Decision time Dugdale: will it be the EU or the UK?
Of the many emotions I have felt this week, the one I expected least was a sense of compassion for the plight of unionists. However, the UK voting to take me out of the EU against my will has brought with it a sense of anxiety about the future. A sense of dread about my country moving in a direction I abhor and believe will be damaging to the majority of us, which is exactly what I now realise most no voters would have been feeling if we had won the 2014 independence referendum. After all, most of them wanted to stay in the UK for the same valid reasons that I wanted to remain in the EU. They thought it was the best thing for the nation, their families and friends and their own well-being.
However, many no voters also voted to remain in the EU which means current circumstances are going to put them in a position where they will have to choose between the two unions that they feel part of. There is little chance that they can avoid feeling separation anxiety as they are going to have to let go of one of them. That said, listening to Kezia Dugdale’s passionate speech in the Scottish Parliament post Brexit debate it was clear she is in denial about this. In the most rousing oratory I have heard a Scottish Labour leader deliver for some time, a shocked and angered Dugdale lashed out at the Tories for getting us into this mess. However, perhaps due to divided loyalties or wishful thinking Dugdale promoted a federal solution to the problem whereby Scotland and Northern Ireland would somehow get to remain in the EU as well as a post Brexit UK.
However, yesterday it became clear that this is not an option. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon flew to Brussels and she found out what we already knew: the EU only does business with sovereign states. They will not negotiate with Scotland while we remain a part of the United Kingdom.
As Jean-Claude Junker, president of the EU commission said:
I will listen carefully to what the first minister will tell me but we don’t have the intention, neither Donald [Tusk, president of the European council,] nor myself, to interfere in the British process. That is not our job.
In the words of the French president, Francois Hollande:
The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom
And it will come as no surprise to anyone the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy said:
I want to be very clear: Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union. Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of the United Kingdom
The only option for the type of federal system that Dugdale envisions is if the UK negotiates it on Scotland’s behalf, and with the best will in the world this is not going to happen.
No doubt Dugdale will faff about for a bit to see the lay of the land. There is still a chance events outwith her control may prevent her from having to choose between the two Unions she loves. However, deep down she must know the likelihood of getting off the hook is slim and a decision will need to be made.
In the Scottish parliament debate she showed us a glimpse of what a good passionate leader she could potentially be. However, one of the most important aspects of leadership is decisiveness. It is an easy attribute for Sturgeon whose followers care little about being part of the UK. It is easy for Davidson who would support the union regardless of how odious it became. It is difficult for Dugdale, a conflicted leader of a conflicted and longtime directionless party.
Dugdale is torn and the decision she will soon make will be career defining and could affect the course of Scottish history. Will she decide that Scotland’s future is more secure as a sovereign nation within the EU? Or will she choose to accept that our sovereignty is worth giving up in order to maintain our place in the UK? The anxiety of this week has made me appreciate the angst she must be feeling.
I hope that she chooses a sovereign Scotland within the EU. And I hope she joins us to fight for that with the passion she displayed in the chamber this week.
Join the debate below.