be paid by small businesses whose raw materials go up in price because of the collapse in the pound’s value. It may be paid by our friends and neighbours who have moved here from other countries, already experiencing a wave of ‘Brexit racism’ and now living with fears for the future. They should all be given immediate and indefinite leave to remain, if the UK Government cares in the slightest about their wellbeing.
As readers of The National know I don’t vote for Nicola Sturgeon, and I never give her government an easy time when they don’t deserve it. But she will have the Greens’ support in taking the Scottish case to Europe, while preparing the way for a further referendum on independence if that’s what proves necessary. We’ll close down no other options, and if the Scottish Government can bring forward ideas which are achievable, we’ll keep an open mind. But we cannot afford to let the door close on the fundamental choice. Many of the people who voted No in 2014, especially those who thought long and hard instead of dismissing independence out of hand, had believed the Better Together claim that the UK would protect our position in Europe, and that independence would be a leap into an uncertain future.
Well if independence is put to the test again, nobody will be able to claim that the status quo is even an option; to remain in the UK would be to leap together into an uncertain future outside the family of European nations.
I was immensely reassured this week to see thousands of people gather together outside Holyrood – and I know this has been happening elsewhere too – to say boldly that we are not resigned to that fate. Europe is part of our history, our culture and our identity. We voted to stay, and that’s what we’re going to do.
This article first appeared in the National