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Ramsay Jones: Knowing your Article 50 from your Section 30

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By now, you probably know your Article 50 from your Section 30 even better than you know your armpit from your elbow.

It has been, again, another momentous week in the seemingly never ending saga of our constitution. Surprise surprise, we are leaving the EU. And shock of all shocks, the SNP Scottish Government wants to call another Indyref.

Irony aside, this is big. It may be tedious to many, but it matters. Both of Scotland’s two Governments are now locked in to their respective courses of action. One, the UK Government, because it was mandated to do so by the voters. Whatever Brexit ultimately means, it does mean waving goodbye to the EU.

The other, the Scottish Government, because it decided that the decision given three years ago in Indyref1 had run its course and should be set aside.

The premise for that change of heart – to rip up the Edinburgh Agreement which it had signed promising to respect the result last time round – was that Scotland is being forced out of the EU against its will. It is, they argue, a material change in circumstances.

Other tests and promises have been set aside, such as “once in a generation” or “when the people want another one” or “when Yes has a clear and consistent lead”. Perhaps because they haven’t been met.

Instead, and don’t be surprised at this, a Party who’s sole unifying cause is Independence wants to grab any and every opportunity to deliver their goal.

But a couple of things last week struck me.

Firstly, as I have suggested here before, there is very careful language and positioning going on around whether a separate Scotland would join the EU.

A new script has been issued to Nationalist politicians about it being the policy of the SNP and Scottish Government to be EU members.

But conspicuous by its absence is any confirmation that after any Yes vote in any Indyref2, Scotland would automatically and immediately apply and join the EU.

My hunch of another EU referendum being offered to Scotland grows by the day as a means of calming the fears of the former Yes voters who backed Leave.

The second nuance is about the timing of any second independence vote. The SNP and the Greens say this should be within the next two years and possibly as early as next year.

They argue that is when Scotland should have a choice and that it can be an informed choice. They claim that by next autumn, the details of the Brexit deal will be known.

That may or may not be true. But it is now crystal clear that even if the terms of the divorce are known, the details of the UK’s fixture relationship with the EU will not. The EU response to the letter triggering Article 50 makes that clear.

In other words we might know the cost of leaving in 18 months time, but not the basis of what comes next.

And it is the latter which is far more important. The Scottish Government has been at pains to say that it is our relationship with the EU Single Market which is paramount. But that degree of detail, say the other 27, will only start to be discussed, never mind agreed, until after the price and terms of EU exit has been thrashed out.

That process could well extend into 2019. Or 2020. Or beyond. And thus the clarity demanded by those baking Indyref2 will just not be there. Scotland would not have a clear choice based on facts. It might not be a complete leap in the dark. But it would be a step into a still foggy future. The self proclaimed basis for the timing of Indyref2 by the SNP looks shaky.

So the stand off continues. The battle for the hearts and minds of Scotland goes on. Now will soon be the time say the SNP Scottish Government. Now is not the time and won’t be any time soon says the Conservative UK Government.

So what now? A snap Scottish Election? Mass resignations by SNP MPs to force by-elections? Risky. Very risky.

And there is the small matter of our council elections in just a few weeks time. Daily democracy continues, but I fear the votes for who is in charge of our bin collections and runs our local schools will be consumed by the bigger fish being fried.

Local issues will be swamped by international politics and turn out could suffer. All of which is bad for democracy, but is probably unavoidable. Unless we, the people of Scotland, grasp the chance to show that in amongst all the constitutional angst and confrontation, the bread and butter issues of everyday life really do matter. So for the next few weeks, let’s think Local.

‘Local pavements for local people’

It is Saturday and I am sitting penning these thoughts. It is the First of April.

Radio 4 has just replayed the spoof of all April Fool spoofs about the Swiss spaghetti harvest.

It reminded me about one I penned a number of years ago.

It was conceived from a frustration well known to residents of Edinburgh during Festival time when our Capital is full to bursting with visitors.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Edinburgh and it comes to life as the vibrant multicultural city it is each August.

But the pavements are rammed with tourists.

In 2002 I wrote a press release demanding local pavements for local people. Fast track lanes in the city centre where our visitors could not stroll.

At the last moment we pulled the plan as 24 hours earlier the Queen Mum had died. It seemed churlish to resort to April Foolery at such a time. In hindsight we should have pressed ahead.

Why? Because I’m sure she liked a chuckle.

And because it was a damned good idea.

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