Joe Biden win points the way for Scotland's progressives to get back on front foot - Lesley Riddoch

‘We can’t allow the Good Friday agreement … to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US & UK must be contingent on respect for the agreement & preventing the return of a hard border. Period.’ –Joe Biden September 2020

Joe Biden’s win holes Boris Johnson’s entire populist project below the waterline, says Lesley Riddoch
Joe Biden’s win holes Boris Johnson’s entire populist project below the waterline, says Lesley Riddoch

How the world has changed.

Trump’s America offered shelter to populists like Boris Johnson - sympathetic respite from the relentless, rules-based logic of the European Union. But now the British Prime Minister is surrounded. West and East, North and South - every point of the compass stands suddenly united behind legality and international order. Del Boy tactics are out. Making it up as you go along is out. Welching on climate change treaties is out. Breaking international law to clinch a Brexit trade deal, is out. Cooperation is in, Donald Trump is out - whether he likes or recognises the fact - and just as suddenly, any international sympathy for the Tories’ vainglorious Brexit project has evaporated.

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As his recent statement makes clear, Joe Biden’s win doesn’t just put a big spanner in the works about the ‘negotiability’ of Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, but holes his entire populist project below the waterline.

Sure, the battle to reach ‘left behind’ voters, mistrustful of “elites” and establishments does remain on both sides of the Big Pond. Joe Biden’s election only puts America back where it might have been on equality and climate change ten years ago - and that was sufficiently unimpressive to get a tub-thumping Trump into the White House in 2016.

But democratic systems now matter, buoyed by the unexpected success of America’s byzantine electoral system to survive its most fiercely contested and closely scrutinised election, roughly intact. Trump and his retinue will continue to rant and rage about voter fraud, but the Democrats and Biden-supporting Republicans have maintained their cool, refused to fan the flames and have trusted the result to systems, procedures and counting staff.

There’s been no political shoot out at OK Corral, no militia activation and no high drama.

Peaceful opposition has worked. Calm exposition of the facts has worked. Refusing to be bent out of shape by a manipulative opponent has worked.

Peaceful, democratic change is possible - over there. What about back here?

Scotland’s Remain-voting majority seems ready to go quietly into a nightmarish Brexit, which cannot be cancelled, postponed or extended because an out-of-touch, unpopular Premier is determined to make a redundant and dogmatic political point.

Why the silence?

We’ve all read the gloomy economic projections.

We’ve heard the freight, pharmaceutical and food industries predict the worst. And yet, at this eleventh hour, we are like sleepwalkers - waiting passively to see whether bad or really bad news emerges from the Brexit trade talks this week.

Labour is keeping stumm for fear of losing the toehold it may have regained in Red Wall seats. The Lib Dems have given up the ghost - even the SNP, Plaid and Ulster parties are silent. Who can blame them - given the fact every plea, paper and suggested alternative has been completely ignored by Number Ten. And yet who can deny that Boris Johnson’s plan to disrupt our economy mid global pandemic, desperately needs challenge?

It's as if Scots have been disappointed so regularly by 'democracy' - vote Labour, get Tories; vote Remain, get Brexit and now vote for indyref2, wait 25 years - that we’ve become wedded to the gloomy belief nothing changes, planning for a better future is a project for fools and optimism is simply evidence of a weak intellect.

Passivity and pessimism have become the order of the day, especially towards the prospects for independence.

Take the idea that an independent Scotland would be left out in the cold, excluded from international security arrangements and unable to compensate for the loss of MI5 and MI6 - a view advanced by former GCHQ chief Sir David Omand this weekend. It’s just as likely that Scotland’s strategic importance would only increase as a small independent North Atlantic state which has always sought integration within wider European systems.

Scots were leaders in the development of Europol whose database helps police track people traffickers and terrorist movements across Europe. But Police Scotland is unlikely to have the same access to that vital database or to the useful Schengen Information System after Brexit. Britain is currently negotiating to get ‘third party’ rights of access - a bit like Canada and Switzerland - and that’s far less than we have right now as full EU members.

Indeed, British data is being removed right now from the EU’s “interoperability” database which uses biometric information to stop identity theft, while the data of EU citizens is coming out of British databases courtesy of Brexit. How does this help Scotland’s national security - and why is no reluctant spy alerting us to this immediate threat - entirely created by the British state?

Meanwhile, the idea that all security excellence is currently located south of the border is just plain wrong. Scotland and Northern Ireland already have intelligence bases and Scots historically have had a disproportionate presence within security services across the UK and Europe. Could they be counted on to set up an effective new security system after independence, just like Ireland - absolutely.

In the new, Biden-led international order, states will put their own people first - but will accept the importance of cooperation to ease the inordinate cost of pointless friction. There are reasons to be cheerful about the future - but first Scotland’s progressives, optimists and democrats need to get back on their collective front foot.

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