John McLellan: The blood on the Brexit carpet can't be ignored

John McLellan abandons his attempt to write like Hemmingway about the brutality of bullfighting to survey the ongoing carnage at Westminster.

Theresa May needs to 'work the room' to save her Chequers plan for Brexit (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

It was only a week’s holiday and as nothing much happens in July it would be fine to write a column in advance which wouldn’t be overtaken by events so I could head off to the sun, professional obligations duly met.

With thousands of Scots jetting off to Spain and Portugal, many will be testing themselves with a visit to a bullfight so I wrote up a wannabe-Hemingway thing based on my own experience at the big corrida in Seville earlier this year. The problem with modern holidays is, of course, that you are never more than a stab of a stubby finger on a mobile phone away from the latest developments, and having thrown in my tuppence-worth into the Brexit debate last weekend some observations about the brutality of bullfighting, which you can guess anyway, seemed neither here nor there after another week of turmoil.

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Metaphorically anyway, the Brexit process has gone beyond brutal. Like lemmings driven by their instincts, MPs at both ends of the Brexit spectrum seem intent on throwing the process over a cliff, heedless of the repercussions. The clear sense of desperation in Westminster must have strengthened European confidence that with eight months to go they can nail down whatever conditions they want.

How else will the likes of Michel Barnier and Martin Selmayr interpret the pairing scandal by which new mum Jo Swinson was, one way or another, led to believe that her absence would make no difference to the outcome of the crucial vote on the trade bill? If Government Chief Whip Julian Smith hadn’t lost his sense of fair play, he certainly lost judgement about the how it would appear when the truth inevitably came out. Not so the paired MPs who ignored him.

Similarly, someone in Government had taken leave of their senses by even thinking about engineering an early recess. With millions of people tied to strict holiday rotas before they can get away, dismay was always going to be the reaction.

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Many years ago, the former Labour MSP Frank McAveety took me to task at a public hearing during the setting up of the Scottish Parliament because the Press seemingly didn’t appreciate the difference between recess and holiday, and while recess doesn’t mean a month of sun and sangria, most people would think that, at such a critical time, parliamentarians need more time to get through this mess not less. No wonder the idea was dumped.

But after all the amendments and counter-amendments some sort of plan has emerged from the Chequers blueprint and White Paper, and thankfully the Prime Minister has accepted the need to get out and sell it, with a summer tour of local party associations. But her engagement needs to be genuine. The few of her events I’ve attended in Scotland have been rather brusque compared to those of her predecessor, who made sure he worked the room and spoke to as many supporters as possible. Mrs May needs to do the same.

She can make clear the no-deal option absolutely must remain on the table to force the Europeans to strike a reasonable bargain, not because ideologues can’t agree that a third way through the middle of divided opinion is better than no way at all. Without proper preparation to walk away, and calm heads at all levels, the Europeans will wring concession after concession because, to borrow from Margaret Thatcher, there will be no alternative.

All flights lead to UK

Not that Michel Barnier will be bothered as he fights to make an example of the UK in the Brexit talks, but the impact on small tourist economies of a bitter divorce and flights disruption would be considerable in a place like Corfu. Plenty of other EU nationals go there, but yesterday morning there was one destination for all flights out. The UK.

Cliff case threatens investigative journalism

And of worlds turning upside down, if Cliff Richard’s court victory over the BBC is not challenged, it will end any kind of journalistic investigation because reporting any allegation of wrong-doing without an official charge will be a breach of privacy. Stephen Lawrence’s killers couldn’t sue for defamation when the Daily Mail ran their pictures and called them murderers, but they would now have an open-and-shut case for breach of privacy.

Capital of chaos

This week might have been a good one to bury bad news, but there was no disguising the problems facing the SNP group on Edinburgh council, with the resignation of a third councillor since the 2017 election. While the leadership will no doubt deny there’s a problem, the departure of Councillor Gavin Barrie and now Claire Bridgman is creating a momentum for the half of the group whose faces don’t seem to fit. While the circumstances of Lewis Ritchie’s departure were different and may prevent him teaming up with the other independents, the loose group of four is still close to matching the Lib Dems’ six if others choose to follow. Looking at how the SNP group dances to the Greens’ tune, there is more influence to be had by not being part of the SNP.

Keep up BBC!
Even with all this going on, it must still be a slow month for news in Scotland, given the amount of attention given to the revelation that newly opened Boroughmuir High School is already too small. It’s certainly newsworthy that a £35m school was too small before it opened, but having featured in official reports for months it’s hardly a revelation and I’ve mentioned it repeatedly in the Evening News. Yet all of a sudden there it is on the BBC. Keep up, chaps. So here’s the follow-up, guys. (OK, it’s not quite new, been in a few papers and discussed in committee, but that doesn’t seem to matter....) A square of land next to the Fountainbridge school has been earmarked for the £4m annexe, but it’s part the landscaping included in the school’s construction and is supposed to link the Union Canal walkway with the main road.

While Struan Stevenson was a councillor who had a home in Edinburgh, contrary to last weekend’s column he was never an Edinburgh councillor, but served on South Ayrshire. Apologies.