Brexit has bro­ken po­lit­i­cal ci­vil­ity – and IndyRef2 would prob­a­bly be just as bad

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - AGENDA - David Knight

By the time Brexit is sup­posed to hap­pen we will be ap­proach­ing the 230th an­niver­sary of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, which also shook Europe to the core – and caused may­hem for decades. We are not ex­actly storm­ing the Bastille, but ugly Brexit scenes out­side and in­side the Com­mons are deeply wor­ry­ing. A Brexit-fu­elled rev­o­lu­tion in Bri­tish pol­i­tics has changed our views and re­la­tion­ships for­ever, par­tic­u­larly with elit­ist politi­cians liv­ing in their own bub­ble who be­came dis­in­ter­ested and dis­con­nected with or­di­nary peo­ple.

It comes to a head to­mor­row with the fi­nal Brexit vote – ex­cept it won’t be the end, in all like­li­hood, as bit­ter in­ter-party war­fare con­tin­ues.

Maybe it is com­pla­cent to think a deal will come from out of the blue, but that is of­ten what hap­pens in pol­i­tics and busi­ness or even when mere mor­tals like us hag­gle over buy­ing a house or car or any de­sir­able ob­ject. If both sides wants some­thing badly enough from a deal, a com­pro­mise is chis­elled out.

I re­mem­ber some­one say­ing af­ter the Brexit vote that despite years of horse-trad­ing ahead, a fi­nal deal might not ac­tu­ally get done un­til the last minute.

We look to our politi­cians for lead­er­ship to bind the coun­try to­gether and what do we see? A poi­sonous bat­tle fu­elled by per­sonal and party am­bi­tion. It mir­rors the cur­rent tox­i­c­ity and in­tol­er­ance of pub­lic opin­ion rather than ris­ing above it.

It is hard to trust MPs af­ter po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vres of the past few days. We can’t tell who is act­ing in the na­tional in­ter­est, their own in­ter­est, has a gen­uine in­ter­est in bro­ker­ing a deal or sim­ply wants to sab­o­tage Brexit. The rep­u­ta­tion of MPs has plumbed new depths.

What would the great French philoso­pher and writer Voltaire make of it?

Even although he died a decade be­fore the French Rev­o­lu­tion, he was cred­ited as be­ing one of the ma­jor in­flu­ences who shaped it.

He drank gal­lons of cof­fee a day ap­par­ently, which he said boosted his cre­ative thought.

Maybe Mrs May should have served cof­fee at her drinks party with Brex­i­teer Tory rebels last week.

Af­ter en­forced ex­ile in Lon­don, Voltaire re­turned to Paris with a deep ad­mi­ra­tion for Bri­tain’s con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment and tol­er­ance of free speech. How ironic in the cur­rent ra­bid at­mos­phere.

Tory Anna Soubry was pur­sued by a small Brexit mob the other day and ac­cused of be­ing a “Nazi”. She is a provoca­tive and com­bat­ive MP who ex­pects a bruis­ing re­sponse, but she did not de­serve that for speak­ing her mind.

When Voltaire fi­nally went home he pub­lished a book on the Bri­tish way of do­ing things, which was promptly burned in Paris.

Of his many very quotable thoughts, the one which shines out for me is: “I don’t agree with what you say, but I would de­fend to the death your right to say it.”

There is a fear of demo­cratic ‘breach of trust’ from a fail­ure to de­liver some form of con­sen­sual Brexit

It is as fresh and rel­e­vant to­day as when ut­tered two cen­turies ago – maybe more so, given the nas­ti­ness which has smeared Brexit from both sides of the de­bate. There is a fun­da­men­tal right to speak your mind with­out be­ing shouted down.

It should be about ro­bust and chal­leng­ing de­bate, but re­spect as well. It’s a les­son which many par­lia­men­tar­i­ans have for­got­ten as they de­scend into a rab­ble.

Much of the gen­eral ca­sual abuse in so­ci­ety has foot­prints lead­ing back to social me­dia, which has been turned into an un­pleas­ant swamp by an in­sid­i­ous bunch of peo­ple who swim around vent­ing their hate and prej­u­dice against free speech. This men­ace has mush­roomed into bul­ly­ing face-to-face con­fronta­tions, such as that which be­fell Ms Soubry.

Not only that – ig­no­rant cheer­lead­ers on the side­lines even ap­plaud it.

It’s dan­ger­ous lynch-mob men­tal­ity. As Voltaire ob­served: “If some­one can per­suade you to ac­cept ab­sur­di­ties, they can per­suade you to ac­cept atroc­i­ties”.

Like a ge­nie, Brexit is out of the bot­tle and won’t go back.

As Mrs May and oth­ers have said, there is a fear of demo­cratic “breach of trust” from a fail­ure to de­liver some form of con­sen­sual Brexit, which might well eclipse the Re­main­ers’ ef­forts so far in its in­ten­sity and anger over “be­trayal” – spilling over into more abuse and even pub­lic dis­or­der.

As al­ways in these seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions, com­pro­mise is usu­ally the only so­lu­tion be­cause there has been no gen­eral con­sen­sus over cur­rent op­tions – Mrs May’s Brexit, no Brexit, an­other ref­er­en­dum or a gen­eral elec­tion.

Alex Sal­mond spoke about the in­vig­o­rat­ing and ro­bust na­ture of the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in Scot­land, but it was also far from pleas­ant.

When Ms Stur­geon waved the IndyRef2 ba­ton it blew up in her hand like a stick of dy­na­mite af­ter the cat­a­strophic snap gen­eral elec­tion called by Mrs May.

Ms Stur­geon is poised again for IndyRef2 in hope that peo­ple are so hor­ri­fied by Brexit they will be des­per­ate to sign on the dot­ted line for a break­away.

There is also the ex­plo­sive Stur­geon-Sal­mond fall­out over his mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions, which has split the SNP, as she limps to­wards IndyRef2 – wounded af­ter a hu­mil­i­at­ing in­qui­si­tion in Holy­rood into her role and now fac­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

As a re­sult, ex­pect the shout­ing match dur­ing any “new con­ver­sa­tion” on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence to be just as loud, un­pleas­ant and di­vi­sive as Brexit.

Brexit sup­port­ers fol­low and ha­rangue proRe­main Tory MP Anna Soubry as she walks to West­min­ster, as nas­ti­ness on social me­dia spills over into con­fronta­tions in real life

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