By Steven Paterson, Former Stirling MP
It’s official: Scotland’s voice is finally being heard in the remotest corridors of power!
Yes, after a thirteen-year wait, the BBC’s Weather Forecast Department has finally relented to complaints from their distant licence-fee paying customers north of the border that Scotland is actually in reality somewhat bigger than Cornwall. In future, BBC weather forecasts will be presented on a map that accurately reflects the size of Scotland as compared to other parts of the British Isles, instead of being as a grossly-distorted virtual image of Britain as if filmed from a hot air balloon flying somewhere above Bordeaux, with Stirling appearing a billimetre above the Solway Firth in that wee speck at the top.
Every journey starts with a first step, I suppose.
Unfortunately, however, a mile or so down the road from Broadcasting House in Whitehall, the Tory UK Government continues to listen to nobody except itself.
This week, Number 10’s spin machine decided to bill special meetings of the Cabinet taking place to thrash out a common position on Brexit negotiations in the most valiant of terms, describing them as meetings of the “War Cabinet”. But it wasn’t long before expectations of what the “War Cabinet” might achieve were being drastically downgraded. As The Independent’s headline on Wednesday, revealed, “Brexit: Theresa May ‘War Cabinet’ unlikely to reach agreement on UK aims, admits Business Secretary Greg Clark”.
It’s easy to forget the timeline of chaos that has followed the EU referendum in June 2016 that’s led us here. We’ve had a Prime Ministerial resignation, the unopposed coronation of the current Prime Minister in his place, the activation of Article 50 to start the countdown clock on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, a snap General Election resulting in the Government losing its majority, and now the present Tory civil war over the succession to the lame duck Prime Minister that’s left.
And all this is going on as vital Brexit negotiations loom large. The Irish Times reported an Irish Government source as saying this week: “It’s hard to negotiate with the British government because the British government is effectively still negotiating with itself.” It’s a fair point which begs the question: should this pathetic “War Cabinet” of the Prime Minister’s not have taken place quite some time ago?
As the Tory civil war of succession continues, it’s clear that the Hard Brexit faction is overwhelmingly in the ascendancy, and that having already won battles to say no to the single market and no to the customs union, it is now winning the battle to say no to any deal whatsoever with the EU, which would be the worst of all possible outcomes.The other night, I caught a Channel 4 News interview with Tory Brexiter MP Peter Bone, in which he quite effectively described the fantasy world his Hard Brexit faction exists in. He confidently asserted that the EU would be forced to come to a favourable bespoke trade deal with the UK because the managing director of Mercedes Benz would insist on doing a deal with the UK, and that regardless of this, President Trump is “rather keen” on the USA increasing trade with the UK anyway, so there’s nothing to worry about.
The assumption that the UK can highhandedly tell the EU what kind of deal it can have is utterly deluded, but the Tory Hard Brexit faction can insist on its validity for now because it is perfectly relaxed for it to be later found fallacious, having delivered its ‘no deal’ goal. Remember the £350 million lie about NHS funding they plastered to the side of a bus during the referendum campaign? The only priority for this domineering group of right-wing ideologues is to seize unencumbered powers over immigration, and use them. Maybe this faction will even take a leaf out the book of the American President they so laud by bricking up the channel tunnel and seeking payment from the EU for the job.
The cost of this blinkered obsession on our economy is revealed in the Government’s own leaked economic impact analysis, which concludes that a ‘no deal’ scenario could be a disaster for the UK economy, and would hit Scotland’s GDP by around 9 percent. What would a 9 percent drop in GDP look like? Well, by way of example, the Creative Industries Federation this week warned that 21 percent of the UK’s creative industries, which employ 700,000 people, may move all or part of their business abroad in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. And that’s just one industry.
The BBC’s belated weather forecast conversion predictably elicited fury from those for whom the absurd magnification of the south of England is entirely right and proper. In fact, one impressively hysterical piece of vituperation came from a happy chappie named ‘Fifty Five’ from Stirling, writing in the online comments section of the Daily Mail (I know, I know).
After an irate and petulant rant about the planet Earth not being flat in configuration, ‘ Fifty-Five’ exploded: “It’s preposterous to pander to the moans of a group of zealots with nothing better to do but take offence at absolutely anything.”
He could equally have been talking about the Tory Hard Brexit Brigade which now runs the country.