February 1, 2017 : Craig Wilson

What kind of United Kingdom is emerging?

The future looks far from clear, but Scotland’s third sector may be uniquely placed to influence post-Brexit direction

Following the Prime Minister’s recent statement on Brexit negotiations, it appears that the country is about to start trundling down a very rocky road – one that ends with a barn door studded with rusty hooks and nails. If that sounds a bit dramatic, let me outline my concerns.

At the end of the Second World War, European states embraced a distinctive social model, built upon a set of core values which (in theory) would see economic performance improve living standards. At the same time, workers’ rights and taxation would provide and underpin social protections. Thus it became easier for countries to trade and cooperate, leading to the peace, stability and prosperity we have seen since 1945.

Following the Brexit referendum, we see the UK preparing to not only depart from a political institution, but also retreat from mainstream European social and economic norms.

The UK Government is in a desperate situation. It is fully aware that more powerful partners in future negotiations will hold the whip hand, and with Britain attempting to forge new trade relationships with (amongst others) the EU, China, India and the USA, the UK is likely to come off worst. As bargaining chips are frittered like a drunk in a casino, this will have serious consequences for individuals, communities and public services.

We are seeing a government severely lacking in the Ministry of Ideas

It has already been suggested that a bi-lateral trade deal with the USA, for example, may open up the NHS to private competition. Whilst this was mooted during the TTIP negotiation  between the USA and the EU, a strong and united Europe was able to prevent such an outcome. However, surely any US negotiator worth their salt will smell the blood in the water and could demand such access of a solitary UK.

A whiff of desperation is apparent in UK Government solutions to its dilemma. As Theresa May landed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Bahrain, against a backdrop of flags and military hardware to talk of Britain ‘stepping up in the world’, the message was clear: we’re happy to be a global arms dealer and we don’t mind what you’re using it all for. For international development charities like NIDOS, which is trying to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, this must have been a painful sight.

The pathetic pandering to the truly awful Donald Trump is another hallmark of a government severely lacking in the Ministry of Ideas. It is evident that Britain now doesn’t care about bigotry, racism, misogyny or international human rights – so long as you’ve got the readies and can help us out of a bind.

Of course, as we reap the outcomes of ropey trade deals, the UK will have to become ‘more productive’ and ‘more competitive’ to remain the global player the government mistakenly thinks it is. Of course, the question we must ask in advance is: by what means?

With productivity and competitiveness notoriously hard nuts to crack, the UK might end up just taking shortcuts. Perhaps this is why renewables investment in the UK is likely to fall 95% over next three years or why the Prime Minister made clear the UK will be ‘freed’ from the auspices of the European Court of Justice, which protects hard won worker and human rights. These will no doubt be areas of concern for voluntary organisations such as Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and Disability Agenda Scotland.

To some extent, the decision to exit the EU symbolises revolt against free markets and growing social inequality. However, the recent direction of travel and the dangers on the horizon makes it likely that this inequality will only be exacerbated.

Sadly, I fear we cannot rely on Brexit simply being a disaster which will make people see the error of their ways. Indeed – as in the USA – failure and ineptitude may actually strengthen the hand of those leaders who seek to blame others for their own failings.

Now more than ever, it is essential we expose the fact that narrow-mindedness, protectionism, restrictions, austerity and indifference can never provide what openness, rights, cooperation and compassion can.

With our collective experience and understanding of this truth, surely Scotland’s third sector organisations are uniquely placed to help make and win these arguments in the years ahead.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Craig Wilson