FIRST, I want to put my hands up. During the Scottish Labour leadership contest last year, I ventured the opinion that Richard Leonard might be capable of learning from the failures of his three predecessors and adopt a more open attitude towards independence. I must admit I was spectacularly wrong. With every week that passes, Richard looks more and like Jim Murphy with a lick of red paint.

Responding last week to a suggestion by the party’s UK deputy leader John McDonnell that he would consider whatever proposals come from Scotland, Leonard restated his implacable opposition to Scotland’s right to self-determination. “I will fight with every sinew to make sure the next Labour General Election manifesto contains a statement of clear opposition to a second independence referendum,” he said.

That’s us telt, then.

Scottish Labour’s intransigent hostility to independence stands in contrast to its equivocation over Brexit. Mibbes aye, mibbes naw, mibbes mibbe. And that is made all the more remarkable with one simple comparison. Scottish independence is a progressive, internationalist project that has united a broad spectrum of left-of-centre forces. Brexit is a reactionary, nationalistic project with racist overtones driven by the far right. Last week, a clutch of anti-independence newspapers ran headlines along the lines of “Scots no more open to immigration than the rest of UK”. On the face of it, a put-down for the Yes movement. But read the small print and by a gap of 34 points Yes voters believe British culture is enriched rather than undermined by immigration. Among No voters, that gap is just 14 points. And among supporters of the major Scottish and UK political parties, SNP voters are resoundingly the most positive towards immigration.

So, let’s put to rest forever the fiction that equates Scottish independence with narrow-minded bigotry and Unionism with broad-minded tolerance.

And for those well-meaning but misguided folk who believe Scottish independence and Brexit are just two sides of the same coin, let’s spell out some fundamental differences. Independence is about national equality. Brexit is about British superiority. Boris Johnson has described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. Jacob Rees-Mogg addressed a gathering of the Traditional Britain Group, which calls for non-white people to be deported from the UK. Independence is about sovereignty. Brexit is about shutting out foreigners.

The UK already has sovereignty. Brussels cannot prevent Westminster from setting a new national minimum wage, repealing anti-trade union laws, raising corporation tax, scrapping nuclear weapons, taking the railways and energy companies into public ownership, raising corporation tax or imposing a wealth tax. Holyrood cannot do any of these things without permission from London. If Westminster voted this week for a second referendum on the EU, it would happen. If Holyrood voted for a second independence referendum, it would be blocked by Westminster.

The European Union should not be glorified as some kind of paragon of excellence. Institutions such as the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable. The EU behaved with callous brutality towards the people of Greece, enforcing a 25% contraction in the economy and driving youth unemployment up to 45%.

Parties of the right currently dominate the European Parliament with more than 60% of MEPs. I’d like to hear a bit more criticism of the EU by the SNP and the independence movement. We don’t have to be cheerleaders for Brussels and Strasbourg to oppose Brexit. Individual nation states can stay in the EU and pursue a left-wing political programme at national level while working at a continental level towards a different future for the EU.

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn blamed the “failed neo-liberal policies” of the EU for the 2016 Brexit vote. There is some of truth in that. But it misses out one crucial point. It was not the EU that blazed the trail towards neo-liberalism in Europe. It was the UK. For 40 years before Brexit, the UK under Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron, led a global crusade to privatise public services, deregulate big business, slash taxes for the rich, weaken trade unionism, cut benefits, and foster the culture of unrestrained, profiteering. The right-wing, big business policies that impoverished and marginalised working-class communities and paved the way for the 2016 Brexit vote were not dreamed up by bureaucrats in Brussels but engineered right here in the UK.

Britain today has the widest wealth gap in Europe, and the most repressive anti-trade union legislation. The UK government was the most bloodthirsty and gung-ho in all of Europe in its support for the US-led war on Iraq. Successive UK governments have complied eagerly with pro-business directives from Europe while resisting progressive legislation on the environment and working conditions.

The Labour left’s ingrained Euroscepticism was forged in the pre-Thatcher era when Britain was ahead of much of Europe when it came to trade union rights, public ownership, social security, taxation and public services. We live in a different world now. Politics, economics, social attitudes, technology, communications and cross-border trade have been transformed beyond recognition. Yet sections of the old left remain stuck in 1975, thirled to the idea of the British Road to Socialism.

We need a new socialist left, fit for the 21st century, that combines diversity, decentralisation and sovereignty at national level with a grand project for transforming Europe and the wider world. The right might make further advances in next year’s European elections, but that will inevitably be reversed five years down the line. If, in the meantime, the progressive left got its act together across borders to develop a common programme for restructuring the EU and setting minimum standards for wages, benefits, pensions, public spending, taxation and trade union rights, we might well see the start of the political transformation of Europe within the next decade or so.

At the heart of any progressive programme must be small nations’ right to self-determination and sovereignty and maximum autonomy for regions within larger nations. We need a vision that combines diversity and decentralisation with continental-scale co-operation on climate change, tax avoidance, workers’ rights and poverty.

For Tony Blair, Vince Cable and a whole host of prominent Remainers across the UK, the struggle against Brexit is all about keeping the ship steady, preserving the status quo, sustaining business as usual. For the independence movement in Scotland, it should be about change.

I would like to see a socialist Scotland, but I’m realistic enough to understand the limitations of socialism in one country. To truly transform the lives of future generations we need to look wider and think bigger. I would like to think Scotland could set an example, form progressive cross-border alliances and in the long-term help bring about the democratic, social and economic transformation of the whole of Europe.

We have to start somewhere. Defeating Brexit and achieving independence could be the first steps towards something much bigger. The Yes movement has never been about narrow nationalism – and it can play a part in the ultimate triumph of hope over despair for hundreds of millions of people across Europe and worldwide.