The Union Of Inequals

As Theresa May tours the United Kingdom (see England, Scotland & Wales) on her Brexit pre-election tour we have just about been saturated by the phrase “Strong and Stable Government”. So much so that journalists, pundits and even voters are becoming tired of it. The Prime Minister has become known for empty buzzwords and phrases that are thrown out in the face of rather pretenseless questioning on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU. We have been gifted with gems such as “Brexit means Brexit”, “Red, White & Blue Brexit” and “Coalition of Chaos” – none of which have been fleshed out to mean anything other, in my mind, than “We haven’t the foggiest idea what we’re doing or how to do it.”.

It is obvious that the Prime Minister is woefully inept when it comes to negotiating Britain’s suicidal exit from the European Union, instead using Union Jack bunting, innovative British jams and harking back to the wartime spirit of the 1940s as a fig leaf to cover what has become Governmental incompetence and inexperience. The Good Ship Brexitannia (See double-decker bus emblazoned with baseless lies) has been going from sea to shining sea across Great Britain to hammer home the message that Jeremy Corbyn is an impotent leader and that every vote for Theresa May and Conservative candidates can make a success of the Brexit process.

We aren’t fooled. My thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party aside, the Little Englander mentality that Europe is simply going to roll over and beg us to stay is a nonsense. Twenty-seven European Union members agreed unanimously, within the space of a minute, on their unified negotiation approach and Britain will indeed pay a heavy price.

Since the beginning of this year (and to a lesser extent the end of 2016) Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Executive. We have endured two Assembly elections in the space of ten months and we are faced with the prospect of yet another Assembly poll on the far side of the General Election on the 8th June (The election that the Prime Minister repeatedly promised would never happen). It behooves the Prime Minister to remind herself that Strong And Stable Government begins at home, and for the roughly fifty million of us that live outside of London that means nothing unless the Government is committed to stabilising the devolved Governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the process. Any hope of a devolved government in NI becoming a reality was simply dashed against the rocks when the General Election was called, demonstrating the Prime Minister’s disinterest with the stability of the only UK region to share a land border with the European Union. With Scotland voting overwhelmingly in favour of staying part of the EU, Nicola Sturgeon’s promises of a second independence referendum will likely go ahead despite any Westminster casualties that the SNP suffers at the ballot box on June 8th. For the SNP and the majority of Scottish people, their focus is on their own sovereignty and national integrity during the Brexit negotiations.

As a Unionist myself it comes across as not only bizarre but hysterically hypocritical that Theresa May would emphasise the importance of ‘coming together and not pulling apart’ when asked about a second Scottish independence referendum. As a Unionist I believe strongly in the importance of supra-national unions such as the EU. The EU has never, in my eyes, been a threat to British sovereignty or to that of any other member state. Unions are strong, they are stable and they work – but only if the people paying the taxes to grease their wheels are listened to, acknowledged and valued. We heard a lot from former PM David Cameron about the importance of reform within the EU before the referendum was decided upon, citing a lack of compromise and understanding with the EU27 as a reason for the referendum. How, in that case, can the British Government talk out of both sides of its mouth with any integrity when it uses the opposite argument against listening to the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and London when they voted to stay within the EU?

For the record I am not against the idea of a Scottish independence referendum. I am a Unionist in so much that I currently believe that Northern Ireland is best served as part of the United Kingdom, but a Strong And Stable Government isn’t enough. Strong and stable in the context of the Union means working together, listening to each other and promoting tolerance, democracy, justice and equality for everyone in this Union. We couldn’t be further from that fact right now. Abortion is still illegal for women in Northern Ireland, as is marriage equality for same sex couples. 1.2 million peopl are using food banks across the UK, 3.7 million children are living in poverty, women earn 9.4% less than men, homelessness has risen by 32% in England alone since 2010 and there is an average of 130 race related hate crimes committed every day in England and Wales. Brexit has widened national divisons to the point that I believe that we are not only seeing the end of Britain as a regional power, but the end of the Union itself if we continue to barrel, brakes severed, headlong into a hard Brexit with no plan, no vision and no strategy for a successful divorce.

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