Perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues. I know I should be grateful for getting away at all, but it’s been no fun coming back to the election aftermath, to Brexit and, worst of all, to Grenfell, possibly the worst man-made land disaster in the UK in my lifetime since Aberfan.
As the Grenfell death toll rises inexorably towards 100 and likely beyond, the truth surrounding the decisions taken by governments, both local and national, which led to a minor fire being transformed into a major catastrophe, are gradually filtering out.
Cheap cladding was specified, not because it would improve the lives of those living there, but because it would make Grenfell Tower look more attractive to the residents in the more expensive parts of the Royal Borough, the people who really counted to the local authority. Indeed, many of the spending (or saving) decisions taken by Kensington and Chelsea council seemed more concerned with reducing the opportunity for the richer residents of the borough to come in contact with the poorer ones.
The so-called internal “improvements” in Grenfell were carried out with little regard to the structural integrity of the building and there’s significant evidence emerging that the “improvements” were at least partly responsible for the seriousness of the outcome.
However, Grenfell is not the reason I started writing this blog. As I said above, it’s just one of the reasons why I’m perhaps feeling a bit depressed and this depression might be the root cause of what I’m going to say.
It has become generally accepted by all sides that a second Scottish independence referendum can only take place at the end of the Brexit process. Sure there are differences between the parties as to what constitutes the end of the process. Is it after agreement has been reached (or not reached) between the UK Government and the EU, likely in the latter half of next year? Is it when the UK formally leaves the EU, at the end of March, 2019, unless a new date is agreed in discussions? Or is it only once the full impact of leaving the EU becomes known, likely to be at least a decade after leaving?
However, all sides agree that, whenever the time comes, the Scottish people will be able to make a knowledgeable decision, based on the then known facts of the implications of staying as a part of the UK versus becoming an independent country. Unionists probably hope that a longer delay will give the UK Government time to pull off a miracle and make Brexit look like the greatest thing since sliced bread, or perhaps they just think that kicking it into the long grass will give everyone the chance to forget all about this IndyRef2 malarkey. But even independence supporters seem happy to go along with the idea, thinking that, when the terms and implications of leaving the EU become clear, many more Scots will realise what a bad deal we will get by staying as part of the UK and this will make them more likely to vote for independence.
Let’s look at this second belief in more detail. The union has been in existence for more than 300 years. The bulk of the Scottish people weren’t very keen on the idea, but it was pushed through by the politicians and the elites, the very ones who had most to gain from the arrangement, so, in the end, the street marches and protests were of no avail: the union went ahead as planned.
Wind forward to today. The bulk of the Scottish people don’t favour the union, but its continued existence is being maintained by the politicians and elites who have most to gain from the current arrangement. By the way, don’t confuse the statement above with the proportion of people who might vote to leave the UK. Many people who voted no in the independence referendum did so out of fear for the future, not out of love for the present.
So if so many people don’t think the United Kingdom is good for Scotland, why did so many vote to stay in it in 2014 and why do opinion polls consistently show less than 50% in favour of independence? The short answer, or answers as there are two, is/are fear and lies.
Let’s look at the lies. You can’t survive on your own without handouts from England. You won’t get your pension. You’ll have to use the Euro. You won’t get into the EU. You won’t get into the UN. You won’t be able to trade with any other country. You won’t be able to afford an army or navy. You’ll be responsible for the breakdown of world order. You’ll be invaded by the Russians. You’ll be invaded by aliens. All of these and more were used by the opponents of Scottish independence. All have been thoroughly debunked, but all had an effect on the outcome.
But why would such, in most cases, obvious nonsense make people change their minds? The simple answer is repetition. With a virtual monopoly of both broadcast and print media, union supporters were able to get a lie repeated time and time again, with virtually no chance that the same media would broadcast or print an opposing point of view. Often it appeared that the media were working with each other, with a story appearing on the radio on Wednesday, being brought up in Parliament on Thursday, then repeated in the press on Friday and, to (almost) quote Mark Twain, a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on.
For years, Scots have been told they are second class. For years, they’ve been told they survive on handouts from England. For years, they’ve been told they are subsidy junkies. For years, they’ve been told they couldn’t run their own country, that they aren’t equipped to make political decisions. Ruth Davidson, the leader of the so-called Scottish Conservatives, went even further to tell Scots that 90% of their countrymen and women are a burden on the state and that Scots are not normally put somewhere if there’s something they can steal. This from a person who tells us she’s a “proud Scot”. Proud to be one of a bunch of thieving, no-good layabouts?
The continued drip, drip of negativity (or at some times more like flood, flood) is what produces the fear. Having been told so often, and by so many people, that Scots are generally useless, people fear that any change can only be change for the worse. And when this gets repeated regularly practically all through your lifetime, is it any surprise that, deep down, you become a little afraid to make the leap into the unknown, to independence. You might not really believe any individual story, but there’s no smoke without fire.
So unionists have been telling us lies for years and years, probably for 300 years, since the formation of the United Kingdom, though I can’t vouch for that personally, and enough Scots have been sufficiently swayed by the lies to fear change, change that they have been told can only make things worse.
So my question is: does anyone think that this will change at the end of the Brexit process, whenever that is.? Will the media tell us how bad things might become for the UK after a Brexit on terms much worse than we have now, or will they tell us that this is just the first step to a brighter future? Will they tell us that every good outcome from the talks shows the brilliance of UK negotiating, or will they say it’s just a practical necessity? Will they place the blame for any poor outcome on the UK government or will they blame Johnny Foreigner? Do we really think the media will not be supportive of whatever is the outcome of the negotiations?
If nothing changes in the media, if the media continues to praise the UK position and continues to tell us only what the politicians and elites want us to hear about the Brexit negotiations, why would we think that the Scots taken in by the lies and the spin in 2014, those who feared change in the last referendum, are going to react differently this time and be able to see clearly that staying a part of post-Brexit UK is not in their best interests.
Unfortunately, I can’t see a post-Brexit independence referendum producing a better result. As I said at the start, perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues, but I fear that, no matter how bad the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the Scots who didn’t see it last time won’t see it this time either. So those of us who want independence need to think of a more radical approach than the current let’s wait and see how Brexit turns out.