Scotland the brave

As everything turned tragi-comical in the days following the EU referendum, one incident struck me as being particularly significant – the resignation of the shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, on the grounds that he didn’t want to serve under Jeremy Corbyn.

This shouldn’t have been a problem, because why should a proud devolved country have a use for a sort of tinpot governor general? Except that Mr Murray is hard to replace because, whatever his other talents, he has, probably without planning it, become the only Labour MP in the world representing a Scottish constituency.

If we ask why this is and where we might go from here - rejecting the hell-in-a-handcart option - it might help to get a fix on the great changes that surround us and which we (by which I principally mean me) find it difficult to absorb.

How on earth can there by only one Labour MP in Scotland, putting Labour bottom equal with the Tories and Lib-Dems among English-based parties contesting Scottish constituencies? Whatever happened to Red Clydeside, once at the industrial heart of British radicalism and now being replaced by over-priced housing, short-term warehousing, dereliction and nail bars? Oh, I see... maybe that’s what’s happened to British radicalism; it drowned in all-conquering, non-productive, neoliberal consumerism.

I’m surprised, when the British isles seem to be breaking up into jigsaw pieces awaiting realignment, that the thoroughgoing oddness of Scotland has attracted so little attention.

While the rest of Britain has struggled to adjust to the post-industrial world, Scotland seemed, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, as confident and successful as the Icelandic football team were before they weren’t, with Nicola Sturgeon as the only UK politician who appeared to have a plan and who didn’t respond to the people’s vote by looking like she’d been slapped in the face with a wet herring. The awful Michael Gove, son of a fish merchant, always looks like that; but so too did Mr Cameron and Mr Johnson (who I refuse to call Boris because I don’t want to humanise him, and anyway he’s now become irrelevant as an England football manager) .

The pro-Europeans, to the left and to the right, were both stymied by their reluctance to confront immigration head-on, thinking, quite rightly, that British-born people in insecure, poorly-paid jobs (quite a large sub-class) could not be expected to react enthusiastically to having their insecure, poorly-paid jobs taken by people who think £5 an hour is a good deal.

You really don’t have to be a BNP supporter to see the problem; and the left’s view that immigration is OK because we’ve got lots of lovely brown care-workers and nurses, although undeniably true, is also is sentimental tosh, not least because it makes the racist assumption that people who worry about immigration are racists.

The argument that Britain could absorb, without stress among those already here, all its immigrants and proceed to any sort of sunny uplands of harmony and prosperity was not convincing to a (tiny) majority of the population.

In fact (unless you believe that 51.9 of people are inconsequential idiots) the concern is mostly about immigrants from the expanded EU, who are generally the same race as the supposed Brexit racists. It isn’t necessary to believe all the demonising nonsense in the right-wing press to see that immigrant families, however hard-working and virtuous they are, can’t help add some pressure on to public services. The counter-argument, that we don’t spend enough on public services, is true, but not immediately relevant if you can’t get a hospital appointment before your likely death-date .

I had to hover for some seconds over the ballot paper before scrawling my cross in the ‘remain’ box while thinking of clean beaches, employment laws and peace, so it didn’t surprise me that the UK as a whole had also been hovering and came up with a more-or-less draw .

The exception (which may become a rule) was in Scotland, where every single counting area produced a majority for remaining, although areas to the immediate south of the border, presumably with a very similar social profile, were overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit.

The fact, which we began with, that there’s only one Scottish MP in the Westminster parliament; that the remain side won the referendum in Scotland on a 62-38 per cent majority and that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon, who has never (unlike her English counterparts) attempted to please both sides at once, mainly by scaring the undecideds, looks more capable than any of the fractious, scrapping Westminster politicians to make our islands worth living in.


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