BREXIT. I ken. If you read another thing about Brexit you’ll scream. But the mess we’re in now is not just about Brexit any more.

It’s just as much about the curious nature of authority, the broken nature of democracy and the stubborn business of belief.

The last few weeks have seen a string of ludicrous policy positions from the UK Government about post-Brexit scenarios.

Loading article content

READ MORE: Yet another Tory climbdown over role of EU courts as government admits ECJ might have taken back control

First came the chaos facing Ireland (which will and will not have a post-Brexit internal border), then the customs union (which we will leave but then replicate in a bespoke EU customs deal) and yesterday the European Court (which we’ll be kinda in and kinda not in it).

Jings. If a Scottish Government offered policy ideas so absurd, ill-formed and Monty Pythonesque, they’d be laughed out of court. And yet here we are, with think tanks, policy institutes, opposition parties and ordinary voters wasting time and energy analysing policy proposals so ridiculous they could have come from the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. You know – the one that appears and disappears at will. A bit like Ruth Davidson.

But don’t take my word for it. There are critics aplenty who don’t support an end goal of Scottish independence.

The deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, for example, who attacked Theresa May’s fuzzy plans for Ireland saying the North would not “leave the European Union only to end up with more barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.

But the DUP also oppose the idea of having a border somewhere in the Irish Sea. So do we have a workable proposal on Ireland? Not according to the party propping up the Tories in Government.

Then there’s the customs union proposal – the EU Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt didn’t mince his words earlier this week, tweeting: “To be in & out of the customs union & ‘invisible borders’ is a fantasy.”

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said these “fantastical and contradictory proposals provide no guidance for negotiators or certainty for businesses.”

Ouch. But there are more neutral critics too.

Peter Holmes is an economist at the UK Trade Policy Observatory at Sussex University. He says the UK Government’s plan “effectively means negotiating the most complex customs union that exists outside the EU for a three-year interim period and then getting rid of it”.

And: “It relies on the EU accepting the proposal.”Nice.

But isn’t there a precedent for a transition period and special deal on customs? Yup – it’s Turkey. And that’s not going well.

According to the Financial Times: “Lines of trucks can stretch back kilometres from the EU-Turkish border and hauliers complain of mounds of paperwork.”

And the Turkish deal excludes agriculture exports. But since the UK Government couldn’t care less about the livelihoods of fishermen, openly talking of trading access to Scotland’s fishing waters for more important goodies such as passporting rights for the City of London, why should it care if Scotland’s food export industry is stuck on hold?

And to cap it all, there’s the latest news that Britain is “taking back control” of the legal system and courts by not taking back complete control. A UK Government paper, published yesterday, says the European Court of Justice will no longer have “direct jurisdiction” but Britain will recognise the verdicts of judges “in EU countries in commercial cases and in family disputes of a cross-border nature”.

Right.

According to the BBC’s Legal Correspondent Clive Coleman: “The EU will not sign up to an agreement which allows the UK to depart from EU law to the UK’s advantage and … the more closely the Brexit trade agreement replicates EU law, the greater the influence of the ECJ will be.”

So how independent will our courts really be? Across the piece, civil servants in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are working flat out to create structures which mostly mimic the EU arrangements a Brexiting Britain intends to leave behind for the fairly obvious reason that the EU is bigger than us and if we want to keep trading we will have to jump to their tune – but have no further say in the EU structures we must mirror.

It’s crazy. And an increasing number of critics from south of the Border are saying that too.

An Edinburgh Book Festival event I chaired last week included a fascinating debate between two English authors about the merits of a second Brexit referendum.

FT blogger David Allen Green argued persuasively that a second referendum would only compound the problem of legitimacy created by the first. The Brexit vote was actually only an indicative vote, not technically binding on the Westminster Parliament. But the Commons occupies such a weak position in the British constitution that it would have had no say over Brexit without the feisty action of Gina Miller and her private court case. On the other hand, Charter 88 and opendemocracy.net co-founder Anthony Barnett argues that a second referendum is essential because we are only now having the kind of full, real debate about Brexit we should have had before the vote.

The two writers agree on two things, though. Firstly Brexit is ultimately un-doable. As Green put it, “There will be 57 varieties of Brexit because each trade area has its own complexities. Some are ferocious – so ferocious the transition stage may last forever.”

The second point of unity was over Scottish independence. In his new book Brexit; The Lure of Greatness, Barnett says Scots would be crazy not to pull the plug and vote for independence. A vote which he hopes would kick-start debate in England about the benefits of English independence.

Now, you may find all these ideas ring a bell. They’ve been said before – mostly by Scots.

Indeed, this week in her response to the latest row over the customs union and continuing jurisdiction of the European Court, Scottish External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said that the best option for Scotland and the rest of the UK was to stay in the EU single market. Again.

It’s what the Scottish Government has been saying from the very start. Yet for some reason, the more evidence piles up against the honesty of Brexiteers, the trustworthiness of the UK Government, and the personal capacity of the “top team” around Theresa May, the less credit Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government get for having called the whole situation correctly from the start.

Meanwhile, all the criticisms of Brexit seem to sound a lot more authoritative coming from somebody else. Particularly someone from south of the Border. It reminds me of the old feminist joke. “That’s a great idea Miss Smith. I’m sure one of the men will have it soon.”

Basically, traditionalists have very fixed ideas about who has the authority to come up with the ideas that change our lives. And it’s not “bit players” – be they women in the workplace or Scottish and Welsh governments within the British constitution. Yes – they can have ideas by the barrel-load, which won’t be taken seriously until a member of the establishment or a respected English critic has repeated them.

It may be annoying, but it’s why Theresa May’s critics south of the Border really matter in the run-up to a second independence referendum here.

For believers in the traditional pecking order, the Westminster Government could announce a trade deal with President Assad of Syria and none of them would bat an eyelid.

Watching a government that won just 42 per cent of the vote riding roughshod over the Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly hasn’t fazed these folk either – all’s fair in love, war and trade treaties.

As the wheels come off the Brexit cart south of the Border, tens of thousands of Scots who have steered their lives by the infallible compass of Britain’s great and good – for convenience as much as belief – will be forced to rethink.

Let’s be welcoming, not hectoring as refugees from Britain’s Brexit nightmare come quietly slipping back across the independence divide in the months to come.