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Joanna Cherry: A tale of two unions

This article originally appeared on openDemocracy on 21st January 2019. Scotland’s aristocratic and middle classes have long told themselves that thanks to the successful wars of independence (and of course, the icons of Wallace and Bruce), Scotland and England came together as two equal partners – first in the union of the crowns and then through a political union – rather than through conquest and subjection. It was a theme which would re-emerge during the 2014 independence referendum with the slogan that “Scotland should lead not leave” the UK in a partnership of equals. The Brexit process has told voters in Scotland much about the nature of Devolution and Scotland’s standing in the partnership within the union of the UK. Whatever the UK is, it’s not a union of equals – and Scotland’s standing in the UK contrasts strongly with the status and standing of our Celtic cousin Ireland in the union of the EU. Brexit for the Scots has been a tale of two unions. Scotland voted to remain in the EU by 62% – 75% in the City of Edinburgh, part of which I represent. Every local authority area in Scotland backed remain. Polls now show an even larger remain vote across Scotland, in the region of 70%. The majority of Scottish voters do not hold the same concerns about sovereignty or immigration as are held by English voters. Scotland’s historic ties with the European continent have much to do with this – but so does devolution. Scotland has to an extent been protected from the worst excesses of austerity because we have had left of centre devolved Governments since 1999. Throughout the austerity years, an SNP Government has tried to protect Scotland and currently spends £125m a year to ameliorate the worst of Westminster’s social welfare cuts. It is also a matter of record that Scotland has the best performing NHS in the UK. There has been considerable investment in social housing, ground-breaking homelessness legislation and the re-introduction of security of tenure in the private rented sector. By contrast many working-class people in England have been led to believe that the cause of their difficulties getting a house or a well-paid job is immigration, rather than government policies. But back to the tale of two Unions. So far as Ireland (north and south) is concerned, British politicians largely overlooked the threat that Brexit posed to the Good Friday agreement until after the referendum. And even then, many of them – particularly in the Tory party – remained (and remain) unable to accept the reality of the legal obligations that the United Kingdom undertook in that agreement. However, because the EU27 got behind the Irish Government’s legitimate concerns, these concerns became central to the Brexit process.

Joanna Cherry QC MP

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