MPs don’t understand what Brexit is doing to the Union – Ayesha Hazarika

Unionists and Scottish independence supporters during a march by the latter
Unionists and Scottish independence supporters during a march by the latter
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Some No voters can now imagine Scotland breaking away from the UK, crossing a huge psychological line in their head and their hearts, writes Ayesha Hazarika.

Brexit has lit a fire across the country and I mean the whole country, although for most MPs in Westminster, that means England ... especially the North of England – an area now suddenly now being fetishised for the purposes of Brexit by the same politicians who curiously ignored and indeed damaged those communities over many decades with their lack of concern and policies.

Politicians who take to the airwaves regularly in London are woefully ignorant about views from outside the bubble – particularly the anxieties and dangers stirring in Northern Ireland and, of course, the mood north of the hallowed North of England – Scotland.

Last Thursday, I was up in Ayr recording Breaking the News, a BBC Scotland satirical panel show expertly hosted by Des Clarke.

Matt Forde, the only English panellist, took his life into his hands by ribbing the audience about the Scots couldn’t understand maths as they couldn’t seem to work out that they lost the independence referendum in 2014.

He got a somewhat frosty reception but being the consummate pro that he is, won them back round with a stonking William Hague impression. But there was an edge in the room.

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On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in Glasgow as part of “All Under One Banner” to show their support for another independence referendum.

I met up with a number of people who had been staunch unionist campaigners in the 2014 referendum, but who are now seriously open-minded to the question being asked again and would consider the case for independence.

I wasn’t at all surprised by the question being back on the political agenda. It never went away and the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have never been shy about that.

But I was struck by how Brexit has turbo-boosted the most potent of political weapons – emotion even amongst unionists. Something has shifted.

The people I spoke to made powerful, cogent, public economic arguments for staying in the union four-and-a-half years ago and they still have deep reservations about the big ticket issues – these are hardened political operators, but their mindset has shifted because of how Brexit has been handled.

One staunch Labour activist, who’s no fan of the SNP, said to me that the way Westminster has treated us, by ignoring us and sidelining us, shows that even after everything “they’re still no for us and we’re no part of them”.

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I pointed out that surely the shambles of Brexit proved how difficult and complex it was to extricate yourself from a close geographic and economic partner and they conceded that this, of course, was the big question they and others were grappling with.

But, in their head and in their heart, they could now imagine breaking away. And that was a huge psychological line for them to cross.

It would be easy to scoff at this person if you didn’t know them. But that is the mistake unionists must not make.

We cannot and must not make the mistakes the Remain campaign made. Yelling about the economic peril alone and calling people stupid didn’t go so well.

And it’s not that those arguments are not vital but we won’t get permission to be heard if we don’t understand the genuine frustration so many Scots feel and their distance from Westminster politics.