Ian Swanson: Scotland a beacon of stability amid UK chaos

Far from celebrating, Boris Johnson seems downcast. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Far from celebrating, Boris Johnson seems downcast. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
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WITH even the Leave campaigners seemingly shell shocked over the EU referendum result, Ian Swanson looks at Sturgeon’s rescue plans.

SEISMIC, catastrophic, calamitous – choose your own word, but there’s no mistaking the enormity of the decision taken in last week’s referendum that the UK should leave the European Union.

It was a result no-one expected – politicians, pollsters and pundits all agreed the vote would be close, but it would be for Remain. The Brexiteers were taken by surprise as much as everyone else.

Now the political system seems to be in meltdown – the Prime Minister effectively powerless as he waits to depart; the Tories searching for a new leader; and Labour MPs in full-scale revolt against their leader.

Meanwhile, the winning Leave campaign appears to have no plan about what happens next and are taking no lead. Boris Johnson did not even show up for debate on the situation in parliament. Former Chancellor Alistair Darling summed it up: “We’ve got no government; we’ve got no opposition; and the people who got us into this mess have run away.”

He says he is more worried now than he was at the time of the banking crisis in 2008.

And Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, has suggested Boris Johnson did not even mean to win. He claims the former London Mayor, who has long harboured leadership ambitions, was hoping for a narrow Remain victory which could still have forced David Cameron out but would not have resulted in the UK actually leaving the EU.

The very fact there was such prolonged speculation earlier this year about which side Mr Johnson would back in the referendum campaign reinforces the scepticism about the depth of his belief in the Brexit cause.

And his behaviour since the referendum result has done nothing to suggest a man eager to fulfil his mission.

Mr Campbell observed that when Mr Johnson and his Leave allies Michael Gove and Labour’s Gisela Stuart held their post-referendum press conference, rather than celebrating a remarkable historic victory they looked as if their spaniel had just been run over by a lorry.

And Mr Johnson seems determined to believe whatever he wants to believe. He claimed the UK was “no more disunited and no less European” following the referendum – even though the result exposed stark divides between Remain-supporting Scotland and Northern Ireland and Leave-backing England and Wales, not to mention clear differences in voting patterns between young and old.

He also insisted “the pound is stable, the markets are stable” – just as sterling hit a 31-year low, £40bn was wiped off the stock market and share dealing in two of Britain’s big banks was suspended.

Amid the chaos of UK party politics Scotland appears a beacon of stability despite the vote going against the wishes of the majority here.

Nicola Sturgeon is getting legislation ready for a possible second referendum on independence, but seems ready first to try and find a way of preserving Scotland’s relationship with Europe despite the UK decision.

She told MSPs yesterday she is in direct touch with the governments of other EU countries and will today be making an initial visit to Brussels to set out Scotland’s position to European Parliament president Martin Schulz and the main political groups.

Labour is looking at the idea of the UK as a federal state so Scotland and Northern Ireland could aim for “associate” EU membership.

It’s difficult to know what is possible, but some arrangement is surely needed to rescue this dire situation.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com