by Brian Monteith, The Scotsman, Monday 20th February 2017
Just as Charles de Gaulle’s large nose and ears were of no consequence to him being the last great Frenchman, so Tony Blair’s perma tan does not impinge on his ability to fashion a reasoned argument. The former prime minister’s lectures, after dinner speeches and consultancies with corporate lobbyists, banks and well-meaning institutes do not mean his comments on Brexit are driven by self-interest to remain in sight of the public eye, maintain brand-Blair and earn millions of dollars as a consequence.
The personal criticism by commentators and those on social media do not mean his views cannot be as honest and objective as the next man’s.
What the three times-elected and never defeated former prime minister has to say about the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is always likely to attract attention, and in Scotland’s case what he has to say about independence will undoubtedly receive the same level of interest. His arguments should be treated on their merit, and on that basis thoroughly and unequivocally dismissed as not just wrong but dangerously foolish.
It is not Brexit that has made the case for Scottish independence more credible, it has been the reckless constitutional reforms of Tony Blair that brought the once distant possibility close to reality. It has been his wilful refusal to recognise the detrimental impact of his progressive policies on so many of his own former voters that contributed to Brexit happening. Likewise, it is the continuing self-delusion of Blair and others who will not accept the democratic outcome of the EU referendum that fans the flames of nationalism by giving succour to the SNP nursing a fabricated grievance.
When Blair gave his Open Europe speech and further interviews last week, he called on people to rise up to reverse the Brexit vote. His disrespect for the most momentous and convincing of political deliberations by Britain since universal suffrage was obtained is no different from the repeated disrespect shown to the Edinburgh Agreement by the past and current First Ministers of Scotland.
Tony Blair believes he was right to warn Scotland would have a case for a further independence referendum were there a Leave vote, but this is nothing other than self-endorsement of a flawed analysis, for no such case exists. David Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership if he were to command a majority in the 2015 general election as far back as January 2013 – 18 months before the Scottish independence referendum. Then, only five months later in June, the Conservatives published a Referendum Bill.
It passed its first and second readings in the House of Commons but was stopped in the House of Lords. It should therefore have been obvious to everyone that had a vote in the 2014 Scottish referendum that there could be an EU membership referendum – not least because the SNP government pointed out this risk in its own White Paper as one of the consequences of Scotland staying in the UK.
When the Conservative’s general election victory arrived it was duly announced that the promised referendum would take place and that it would be a UK-wide decision with no veto for any city such as London or nation such as Scotland. There has been no material change of circumstance for what had been promised and known – the EU referendum was always probable and the outcome of Brexit always possible.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may project her own spin on to the referendum result to whip up sentiment for her divisive case, but the reality is that Scots chose the United Kingdom in full possession of the facts of what might happen down the road.
When it comes to putting the Union at peril it is Tony Blair who should stand in the dock. It was Blair that ushered in a form of devolution that, as many of us predicted, would only fan the flames of nationalism, especially once a Conservative government was returned to office at Westminster. Rather than kill the SNP “stone dead”, we have ended up with three SNP administrations and an independence referendum that saw nationalists achieve 45 per cent support.
It was Tony Blair who, by the manner of his own foreign policy interventions, poisoned the well of public trust in British politicians that has contributed to the disconnect between the electorate and their political representatives.
It was also Tony Blair who, in turning a Nelsonian eye to the concerns of so many ordinary people about the effects of the mass EU immigration upon their standards of living and the public services that they relied upon that encouraged them to believe Brexit was necessary to “take back control”.
Now Mr Blair tells us the case for Scottish independence is more credible when it is less so. If leaving the EU’s Single Market is so bad that it should be avoided at all costs then leaving the UK’s single market – worth four times as much to Scotland – must be a more credible threat to our prosperity. With the UK now resolved to negotiate a Brexit that means controls on commercial regulations, tariffs, the judiciary and our borders being recovered for our own representatives to decide upon then any separation by Scotland from the UK must mean the erection of new barriers between us that do not currently exist.
Likewise, were an independent Scotland to renegotiate EU membership – as the advocates of independence insist is vital – then we would be confronted with terms more costly and onerous than currently enjoyed. There are the questions of the Thatcher rebate (that Blair infamously reduced), the Schengen open border agreement, membership of the euro, the need to reduce the Scottish deficit (requiring austerity the likes of which we have never seen), the return of fishing controls to Brussels and the inability to conduct trade agreements. It is possible some compromises could be obtained but not on all issues, something would have to give, making membership less attractive – meaning independence would be less credible.
There is no demographic group where Tony Blair is now popular and even among Remain voters and Labour supporters his unpopularity is embarrassingly high. If he truly believes in the unity of the UK and in fostering a better relationship with Europe then he would be better keeping his counsel to himself and leaving the arguments to a new generation without his record for getting things wrong.
For the published article and comments please go here.