Michael Russell: Scotland can escape Brexit to a better future

It is a long way from “Lead don’t Leave”, a slogan pretending to be a promise much trumpeted in the first independence referendum, to “Once you’ve hit the iceberg, you’re all on it together”, a remark attributed this week to a UK Government minister when explaining to the BBC’s Nick Eardley why a second independence referendum was going to get the cold shoulder from the perpetually cold (towards Scotland) Prime Minister.

Of course Brexit was always more likely to end up in a chilly and calamitous shipwreck than a pleasant stroll across sunny uplands, as the Brexiteers once described their doomed project.

The Tory chicanery that has got us to this stage was also in full view during the independence campaign that culminated in a narrow loss in 2014, full as it was of dire warnings and hyped fears.

I will never forget sitting outside the Bank of Scotland in Tarbert on Loch Fyne the morning before the vote talking to an old lady, who wanted independence, but who had been so terrified by disgraceful Unionist propaganda about her prospects and her pension that she was about to withdraw her life savings.

But there was also an aspirational soft sell which sought to persuade Scotland that not only would we be better off staying with what we had, we would also be better treated than we had been in the past.

Neither turned out to be true and, alas, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

The chaos and tragedy of a no deal is clear enough and work continues to try to avert that. But the Prime Minister’s bullying campaign to secure her own very bad deal has picked up pace in recent days.

The consequences of that bad deal are clear. The independent analysis of migration published by the Scottish Government last week shows that there will be fewer people coming here to work with us and assist our economy. We will be worse off, will have perpetual labour shortages and our international reputation will be trashed.

Our competitive position vis a vis Norther Ireland, as well as other small states which remain in the EU will rapidly worsen, threatening incoming investment and outgoing sales.

Some of our key sectors, such as food and agriculture, will be undermined by bad trade deals forced on us by the UK (the publication on Friday of the US conditions for a deal with them is a chilling foretaste of things to come) while standards in those areas and many others – including environmental protection and workers rights – will be progressively eroded.

Devolution will go on being undermined as Scottish rights and Scottish priorities are ignored by Westminster and Whitehall and our opportunity to escape from such treatment will be viewed with disdain and contempt.

And all of that will take place against a continuing backdrop of uncertainty and the possibility of being catapulted back into the chaos of a no deal at any time.

Contrast that future with the prospects of any normal small state in Europe today. The Irish Taoiseach talked a few weeks ago about how European solidarity with Ireland when it was needed had sent a very positive signal about the role and future of small countries.

That role and future could be Scotland’s and it is within our grasp. The publication this weekend of the SNP’s response to Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission report, a response informed by the views of our many members and the wider Yes movement, is an exciting moment because it shows what is possible with thoughtful, measured and careful plans underpinning steady progress over a defined period of time.

No-one ever gets everything they want and politics is always the art of the possible. But the possible for Scotland includes a better independent future if we are prepared to work for it together.

Andrew and I are old friends and colleagues. I don’t agree with everything he says but I would rather be shoulder to shoulder with him on the front line of creating a better future, putting in the work, devising the route, laying out the vision and, yes, sometimes struggling with the necessary compromises rather than struggling to hold on to the wreckage of a British state which has, in the astonishing admission of one of its own ministers, struck the iceberg of Brexit.

The choice is clearer than ever. We move forward as fellow Scottish citizens with a common purpose, making something worth having not just for us but for future generations, and doing so within the wider European family.

Or we paddle around in circles in the dark cold waters surrounding the melting Brexit iceberg, looking for a rescue boat that isn’t going to come.