Assuming such sentiments are still appropriate this far into January, let me begin by wishing you a Happy New Year. I hope that 2017 brings you good health and much happiness.
After my gloomy concluding article of 2016, I felt it important to start the new year on a more upbeat note. Sadly, any new-found optimism on my part is struggling to survive impact with the early realities of 2017.
As he prepares to take control of the most powerful office in the world later this week, President-elect Trump shows few signs of growing into the role. His fixation with Twitter-diplomacy, albeit without the diplomacy, would be laughable were it not so alarming. The notion that the President of the United States could be goaded into a diplomatic stand-off, or worse, in 140 characters or less is absolutely terrifying.
Presumably in an attempt to get us in the mood for the inauguration in Washington DC on Friday, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, took the opportunity on Wednesday this week finally to spell out what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means. Much like the inauguration, it was not good news.
In a speech that could have been written by Nigel Farage, the Prime Minister declared her intention to take the UK out of the Single Market, as well as the Customs Union. She has attempted to dress this up as ‘clean’ Brexit and even a ‘red, white and blue’ Brexit. In truth, it represents the ‘hard’ Brexit that gives the lie to promises made to voters ahead of last year’s referendum and the reassurances offered in its chaotic aftermath.
The irony is that the Single Market is, in fact, a UK invention, signed up to originally by Margaret Thatcher. It has enabled the UK to prosper and become one of the strongest economies in the world, while giving our people the ability to travel, study and do business across Europe.
Mrs May’s assertions now that the British people voted to leave the Single Market last June are a brazen attempt to rewrite history. Let’s not forget how eager leaders of the Leave campaign were to deny that exclusion from the Single Market might be the inevitable consequence of their populist demands about ‘taking back control’?
What ‘taking back control’ meant, of course, was never made clear, though it now seems to be the cue to dismantle protections for employees, consumers and the environment. Chancellor, Philip Hammond has been busy claiming Britain could become an ‘Atlantic Singapore’, by abandoning European social models. For those who feel ‘left behind’ now, and may have voted Leave in protest, it could be about to get worse.
That is why it is essential the British public gets the chance to express a view on the final terms of Brexit. The outcome of last June’s referendum must be respected. However, the public voted for departure, and they should therefore be given a vote on the destination. Denying that right is a theft of democracy, particularly when it involves taking Britain out of the world’s most lucrative market on a false prospectus.
Needless to say, the First Minister’s response to these developments has been all too predictable. Only last week, Ms Sturgeon let it be known that a second independence referendum had been ‘taken off the table”. Turns out, it had only been moved from the table to the hostess trolley in order to keep it warm, ready for re-serving at the drop of a hat.
So SNP MSPs were busy briefing the press this week that Indyref2 is now ‘inevitable’ to “safeguard Scotland’s interests”. No great surprise, perhaps, amongst those for whom independence is the answer, whatever the question. Yet, layering further uncertainty and division on top of what already exists would be wholly self-defeating.
I believe there remains a compelling case to be made both for the UK’s place within the EU and Scotland’s place within the UK. In truth, the need for a UK that is open, tolerant and united is greater than ever.
As for Friday, I may just ignore Trump’s inauguration and look forward instead to co-hosting the Orkney Sports Awards with Robbie Fraser, whose Twitter feed is much less scary.