Brexit: Unionists should take heed of Ruth Davidson’s warning – Christine Jardine

Anti-Brexit supporters hold a placard showing current Prime Minister Boris Johnson portrayed as the Joker as they take part in a "People's Vote" protest march calling for another referendum on Britain's EU membership in London (Picture: Matt Dunham/AP)
Anti-Brexit supporters hold a placard showing current Prime Minister Boris Johnson portrayed as the Joker as they take part in a "People's Vote" protest march calling for another referendum on Britain's EU membership in London (Picture: Matt Dunham/AP)
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If the past three years of debates about Brexit and independnce have taught us nothing else, surely it is that striving for separateness can bring nothing but division, writes Christine Jardine.

An American TV executive once told me that you can see the economic stress of the public in the US reflected in the viewing figures of programmes like “The Price is Right”.

Ruth Davidson told Theresa May that she 'could not support any deal that ... undermines the Union' (Picture: John Devlin)

Ruth Davidson told Theresa May that she 'could not support any deal that ... undermines the Union' (Picture: John Devlin)

When times are tough people turn to old favourites, familiar friends for comfort. It doesn’t just apply to TV programmes of course. I remember that, after her father died, my daughter re-read a Harry Potter book. If memory serves it was Deathly Hallows.

So perhaps it is no surprise that this weekend I’ve indulged in old episodes of Frasier and The Great British Bake Off to briefly take my mind off what the latest debacle at Westminster could mean.

Both programmes’ warmth and humour were exactly what I needed as antidote to an attitude in Government which leaves me cold.

Since Thursday, and the announcement of the PM’s ‘deal’, I have found my mind wandering back to 2014 and the nastiness and division we all had to endure during the latter stages of the independence referendum campaign.

I’m sure we all remember those damaged posters, online abuse and the feeling at times that nobody was spared and nothing was off-limits.

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Chanting and jostling

It was a national experience that split families and ended long-cherished friendships. Neither side of the argument was immune to the damage that it did. There is one evening in particular which lingers in my memory.

On the eve of the 2014 poll, I stopped to chat with some No campaigners at a street stall. They were a handful of people with some balloons, leaflets and two flags. Our flags. Union and Saltire.

Within a few minutes we were over-run by two coach-loads of Yes campaigners who surrounded the group chanting and jostling them towards the pavement edge where cars drove past tooting horns and waving just one of my flags. The Saltire.

After a few minutes, we decided that discretion was better than valour and headed for that most British of comforts. A cup of tea.

But I felt uncomfortable, threatened and sad – for those on both sides – that we had come to this.

I have no desire to go back there. A sentiment I’m sure is shared by many, and surely not just by those of us who want to stay in the UK.

That was one of the reasons I was dismayed to see what Boris Johnson believes is an acceptable future for these islands.

The idea of a deal with the European Union which would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom fills me with dread.

‘Undermines the Union’

When Ruth Davidson and David Mundell wrote to then Prime Minister Theresa May last year that they “could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union”, I completely agreed.

They were right then and nothing has changed since.

I firmly believe that the case for Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU is as strong as it ever was. I am Scottish, I am British and I am European.

But we cannot escape from the fact that this current Prime Minister is prepared to risk undermining that, and all our futures, by playing into the hands of those who would split up our family of nations.

I have enough respect for my Scottish Conservative colleagues to believe that many of them share my concern that the idea of a border separating us from Northern Ireland plays directly to the grievance strategy that the SNP so loves.

The increasingly discredited and chaotic attempt to divide us from a union that has served us well economically for 40 years now seems prepared to risk sacrificing one that has held strong for 300 years rather than admit that they got the argument wrong.

Perhaps I should not be surprised. After all, the threat expressed in their own Operation Yellowhammer documents of potential food and medicine shortages failed to persuade some.

Bitter days of 2014

I believe it is incumbent on all of us who remembers those bitter days of 2014, and has seen the divisions wrought by Brexit, to put the good of Scotland and its place in the Union before party loyalty.

We have also seen only too clearly in Catalonia recently where the sort of divisions and bitterness which we experienced in 2014 can ultimately lead.

As the First Minister promised another – preferably legal – indyref and Johnson played fast and loose with our future, I felt the spectre of 2014, and everything it brought, re-emerge.

At the same time the reality that the SNP was prepared to spend more on an unsuccessful by-election on Shetland than on the EU referendum campaign created a doubt in my mind whether they had really craved this scenario all along?

If the past three years has taught us nothing else, surely it is that striving for separateness can bring nothing but division, and create little but confusion and uncertainty for both individuals and business.

You cannot experience the consequences of attempting to dismantle one union without recognising that the impact of tearing up another would be at least as difficult. It is a theory I have no desire to test.

And emboldened by old familiar friends, I return to Westminster today determined to work with like minds across parliament to ensure that we do not have to.