In contrast to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, many senior politicians are in crisis-management mode over Brexit, while refusing to look head-on at the actual crisis itself, writes Laura Waddell.
We could now be single-figure days away from Brexit. The countdown might have changed, whittling away to this solitary and puny number, but it feels like little else has. The penny is beginning to drop – along with the pound – that there may be issues with fresh food supplies, travel, and plentiful other inconveniences.
Leave-voting owners of holiday homes have given sheepish vox pops, contemplating for the first time, it seems, how the change will actually affect their own lives. Captains of modern industry have set sail for overseas, taking HQs and manufacturing contracts with them. We’ve turned the front page on our passports, no longer quibbling about whether they’re blue or black, to starkly blank pages inside. And by and large, we’ve turned our backs on our friends and neighbours, the EU citizens who have been sharply aware of uncertainty all along.
For all the gradual dawning of the immense headache we’re facing, and with some Leave voters rallied to anger that it’s not what they signed up for, whatever that happened to be, little of the reality of the situation seems to have filtered through to the governing class.
If you’ve lost track of the ins and outs of parliamentary votes, and who could blame you, as a system so riddled with opaque procedures is not much illuminated by feverous Brexit machinations, don’t worry too much about catching up. Not much has changed. We may be eight days out – as I write, it’s looking like any possibility of a delay won’t be secured easily – but the UK is still arguably as ill-equipped for Brexit as it was before charging into the vote over two-and-a-half years ago.
Things happen to much parliamentary bluster. News is constant. Every day brings votes, motions, and interjections, but fundamentally nothing really changes: we still lack a clear and viable path through long-term confusion and consequences. May and Corbyn alike flip-flop on their willingness to work with representatives from Scotland and Wales while our Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell stares into news cameras like a rabbit unwillingly pulled out of a hat which is now caught in the headlights.
Craven panic is the only grand plan. It’s not so much Groundhog Day, or May, as purgatory. Citizens can only wait as politicians scrabble, led by the divining rod of party political power-struggles in the absence of clearly communicated, earnest strategy.
If the word Brexit ever had real meaning, it lost it a long time ago amidst the slurry of adjectives: soft, hard, or anything to anyone and ultimately indistinct. Eight days out is a surreal place to be, but many factors have contributed to the lack of substance characterising the whole process.
Lies on buses aside, reports about Brexit’s impact on industries have been suppressed or quickly become yesterday’s news. The official opposition is hedging its bets so as not to alienate voters, putting forward no less fantastical an approach to negotiations as the clock continues to tick. Against a global backdrop of digital noise, polarised social media silos, false equivalence and diminishment of experts, it can feel like reality is disintegrating along with integrity and dignity.
Ultimately, politics in the UK lacks conviction like never before: senior MPs are in hour-by-hour crisis-management mode while refusing to look head-on at the crisis itself.
In Scotland, the never-shelved prospect of another referendum on independence remains on the map. In 2014, it wouldn’t have been surprising to overhear a spirited discussion about the obscurities of trade, a level of detail in ordinary conversation as well as news coverage that Brexit has rarely brought into the mainstream. Whether for or against it, Sturgeon’s focus on independence, while watchful and waiting, demonstrates a vision and leadership sorely lacking from other parties. Personally, knowing the possibility lingers is the only prospect mitigating overall panic.
For now, citizens across the UK are stuck watching the plate-spinning of politicians not entirely sure how they’ve ended up in a circus but frantically birling their sticks regardless. Fortune tellers have come up blank. Even the clowns are struggling to laugh as they glance at the clock.