Kevin McKenna: Mundell and his Tory cronies are cheerleaders for independence
David Mundell, the Conservatives’ ambassador to Scotland, has now taken his dutiful place in his party’s Brexit spin operation. Mark Carney helped to launch this damage-limitation exercise a couple of weeks ago when he asked us all to forget his predictions of economic apocalypse uttered in the weeks prior to June 23. I only picked up the Bank of England’s governor on radio but I could have sworn he was uttering his mea culpa in a voice a few octaves higher than normal. I subsequently wondered if perhaps his throat was being lightly constricted by the pressure of an elegant, leopard print Christian Louboutin.
Mr Carney, a chap not normally given to seeing moonbeams, would now have us all believe that not only had talk of an adverse economic reaction to Brexit been premature but that the UK was about to experience something of an economic miracle.
a say about Brexit. We now discover Mr Mundell, whose contribution to the debate prior to June 23 had amounted to the square root of nothing, has become a Brexit sage. Meanwhile, Liam Fox, a man who, as defence Secretary, loved his foreign trips so much he brought a close friend on many of them, is now spinning Brexit corn into gold. Mr Fox, it seems, now wants the UK to be “an independent member” of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under whose auspices he thinks we can conduct business as usual with the European Union.
Mr Fox, who obviously thought Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak was real, thinks the UK could suborn the WTO into “taking an axe to red tape across borders”. “The UK is a full and founding member of the World Trade Organisation, though we have chosen to be represented by the EU in recent years. As we establish our independent position post-Brexit, we will carry the standard of free and open trade as a badge of honour.”
Loosely translated into the language of the real world, this is what the Fantastical Mr Fox really meant. “Look, for years we might have given the impression we couldn’t give a Friar Tuck for the WTO. But nothing could be further from the truth. We still don’t want to have much to do with them but we’d like them to help us have our cake and eat it with the EU.”
Mr Mundell is also, it seems, a fully paid-up member of the Tories’ Invisibility Cloak brigade. He too is wearing the standard of free trade as a badge of honour. “I’m not going to go down this route of setting semantic tests of what a specific deal means because what is ultimately important is the trading relationship.”
Mr Mundell, Mr Fox and Oliver Letwin (who actually said he wanted the UK to have its cake and eat it) must be in receipt of information indicating the Brexit negotiators on the EU side are all soft touches who are absolutely heartbroken the UK has become the first country ever to leave the EU. Earlier this week, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had repeated what every minister from within the EU has said about Brexit since the UK voted to leave. There can be no full access to the single market with limitations on immigration. Mr Renzi, like all his EU counterparts, could be said to be carrying “the standard of free movement of peoples as a badge of honour”. He went further: it would be “impossible” for Britain to have more rights than other countries who are outside of the EU.
It seems that, in the absence of anything resembling a strategy on Europe, members of the Tory Government have been given a free pass to make it up as they go along. Thus Mr Mundell, blundering about on territory he knows little of and cares less about, began to warm to his theme by accusing Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP of exploiting the Brexit shambles to renew their demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence. “The FM very disappointingly mentioned independence within three hours of the result being declared and has spoken about it every single day since June 23,” he said. Personally, I was very disappointed it took the First Minister as long as three hours.
If Mr Mundell were to ask his researchers kindly, I’m sure they’d discover Ms Sturgeon mentioned independence every day prior to June 23 since the EU referendum was announced. He’d also find probably that this is still fewer than the amount of times Ruth Davidson has mentioned independence.
Mr Carney’s suddenly-discovered optimism; Mr Fox’s arrogance and Mr Mundell’s delusions; all of them are indicative of a party that hasn’t got a clue what to do about the biggest and most important peacetime challenge the British state has faced in modern times. Indeed, a person would be forgiven for believing that a vast, re-writing of the Brexit event is being undertaken by the Conservatives and their cheerleaders in the Unionist commentariat: that the rest of the EU had a referendum on the UK’s continued membership and elected to kick us out.
Thus, any European leader who dares to attach the issue of free movement to the UK’s aim of somehow accessing the free market without it is immediately dismissed. Anti-Brexiteers, in the absence of any leadership on the issue from Teresa May, are now positioning themselves as the Little Englanders they reviled in the course of the EU campaign. Europe is trying to bully us, they claim, conveniently forgetting this was all of their making.
This all started with a hubristic Prime Minister who thought he could out-manoeuvre his party’s scarecrow wing. It was taken up by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, a pair of political opportunists who decided they would use the economic futures of tens of thousands of UK families and businesses as leverage for their naked ambition. And it was exploited by a velvet-collared political Del Boy to realise his xenophobic pipe dream of Britain for the British.
Against this backdrop it is hardly surprising Ms Sturgeon would seek to solicit support for a second referendum. Scotland’s connections to Europe stretch back almost a millennium; this country was building cultural and trading partnerships with the countries of Europe even as England was seeking to dominate them. And now Scotland, backed by an almost two-thirds majority of its people, is seeking to protect its historic relationships with the Europeans while England is seeking to cut itself off from them and bully them once more.
Mr Mundell and Mr Fox represent the dying culture of Empire fuelled by a sense of entitlement. They and the party they represent strengthen the case for a mature, independent and outward-looking Scotland every time they open their mouths.