Brian Monteith will be taking a leave of absence as he prepares to contest an election he would rather was not being held
Writing a weekly political column in The Scotsman for the last ten years has been a privilege, a challenge and, with three general elections and two referendums, a rollercoaster of a journey. Now, however, it is time to bid readers of these pages adieu – or more appropriately, au revoir.
I need to take my leave for the foreseeable future as I have decided to contest the European elections I would rather were not being held in the UK at all.
So that columnists do not gain an advantage for themselves or a party it is a Scotsman convention that if they take part in elections they step back from their regular slot. Sometimes they return, possibly chastened, maybe emboldened – sometimes they don’t.
Over the years I have had my detractors. As a Scottish unionist libertarian I inhabit a subset of a subset that makes my writing usually contrary to the prevailing view. I can live with that, but I cannot accept a vote of the people being ignored.
Thus I am, paradoxically, about to stand as a Brexit Party candidate for the European Parliament I have argued our country should no longer be part of. I believe strongly this election puts the people’s trust in democracy at great risk. To maintain our belief in the value of voting, especially in referenda where everyone’s vote counts, it is necessary to give a voice to the anger, the disgust and the disappointment that many now hold for the politicians who have lied persistently and without shame about honouring the result of the 2016 vote to leave the EU.
Some readers might remember the time when a majority of those Scots who voted in the referendum of 1979 supported the creation of a Scottish assembly – but not in great enough numbers to meet the legal threshold that would make it a reality. There was palpable outrage among many that the decision did not count. Imagine then that the vote for a Scottish Parliament in the referendum of 1997 had been ignored by the Labour government of the day that had promised to deliver it? Or imagine if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014 and three years later the SNP government had, despite repeated promises, failed to deliver it – encouraged to fail by a Westminster government serving a cocktail of threats, bullying and political chicanery.
The electorate would be beyond itself with anger and indignation, incredulous that a democratic decision had not been respected and honoured.
I have warned many times from these pages that the Conservative Government and the Labour opposition are trying the patience of the voters for stating they would abide by the vote to leave the EU on 23 June 2016 only to continually go back on their word.
I cannot recall a period, certainly not in this country nor in my lifetime, when so many promises have been made – and repeated for emphasis – only to be broken without any concern for the damage it does to the credibility of all politicians or the debasement of democracy.
I cannot recall ever a British Cabinet that has so callously abandoned collective responsibility so government becomes anarchic and impotent – and ministers might vote against their official position but carry on taking their superannuated paycheque.
I cannot believe a British government would be so willing to accept one part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, would operate under different commercial regulations where the only recourse to representation about such damaging rules would be through representatives of a neighbouring foreign power. Nor can I believe the same government cannot see its dalliance with a second referendum only strengthens the hands of separatists in Scotland who wish for a second vote too.
The leaders of both main parties opposed Brexit and lost. They defined what Brexit would look like (leaving the single market and customs union), that there would be no EU army, and amplified at full volume the immediate economic crisis we would face if we voted against their advice (a recession requiring an emergency budget with employment dropping 500,000 and GDP falling 3%). Yet, for all the foregoing scaremongering the electorate decided in our biggest democratic vote ever to “take back control” of our laws, our money and our borders.
Since then we have seen the creation of an EU army and the surreptitious offer of our military forces to it. We have seen the best growth of the largest economies in the EU, witnessed our employment grow by a staggering 800,000 and the UK become the top destination for foreign investment in the world.
It was as a result of the electorate’s expressed will the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised us “Brexit means Brexit” – only for her to ensure in her tin-eared dogmatic detachment that now Brexit must mean remain.
Her withdrawal treaty will mean continuing with the very rules and regulations we were told could be reformed or abolished, that direct trade deals with other nations cannot be realised and that customs tariffs that ensure our food and clothing costs more cannot be reduced. We will leave the Common Fisheries Policy one minute only to rejoin it immediately the next. Worse still, being an international treaty it cannot be amended and offers us no break clause for escape.
With so many of May’s promises broken her words and phrases have lost all meaning; when “no deal” was once “better than a bad deal” – it is now her bad deal.
The law of the land was we would “leave the EU on 29 March”. Conservative and Labour MPs voted together by a huge majority for it to happen, deal or no deal. If they had been sincere in their promises we would now have left and no elections would be necessary.
I have previously been invited to return to the political fray, but on all occasions I found it easy to decline. This time is different, this time giving electors a means to defend democracy itself by campaigning for a party that believes in having the referendum respected is something I cannot ignore, despite the economic risk to my livelihood.
So it is au revoir as I join others of all walks of life, from left and right, all races, religions and genders – but who believe democracy matters. I thank you all for you comments in the past, be they supportive or critical. The result I cannot predict, but democracy will have been given the opportunity to triumph over cynicism.