John McLellan: A pivotal point in independence trench war

The SNP's walk-out at Westminster will prove to be  a pivotal moment in the ongoing independence trench war. Picture: PA
The SNP's walk-out at Westminster will prove to be a pivotal moment in the ongoing independence trench war. Picture: PA
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Given Brexit’s complexities, surely the answer cannot be to break up two unions at the same time, argues John McLellan.

As the great political drama unfolded, representatives of all parties sat down to lunch at the White House and discussed the events of earlier in the day.
Donald Trump and the North Korean nuclear deal? The ongoing Brexit debacle? The SNP’s Commons walk-out? No, this White House was the one that has been an Art Deco landmark in Craigmillar since 1936, refurbished in 2011 and home to the Community Alliance Trust’s splendid cafe since 2013.

READ MORE: Watch SNP MPs walk out of PMQs after Ian Blackford ordered to leave

Unaware of what was unfolding in Westminster were Edinburgh city councillors half way through a tour of housing regeneration projects which have delivered a wide variety of high-quality homes of all types and tenures to breathe life into what have been problem areas.

The challenges facing Edinburgh as it wrestles with a commitment to deliver 20,000 new affordable homes in the next ten years are considerable and Brexit is undeniably one of them. Availability of labour and the cost of imported materials are issues on top of those problems unrelated to the political settlement, such as the painfully slow planning process.

SNP stunt maybe, but Wednesday’s debacle was unquestionably a pivotal moment in the independence trench war which has raged pretty much unabated since 2011. But the question for me as one of those councillors on that housing tour is what does the fall-out mean for real decisions politicians of all kinds have to make which have a direct impact on the lives of thousands of people.

The SNP’s Growth Commission was designed to form the foundation of the new case for independence and with some bravery proposed that the best way forward was strict limits on public spending, a cautious approach to tax, setting aside any oil revenues and maintaining sterling as long as necessary.

At its most optimistic it promised at least a decade of even tighter restraint that we have experienced in the past ten years. Set-up costs for the new state were put at £450m, which ignored several studies ahead of the 2014 referendum which put them at around £2bn. Nor is there any escaping the existing £9.6bn tax and spending deficit, around six per cent of Scotland’s GDP which the Growth Commission says needs to be halved.

For some this no longer matters; that Brexit and the supposed Westminster power grab mean the risk of independence is outweighed by the risk of staying in the United Kingdom. So ex-Daily Record editor Murray Foote, announcing his embracing of independence with the zeal of the relieved-to-be-converted, wrote in The Times : “The sacrifices we may need to make do trouble me. But what troubles me more is the prospect of bequeathing to my daughters an isolated Britain…”

For him the very thought the UK might re-elect the Conservative Party is now enough to justify another layer of constitutional upheaval and uncertainty onto the Micawberish basis that “I trust in us to solve the problems that will come our way”, discounting the possibility that the solution of better use of devolved powers, combined with the pooling of resources from the rest of Britain, is already with us.

Writing in The Guardian, Scotland on Sunday’s Dani Garavelli said Scottish voters are “already frustrated over the democratic deficit that allows Scotland be taken out of the EU when every part of the country voted remain” presumes there are no Scottish Remainers who accept the result or understand the benefit of maintaining the UK’s single markets. Like Foote, she ignores the 400,000 Nationalists furious at the prospect of escaping from Brussels to be dragged back against their will.

In piled Chris Deerin, now running the Reform Scotland think tank, and while not yet on the independence bandwagon he wrote in the New Statesman that “To be a Scottish Remain voter in the time of Brexit is to be in a sizeable democratic majority, but also to be disenfranchised and sneered at; to be marginalised and ignored.”

Well I voted Remain and regret the result, but disenfranchised and marginalised? I don’t think so. Sneered at? Almost certainly, but by the kind of people who defaced Stephen Kerr MP’s office this week, not Brexiteers.

While it might seem black and white to these commentators, a constant seems to be that the EU will continue to exist as it is, something an independent Scotland can choose to re-join. There will probably be something called the EU, but the one we know ceases to exist the moment its second-biggest donor leaves. Financial dependence on Germany and the inability to resist the demands of increasingly reactionary governments, especially in eastern Europe, is what really scares the Eurocrats and they knew this when they sent David Cameron packing in 2016.

It’s impossible to defend the way the Brexit process is being handled by the UK Government, but then it’s causing enormous difficulties for all parties with broad support across the demographic spectrum, including the SNP.

But given what we know now about the complexities of disentangling complex relationships when there is no unanimity about what should follow, the answer cannot be the break-up of two unions at the same time.

Back in Edinburgh, it was off to Leith Fort, an appropriate symbol of relationships gone wrong and what happens when there is stability and collaboration. It was built in 1780 in response to the aborted raid by a Scot who turned on the United Kingdom, US Navy founder John Paul Jones, and then housed French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Now, twelve years in the making, it’s an award-winning social and mid-market housing complex. .

You’ll have had your compost

Gardeners all over Edinburgh were so looking forward to the city council introducing a £25 charge to empty their brown bins in July but now they’ve got to wait till October because of hitches with the new system

The council only expected 46 per cent of the 124,000 brown bin users to pay for the new fortnightly service but it would still rake in around £1.5m.

Now the council will need to honour its commitment to continue collecting garden waste every three weeks till October, that’s a cost it didn’t expect on top of about £375,000 it’s not going to collect.

In the height of summer demand for the service would probably be at its highest, so what will happen in October when the old service was only weeks away from petering out to monthly anyway?

If there is one thing which needs recycling, it’s this year’s waste management budget.