The public are being duped over Brexit by both the Tories and the SNP, writes Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP.
Somewhere, in a windowless room of a national opinion polling organisation, the answers offered by a recent focus group uncovered a worrying reality.
When asked a series of questions about Boris Johnson’s new Brexit ‘deal’ the carefully selected cross-section of the UK public demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding as to what is actually going on.
The research discovered that almost universally, those asked thought that the ‘deal’ being examined at Westminster represented not just the terms of our withdrawal from the European Union but the entirety our future trading and political relationship with the bloc.
When told that this was just the beginning and that Brexit itself would trigger years of detailed, high-stakes negotiations and trade talks (which could still result in no-deal) – the response was a “horrified silence”.
It demonstrates the mistaken, yet widely held belief that “getting Brexit done” will conclude with the passage of a withdrawal agreement. Yet in reality, the wrangling, the double-dealing and the persistent threat of crashing out without a deal after the transition period are set to go on and on and on.
Part of the cause of this confusion is that very few political parties are being straight with the public right now, either about what is going on in the Brexit endgame, or how they feel about it.
Take the Prime Minister. In 2017, Theresa May proposed what was, effectively, the same withdrawal agreement as the one on the table right now. She was derided for it by both Boris Johnson and the Brexiteer wing of the Conservative Party.
Now he is at the helm, Johnson has discovered the unassailable boundaries of Brexit and has reheated the same solution to the Irish border problem. Northern Ireland will be both simultaneously inside and outside of the EU customs union, depending on your point of view – “Schrödinger’s Ulster” as the commentator Alex Massie recently put it.
Scottish Tories have rushed to embrace this policy and with it the doublethink of their new leader. When Theresa May first proposed special treatment for Northern Ireland in its relationship with the EU, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell threatened to resign their positions in response to the threat they believed it represented to the Union.
But a poll of Tory members earlier this year suggested that delivering Brexit was more important to them than preventing Scottish independence. The self-proclaimed guardians of the Union are now pedalling a policy that dramatically heightens the risk of another Scottish border poll and all that comes with it.
The mask is beginning to slip for the SNP as well. For three years, Nicola Sturgeon has sought to court Remain voters who voted No in 2014. She’s been desperate to point to independence as a lifeboat back to the EU (despite the years of austerity required for Scotland to meet the deficit level for new member states). But the First Minister’s ‘stop Brexit’ credentials are starting to ring rather hollow.
It emerged last week that her party spent considerably more money chasing 3,800 votes in the Shetland by-election than they did campaigning for 1.6 million votes in the EU referendum. And people have forgotten that it took them nearly two years to join the campaign for a referendum on the final terms of Brexit. Now that a second referendum might just make it into the Withdrawal Bill (if they back it) they have gone strangely quiet on that front. Instead they appeared to have opted for a swashbuckling push for a snap General Election out of what appears to be a narrow self-interest.
No wonder people find politics infuriating right now. They just want political parties to be straight with them about the seismic choices we face as a nation. That starts by reminding them in no uncertain terms that the best deal we could ever hope to strike with the EU is the one we currently enjoy as a full and active member and that the best way to “get Brexit done” is to do away with Brexit completely.