Well, Conference, you did us proud – again! Walking through the doors of the SECC, lanyard pass tapping against my chest like a second heartbeat, the excitement in the air was palpable. It’s no secret that the Brexit referendum is exactly the kind of exceptional circumstance that could lead to another independence vote.
We said once in a generation and we respected that, but that respect wasn’t returned. Our future was gambled away by a Tory Prime Minister who, spooked by the rise of Ukip, was trying to bluff his own backbenchers. Where is he now? What brave new world are these Eurosceptic grandees leading us towards? Stamp your foot hard enough and the whole floor can give way, and the UK is being led by an army of blustering armchair colonels, all waving one leg around in the air, looking for solid ground.
While the UK Government is tying itself in knots trying to find a way to keep London in the Single Market, Scotland is being told ‘don’t even think about it – your referendum was once-in-a-generation and you lost.’
Well, no. The UK that Scotland chose in 2014 doesn’t exist anymore. How many decent folk voted No on the basis of economic security, EU membership, access to the Single Market, and so on? Scotland was asked if we wanted to remain in the EU. Scotland said Yes. And the UK said Tough.
I ran my Depute campaign on the basis that the European issue would be the fulcrum for Scottish independence. Our First Minister’s speech proved the truth of that. If Scotland cannot protect its interests within the UK, we have the right to choose a different path. As the First Minister declared “I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence and to do so before the UK leaves the EU – if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests. I can confirm today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week”, the crowd rose as one. Pensioners, teenagers, grizzled veterans of the Indy cause and fresh-faced newcomers alike, all on their feet, the roar of applause echoing around the chamber. This is it.
There are some changes we need to make if we get our second chance at independence. First of all, it’s not IndyRef 2. It’s IndyRef New, a new proposition for a new time, because the world has changed a heck of a lot since 2014 and the Brexit rollercoaster hasn’t even started yet.
Just think, back in 1297, William Wallace wrote the Lübeck Letter, telling the cities of Europe that Scotland was open for business. 719 years later, we’re saying the same thing. The Hard Brexit Westminster Government doesn’t speak for us. I will use every contact, call in every favour, and use every spare ounce of goodwill I’ve earned in my 12 years as an MEP to get the best deal for the people of Scotland.
We don’t know what’s going to happen next, so let’s rise to the challenge. Now is the time to start planning. We won’t make our old mistakes again, and we won’t take anything for granted. Our time will come. Let’s be ready.