Brian Wilson: No Deal Brexit optimists should look to Greece

Greece's problems were created by years of political irresponsibility. Picture: AFP/Getty
Greece's problems were created by years of political irresponsibility. Picture: AFP/Getty
0
Have your say

Greece will next week exit the European Stability Mechanism after eight years of receiving massive payments to relieve chronic burdens caused by spending more than it earned.

It is unlikely this milestone will be greeted with much dancing in the tavernas. Greece’s living standards and public services remain far below pre-crisis levels and nobody expects significant improvement for many years to come.

The significance of Runrig's emergence cannot be overstated in terms of the Gaelic language

The significance of Runrig's emergence cannot be overstated in terms of the Gaelic language

I was in Athens this week and symptoms of near-catastrophe were abundant – great expanses of boarded up businesses, half-finished buildings, crumbling infrastructure.

Not all of the legacies are visible. Around half a million Greeks emigrated during the early years of the crisis – most of them young and well qualified with transportable skills. A generation of the country’s brightest and best has been lost.

Austerity on a scale beyond our imaginings have left Greek welfare support as a safety net for the most needy. Tax rises have sent businesses fleeing to more benign jurisdictions, particularly Bulgaria. The IMF thinks Greece will need debt relief long into the future.

Greece’s problems were created by years of political irresponsibility – misreporting of statistics and avoidance of economic realities, abetted by membership of the Eurozone which limited options for responding, even if government had been prepared to act. Let’s just summarise it as “political irresponsibility”.

There is a lot of that around at present and maybe its practitioners should be obliged to study Greece for an object lesson in what happens in real, human terms when evidence is neglected by politicians who cannot afford to face up to the conclusions which flow from it.

The increasing babble about “no deal Brexit” and how life could go on perfectly normally clearly fits that pattern. The fundamental point is that those who propagate that message are utterly uninterested in evidence to the contrary. Ideological hatred of the European Union trumps everything.

In that atmosphere sane people are called on to recant for speaking simple truth. The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had no sooner described a no-deal Brexit as “a mistake we would regret for generations” than he was forced to “clarify” that Britain would “survive and prosper”. Well, that’s reassuring.

I cling to the belief that our political system is not yet so crazed as to allow a “no deal Brexit” and then stand back to observe the consequences – for jobs, for trade, for border controls, for living standards, for the rights of British citizens abroad… the list is endless.

The fact it is even contemplated is a warning sign – that single issue zealots who led us into this mess with shameless disregard for evidence or truth still need to be faced down. Planning for the amelioration of chaos cannot become normalised as a rational option purely in order to appease the otherwise unappeasable.

In Scotland, we have an equally irrational form of fundamentalist politics. The SNP’s ironically named Growth Commission acknowledged that an independent Scotland would start life with a deficit greater than any EU country – including Greece at its lowest ebb. Small wonder the SNP leadership is not prepared to advertise the report at its annual conference. However, that does not stop them talking endlessly about their own preferred cliff-edge - the prospect of a second independence referendum.

Whatever uncertainties a negotiated Brexit will create, they are as nothing compared to the slough of economic despond a UK-exit would visit upon Scotland. To exaggerate the former while blandly denying the latter is absurd – particularly when their own blueprint now acknowledges a starting-point of Greek proportions and beyond.

Vast reliance is placed by the Nationalists on the beneficial role of immigration. Yet no account is taken of the certainty that, in the economic scenario acknowledged by the Growth Commission, there would be lots of out-migration – just like Greece. That reflects a curious imbalance of priorities.

The Greek experience is not a hypothesis but a reality which is available to be studied and learned from. One obvious conclusion is that it is never politicians who led the charge towards a cliff-edge who end up paying the price of their folly.

Runrig were more than a band

The 1970s were an interesting time on Skye.

I was there as editor of the fledgling West Highland Free Press which championed land reform, stood four-square with Gaelic and called the powerful to account – all under the old Land League slogan of “An Tir, An Canan, sna’Daoine/The Land, the Language and the People”.

My friends and kindred spirits on the island included the guys who started out as The Run-Rig Dance Band, live at the Skye Gathering Hall, and this weekend will bring down the curtain on a glorious 45-year career with two huge concerts in Stirling. I will join the throng with a lot of good memories.

Few in these days gave much for the future of Gaelic on Skye or anywhere else. One of its difficulties was the absence of a genre which remotely bridged the gap with what was going on elsewhere in the musical world. The significance of Runrig’s emergence cannot, in that respect, be overstated.

Counter-intuitively, an estate on Skye was bought by a merchant banker who was intensely committed to the Gaelic cause. Ian Noble turned an old steading into the genesis of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college which has grown mightily. For the past 20 years, Donnie Munro has been its development director.

The impact of these developments has lived on down to the present day. A lot has changed, not least the positive prospects for Gaelic in spite of all the challenges faced by a minority language in the 21st century.

Two unchangeables have been Rory and Calum MacDonald, at the heart of Runrig from day one. As demonstrated by the response to these final, final concerts, Runrig retain huge loyalty which has transcended the generations. They have reciprocated that loyalty – to their land, their language and their people.