We’re being squeezed by nationalism, says Douglas Alexander

Douglas Alexander has warned against a second independence referendum. Picture: John Devlin
Douglas Alexander has warned against a second independence referendum. Picture: John Devlin
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Douglas Alexander has said Brexit should be used to build a new British settlement through consensus that rejects the rise of “nationalism, populism and xenophobia” of modern politics.

The former Europe minister called for “new thinking” on how Scotland reacts to EU withdrawal and warns that people in Scotland are feeling “squeezed” between English and Scottish nationalism

Alexander argues for control over agriculture, fisheries, and environmental protection to be transferred directly from Brussels to Edinburgh.

The new settlement would also see Scotland given the ability to issue work permits to skilled workers so that foreign talent can come to Scotland – a proposal which would likely find favour with the SNP’s call for a separate Scottish immigration system.

The former Labour politician, who also served as Scottish Secretary, called for new constitutional arrangements to ensure “effective engagement” with the EU on devolved issues such as health care, agriculture and education.

Alexander said such an approach would be important for Scotland’s universities, which have benefited from European students and from exchange schemes across the continent.

His proposal is outlined in an article for a book, Scotland, The UK And Brexit, which is to be launched this week and is edited by the academic Gerry Hassan and Russell Gunson of the IPPR Scotland think tank. Alexander, who is now a senior fellow at Harvard University and advises Bono on global poverty, said his approach was based on a commitment to solidarity and a recognition of interdependence.

He also warned against Nicola Sturgeon’s threat of another independence referendum, saying holding one would repeat the mistake made by David Cameron when he called the Brexit vote.

“My honest worry is that the SNP now risks replicating David Cameron’s fatal error – starting off trying to solve a party problem and ending up creating a far bigger country problem,” Alexander wrote.

“Constantly threatening an independence referendum in the face of the economic evidence and without offering answers to reasonable questions doesn’t enhance the First Minister’s credibility for the discussions ahead – it diminishes it.

“Today we need more new thinking, and less of just the same old threats. Why would we choose to add greater insecurity and uncertainty to the insecurity and uncertainty already created by Brexit?

“Why would we choose an approach that guarantees division and rancour rather than an approach that could build consensus by consent?

“The reality is that millions of Scots today feel squeezed between nationalist narratives north and south of the Border and identify with neither.”

He added: “These narratives fail to recognise the grave risks posed by both governments’ respective positions and they miss the opportunity that can still be seized to find a better path forward: a path towards a constitutional settlement that I believe could command broad support from both sides of the 2014 debate, and indeed on both sides of the border.”

Writing from an SNP perspective, the former government minister says that there are challenges for the independence movement. However, he concludes that presenting a pro-European, social democratic vision of independence could secure a pro-independence result in a future referendum.