PRESS 1 if you have a complaint. Press 2 if you are a business leaving the UK. Press 3 if you are a concerned EU national. If you are Scotland’s First Minister, please hold the line for a few more months.

That, I imagine, could be the message on the Tory’s “Brexit hotline” that they have promised to the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Has there ever been a more patronising, rudderless, and financial destructive cabal bunkered in number 10 Downing Street?

Having been kept up till 1am for a frosty reception at the EU Council meeting, Theresa May then met with Nicola Sturgeon – failing to provide further detail on Brexit. May promised more meetings. Lucky us.

Four months since the Brexit vote, there has been no progress whatsoever on a cross-UK Brexit settlement. There remains a gulf between the Scottish Government and feuding Tories. UK ministers have dismissed calls for clarity, and Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU.

Instead it’s the Scottish Government that has pledged to publish a compromise Brexit position – aiming to keep Scotland inside the single market, freedom of movement, and with further devolved powers.

This announcement, confirmed in Sturgeon’s SNP conference speech, is significant. It signalled that the Scottish Government will seek a specific deal short of full EU membership – but with most of its benefits and responsibilities.

In short, it’s like membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) held by Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein (Norway has Efta membership, but a different EU relationship). Sturgeon will demand that the UK Government respects Scotland’s position as an “equal partner” and advance this deal within the Article 50 process.

This will include the devolution of trade, fishing and farming powers straight from Brussels to Scotland.

Given warnings against a “hard Brexit” have been ignored, it seems unlikely that the Tories will listen. So why bother at all? There are three reasons: open mindedness, timing and options.

The Scottish Government promised to consider all options to maintain Scotland’s relationship with Europe. It must go through those motions to keep public trust.

While independence is the easiest answer to this problem, a second referendum cannot be rushed. Engaging in the negotiations makes sense from a practical point of political self-interest, as preparations are made for a potential referendum in 2018.

Finally, there is great unease and confusion about what Brexit means and how Scotland – independent or otherwise – can keep EU deals if rUK scraps them. If the Government provides a persuading case for smoothly devolving trade and immigration decisions to Scotland, then we will all benefit from some clarity on the options we have.

While we can have little faith in the intellectual or political engagement of the Tory Government, that does not apply to potential European allies. Alex Salmond’s recent visits to Norway and Iceland – countries that have precisely this relationship with the EU – seem far from coincidental.

Scotland seeking participation in Efta, and deeper trade relations with Norway, would compliment shared economic interests on fishing, food exports, oil, and renewables, to give a few examples.

Of course this Scottish compromise faces two stumbling blocks: being far too ambitious for London, while not providing the full independence desired by many in Scotland. Yet it would fit within the more recent gradualist history of the SNP supporting a devolved parliament, and the paltry Scotland Acts of 2012 and 2016.

Within choppy, complex waters, the Scottish Government has a duty to articulate this compromise even if – ultimately – its rejection will harbour a second referendum and full, independent membership of the European Union.


THE revolution began in Perth. The Scottish Greens’ conference was a polite and non-confrontational affair. But on its final day they decided to change the party’s constitution to oppose “neoliberal capitalism”.

A difficult conflict, you must admit.Progress came earlier than expected.

The erratic train service from Perth station meant activists were crammed into that evening’s only direct service back to Edinburgh. So they took direct action.

The first-class section was quickly filled by rebellious standard-fare payers. The conductor arrived. The atmosphere grew awkward ahead of the expected reprimand. But no. The conductor stared ahead, herself frustrated at the overcrowding.

The train’s class system collapsed. The conductor invited others into the first-class section. She took photos of the carriage to pass on a complaint to her management.

Harry Perkins, the fictional Prime Minister in A Very British Coup, put it best. When asked if he’d abolish first class rail travel, he responded: “No. We will abolish second-class rail travel. I think all people arefirst class.”

Michael Gray @GrayInGlasgow is a journalist with

Alyn Smith: Big Society was thriving in Wick long before it became a political slogan