EMBRACING at least the spirit of Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, and looking at the dispiriting state of British politics, our new mantra should be: “We come to bury Brexit not to praise it. The evil that politicians – men and women – do lives after them.”
At last, the arrival of Trump and Brexit is providing a wake-up call for progressives in the US and Britain. A new and palpable sense of outrage at these acts of national self-harm is evident. A politics that puts principle and protest back on the political agenda is long overdue.
In a year where political extremes in Germany, France and the Netherlands have been emboldened by recent events, and where elections will be held, there is a need to expose populism and the damage that extreme politics is doing to Britain. Brexit makes no sense, so why should we keep up any notion to the contrary.
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After the false arguments that were made for Brexit and the fake claims of Britain soon to become great again – or to use another import from the US, Britain First – there is an urgent need to spell out what history tells us about nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance and what they mean for countries and continents. The politics of yesterday are being revisited as the echoes of the past grow louder.
The fanatics and the delusional, now sadly occupying the top levels of the Conservative Party and Ukip, are risking the breaking up of Britain, the bleeding of our economy, and by their behaviour, creating a bitterly divided society.
Theresa May’s trip to the US to meet President Trump only serves to underline the dangers that lie ahead and the unsettling similarities of policy and intent between the two newcomers to office.
People in the US cannot begin to understand why a British Prime Minister would be so willing to be used by Trump at a time when he is undermining and abusing his own Judiciary, the European Union, Nato, Mexico, China, Iran and more recently the Australian Prime Minister during a telephone rant. This is a president that forgot to mention the Jews in his Holocaust Memorial comments.
At a major prayer and faith meeting in Washington he sought God’s prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger to help improve his TV ratings as the boss of Trumps old TV show, The Apprentice. This is a president that refers to Mexicans as “dudes” and allows his advisers to talk about “alternative facts” and invent massacres to spread the Trump message.
Economic nationalism is on the march. The legitimacy of judges is being questioned. Anti-Islamic feeling is on the rise. And Putin’s Russia is being held up as morally equivalent to Western democracies. Yes, this is Trump’s world but it looks embarrassingly similar to the mindset of the right of the Conservative Party.
America First means nationalism not patriotism. Every other country comes second. Our transatlantic relations are vitally important on so many fronts, but Trump’s new world of bilateral trade deals will not see a renewed ‘Anglosphere’ of equal partners but only a desperate Prime Minister struggling for any crumbs off the Trump table to suggest her brave new Britain is in the making.
Ignoring for now the wider implications of this, there would be real and immediate practical dangers – a hurried trade deal with the US could destroy our farming industry, open up our NHS to the predatory behaviour and market excesses of the US pharmaceutical giants. And, at least for the time being, Britain would be at the mercy of an erratic and unpredictable president.
On foreign policy Theresa May seems to have learned nothing from some of our post war adventures when she said that Brexit Britain and Trump’s America can “lead” the world. Our Prime Minister, heading up a disunited and potentially disintegrating UK should have more pressing priorities. More to the point, why should Britain want to lead the world?
Britain is a middling country in the world order of international affairs. Despite this the Tories keep looking for a role and seem happy to sup with any devil to maintain the fantasy of still ruling the waves abroad and promoting at home the fiction, so deftly used by Prime Minister Harold MacMillan some 50 years ago, that “you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had”... outside the European Union.
Not content with cosying up to one authoritarian and nationalist ‘tough guy’, the Prime Minister meets President Erdogan of Turkey, and despite the globally strategic importance of his country, this president jails more journalists than most countries, pays scant regard to human rights and is a seasoned autocrat. The symbolism of this visit is obvious. The substance is harder to discern.
Brexit isn’t going to work. At a time of growing international tensions and challenges the European Union is a safe, secure and supportive place for Britain to be. Europe is our future.
Most people in Britain would balk at the idea of the Americanisation of our society, or creating some artificial new Atlantic partnership, or becoming de facto the 51st state of America, or even worse, as Jeremy Corbyn described, a “bargain basement tax haven off the shores of Europe” where money, markets and the worship of Mammon become the hallmarks of making Britain great again.
May and Trump seem content with the notion that countries should be run like companies. This is Trump’s key credential for being Commander in Chief, a view reinforced on both sides of the Atlantic by the simple but flawed idea that businesses trade, not countries, and that governments only get in the way. This is an agenda for markets and consumers not for democracies and citizens.
Britain is in danger of helping Trump to break up not only the EU, NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership but also any other global regional grouping that doesn’t meet his requirements of bilateral and unfettered free trade deals between nation states encompassing all the worst excesses of his autocratic and nationalist impulses. Trump is not a stable or reliable partner.
The European Council at their meeting in Malta decided to reject Theresa May’s idea of Britain being a bridge to the US. This idea was breathtaking in its arrogance and contempt for the EU and post-war history, especially following Trump’s tweets suggesting the EU should be broken up: a view that is shared by Marine Le Pen.
Theresa May’s fantasies of a world outside the EU are one side of the crisis facing Britain. The other side concerns her crude and clumsy assault on the integrity and importance of the other nations of the Union, in particular Scotland.
BREXIT may yet be the spark that once again ignites the flames of unrest and leads more Scots to think that Britain under the Tories and out of the EU is a poor deal. The Scottish debate needs to move on and widen its scope. The answers to five questions will help Scotland decide.
1. Will the deepening gloom about the prospects of a change of government at Westminster in the next 10-to-15 years worry Scottish Labour voters – still the most important body of voters still to be won round to radical change – that there is no escape from Tory rule? 2. Can the Labour Party convince electors that it is capable of conceiving and delivering to Scotland an alternative to independence which is not just a make-over of the status quo?
3. Are there any prospects of Westminster – so steeped in the history of absolute sovereignty, political exceptionalism, collective centralism, and now in the grip of English nationalism – being able to offer and share real power with any of the nations of Britain?
4. Will Scotland’s future ultimately be determined by England’s block on Britain’s progress, it’s new and virulent strain of right-wing populism and the fact that politically Scotland is diverging so dramatically from England? 5. Have Scots reached a point where they have an idea of what Scotland could be, of what kind of society they want to live in and what vision and role they have for Scotland on the world stage?
Brexit has been heavily criticised for offering no alternative future for Britain on leaving the EU. If Scots decide to leave the United Kingdom that mistake can’t be repeated. These are questions for people who don’t support Scottish nationalism, the SNP and haven’t been life-long adherents to radical change. This is about the 50 per cent who remain unconvinced by the current debate but, in the current chaos of a declining United Kingdom and the madness of Brexit, could be sympathetic to the idea of a new future for their country, better governance and membership of the EU.
Brexit has made the debate about Scotland’s future more confused, complex and uncertain. But although the timeline is hard to define, the battle lines and big issues remain clear. Let us promote the politics of principle and protest. Let us spend more time ridiculing the populist justifications of Trump and Brexit and denying credence, oxygen and respectability to their ideas. Let us make people great and put peoples’ interests first.