Euan McColm: Call out the Nats for Brexit double standard

Consumed by the certainty of the zealot, former first minister Alex Salmond spent much of the 2014 independence referendum campaign loudly denouncing anyone who dared suggest that breaking up the United Kingdom might come at a cost to Scotland as a scaremonger.

The very idea that a Yes vote would be anything but the key to unlock the gate preventing access to a land of milk and honey was all part of Project Fear; in fact, went the Salmond spiel, a No vote would be catastrophic. Only independence could save the country.

In the end, a majority of Scots refused to be “charmed” by Salmond, who became increasingly ratty as polling day approached and has spent much of the past four years refighting old battles with those – Treasury officials, the BBC, anyone who ever looked at him funny – he blames for his failure to lead Yes to victory.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The truth is that Salmond lost, fair and square. His campaign was full of enticing promises but bereft of detail. The former first minister failed to persuade Scots that leaping into the dark with him was worth the risk because he couldn’t provide plausible answers to the most basic questions on currency and the economy.

Independence supporters join the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow in May. Picture: John Devlin

The Salmond mantra – proudly repeated by his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, and other senior SNP figures – was that the best people to make decisions affecting Scotland were people living in Scotland. Only by unlocking this power, could the country truly thrive.

Two years after Salmond failed to persuade Scots to take back control, Ukip’s Nigel Farage used an almost identical approach to help win victory for the Leave campaign in the EU referendum. At times, a note-for-note cover version of Salmond’s indy song, Farage’s argument – that the best people to make decisions affecting the UK were people living in the UK – was a success.

So why do we continue to put up with the myth that supporters of Scottish independence and supporters of leaving the EU are fundamentally different?

Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell last week warned that Scotland faced a “nightmare” if the UK government failed to strike a deal with the EU; the damage to business, services and the economy would be disastrous.

And it’s entirely likely – since 62 per cent of Scots wished the UK to remain in the EU – that he will have enjoyed the support of many of those listening.

In the absence of anything vaguely resembling opposition from the Labour Party, the SNP has filled the void where an anti-Brexit party should be.

But that doesn’t make the nationalists’ case any more coherent.

If it is reckless to break up a partnership with the EU, with all of the implications that move has for trade and the economy, why is it not reckless to break up a partnership with England, with which Scotland does most of its business?

And how on earth can anyone take seriously the SNP’s claim that only independence can “save” Scotland from the pain of Brexit?

The former SNP MP, Jim Sillars, is that rarest of beasts – a pro-independence Eurosceptic. His position involves the unfashionable application of logic: if Scotland should be a “sovereign nation” then breaking all unions – not just the one with the English (or the Westminsters as we are now obliged to call them) – is necessary.

Sillars’ position makes sense. It may not be appealing to those who believe in partnerships but it is intellectually coherent.

This is much more than can be said for the position advanced by Sturgeon, Russell and others on the SNP front bench.

As Brexit looms, the Scottish nationalists will ratchet up the message that a second independence referendum is necessary. They will insist that Scotland can escape the Brexit “nightmare” if only the people choose to break up the UK.

We should treat these claims with the utmost scepticism.

How, exactly, would entering into another break-up ameliorate the damage caused by this one? Surely, the risk of a Yes vote any time soon is that a bad situation is made worse.

Even Russell, not a man in possession of one of the finer minds in contemporary politics, must surely know that arguing what Scotland needs now is to be even further isolated is nonsense.

Identity politics – so terribly popular right now – allows for people to hold entirely contradictory views at the same time. A Scottish nationalist, certain that theirs is the politics of hope, of unlocking potential, can quite happily believe that it is essential to have a formal union with countries on mainland Europe while it’s equally essential that links with England are broken.

Surely the time to stop indulging this sort of nonsense has long passed?

By all means, be pro-independence, but don’t try to kid yourself letting power reside in Brussels is somehow different to letting it reside in Westminster.

The Leave campaign got away with quite a lot in 2016. They lied and bluffed and cheated their way to victory.

In 2014, the Yes campaign – just as full of nonsensical claims, hyperbolic warnings and promises to take back power from the establishment – wasn’t so lucky.

It’s been two years since the EU referendum and the SNP has been allowed – thanks to Brexit chaos in both the Conservative and Labour Parties – to proclaim its contradictory positions on independence with few questions asked.

But this particular emperor has no clothes. A politician arguing that the uncertainty created by leaving the EU is bad but that the uncertainty created by leaving the UK would represent an opportunity is guilty of placing ideology above reason.

The UK’s departure from the EU is to be hugely regretted. It will, I fear, be proved an act of national self-harm.

Responding to the instability created by Brexit by arguing for the break-up of the UK – with all of the uncertainties such a decision would create – simply doesn’t make sense and we should stop pretending that it does.