If you’re of the right vintage to have once had a British passport that looked black to the naked eye, and if a Tory government tells you that Brexit will allow us to bring back those much-loved iconic palish blue passports that nobody seems to have ever actually seen, what would you call that? Memory implantation? Gaslighting?
Whatever it is, there’s plenty of it about these days. Labour’s equivalent is the claim, repeatedly made by Jeremy Corbyn and all too rarely challenged, that membership of the European single market and customs union is dependent upon membership of the EU, and that Brexit will therefore automatically mean departing from both clubs. Nicola Sturgeon quite understandably lost patience as Corbyn trotted out that flat untruth yet again on Peston recently, this time as a thin excuse for not joining forces with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and Tory rebels to keep Britain in the single market.
Looked at from the narrow perspective of a self-obsessed political party, it does make a kind of perverse sense. If Labour need to keep the votes of both Remainers and Leavers, and if those two groups want irreconcilable outcomes, perhaps all Corbyn can realistically do to save his own skin is lie to the Remainers and convince them that what they want is literally impossible. But the best interests of Corbyn and the best interests of the UK are not the same thing, and it does matter to the rest of us that objective reality is diametrically opposed to his assertions.
Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein all enjoy the full benefits of single market membership from outside the EU by virtue of their participation in the European Economic Area. To all intents and purposes the same is true of Switzerland, courtesy of comprehensive bilateral agreements. Turkey, a country that seems to get further and further away from full EU membership with every passing year, is nevertheless part of a customs union with the EU. Just consider that for a moment: Jeremy Corbyn wants this country to be less integrated into the European system than a virtual rogue state like Turkey. Ludicrously, he wants us to believe that it’s not even possible for us to be as integrated as Turkey.
Now, admittedly it’s not inconceivable that the true intended victims of this con-trick are Labour’s Leave voters. Perhaps Corbyn’s preference is to leave the single market and the customs union, but to do it in name only to tick a box for the Brexiteers. The snag is, though, that it doesn’t matter a jot whether a hypothetical Labour government can be trusted to replace single market membership with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Single Market”. We don’t have a Labour government, there is no immediate prospect of one, and all Labour achieve by actively voting to take Britain out of the single market is precisely what is said on the tin. They are content to allow the Tories to author what comes afterwards.
Or, to be more accurate, the English Tories. The notion that the Scottish branch of the party has the remotest agency, or that Ruth Davidson wields influence at the top tables in London, is just another of those carefully constructed Brexit false realities – in this case largely constructed by a media that seems to have fallen hopelessly in love with the idea. Remember how we were breathlessly told after the general election that the Scottish Tories were “technically the fourth-largest party in the Commons” and would be “voting as a bloc”? Or that they could win concessions for Scotland with 13 seats where the SNP had failed with 56? It turns out that they are only a bloc in the sense that they all dutifully vote as lobby-fodder for Theresa May, even when they openly admit that it is against Scotland’s best interests.
Having supposedly won a rare concession on the EU Withdrawal Bill to ensure that amendments would be brought forward to prevent the founding principle of devolution being demolished, the Scottish Tories then shrugged their shoulders when those amendments failed to appear and voted the bill through on third reading anyway. It’s true that amendments can still be made in the Lords, but if that doesn’t happen the bill will become law as it stands, without returning to the elected Commons.
Make no mistake: the Scottish Tories have just consciously voted to abolish the form of devolution established by the Scotland Act 1998, which ensured that all powers not explicitly reserved to Westminster are automatically deemed to be devolved. Their excuse for having done so is that it would have been wrong to take a stand until the Scottish government concludes a compromise agreement with the UK government on the post-Brexit division of powers. In other words, risking the destruction of devolution, and relying on hereditary peers and Anglican bishops in the House of Lords to sort things out later, is a legitimate tactic for putting the SNP under pressure. And yet still the fiction of Ruth and her Fearless Baker’s Dozen is pumped out by broadcast media and in print. The Scottish Tories are “frustrated” by what has happened. They are “disappointed”. But they were helpless on this occasion. Nothing to do with them, guv.
In reality, if they had done nothing more complicated than vote the other way, the amendment protecting devolution would have passed by two votes. It would have taken just a little courage for the Scottish Tories to put themselves on the right side of history, and to at long last earn their legend. It is indeed “disappointing” to the people of Scotland that cowardice prevailed – but in the long run it’s always better to embrace the disappointment of reality than cling to a comforting illusion that serves only the interests of the powerful.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.
James has also written for us about the tyranny of Theresa May, the madness of King Trump, the crisis created by the Brexit legal challenge and why Scottish Labour care more about Corbyn than their country.