Among the clichés of Scottish life, none is more irritating than “the new Highland Clearances” when applied by the intellectually challenged to circumstances bearing no relationship to the original.
No surprise then that Christina McKelvie MSP regards Brexit as “the new Highland Clearances” on grounds so convoluted as to be not worth repeating. So far as I am aware, not even Jacob Rees-Mogg plans to burn us out our homes for voting to Remain.
Ms McKelvie last came to this column’s attention when she tweeted that “unionists will be a right miserable bunch tonight” after Scotland’s momentous rugby victory over England. I suggested she should be sacked as convener of Holyrood’s Equalities Committee on grounds that she clearly held some Scots to be more equal than others.
Instead, in recognition of her wit and wisdom, she was elevated to become Minister for Older People, whatever that entails. Some saw this as compensation for the redeployment of her domestic partner, Keith Brown, who is now in charge of addressing flag-waving rabbles in the public parks of Scotland.
I do not subscribe to this theory and accept that Ms McKelvie was appointed on her merits since that tells us a lot more about the available talent pool. At least it is to her credit that she said something worth reporting at the SNP conference, even if it was on grounds of risibility.
What of the rest? In terms of debate, it made rallies of the Tory faithful look like hotbeds of dissent. No debate was allowed on either “Indyref2” or the economic masterplan drawn up by Andrew Wilson which promises an additional decade of austerity in the event of independence. And that was his good news.
The role of the SNP faithful is to provide patriotic applause but what exactly were they applauding? The dismal record on education? The ruthless treatment of local government? The crisis in Scottish health boards? The stagnant state of our economy? None of these was challenged. Just a procession of empty boasts and set-piece speeches.
If a Labour government was doing a fraction of the damage to council services that is being inflicted by Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues, there would be so much fire and fury from party members and trade unionists that retreat would follow. That’s what should make political activism matter – but not for those whose sole focus is the constitution.
Behind the bravura and soft interviews, there was one substantive revelation – that “IndyRef2” is officially a mirage until “the fog of Brexit clears”. How they all clapped, spurred on by appeals to “patience” and “vision”, apparently oblivious to the fact that four years of kidology had just been declared null and void.
The “fog of Brexit” will not clear any time soon. Withdrawal is scheduled for next year with a minimum of two years’ transition, probably longer. By then, I guess, some things will be better, some worse and none apocalyptic. The “new Highland Clearances” will not have occurred nor indeed – in deference to Sir Thomas Devine – the Lowland ones either.
Ms Sturgeon has acknowledged out of necessity what has long been apparent – there is no appetite for a second referendum, no conceivable justification for it in the midst of negotiations that will affect every aspect of Scottish life, as much as the rest of the UK, and no prospect of any Prime Minister in his or her right mind agreeing to it.
So it has all been one big, ongoing publicity stunt. That begs a question, which is largely for Scotland’s broacasters to answer. If the same nonsense kicks off again, manoeuvring for the now officially distant objective of a second referendum, while Scotland’s interests in the Brexit negotiations and much else play second fiddle, will Ms Sturgeon be treated with the same deference?
Meanwhile, great to be reminded there is still a place for grown-up politics capable of good outcomes. If a change of policy is forced on the foolish underfunding of Universal Credit, to protect those who would suffer, that will be worth waving a flag for.