In the 1970s there was no such word in the English language as Brexit. In fact, even a year ago was there was little understanding, and much bemusement about the concept of Brexit. Yet, Brexit is now here. In years to come, history will write that what started off as an attempt to resolve a twenty-year split in the Tory Party, or to reconcile an even older dispute in the sixth-form common room at Eton has resulted in Britain turning its back on mainland Europe.
We are living through a period of such continual change that I am having serious doubts about the point of writing this so-called topical article. By the time you come to read this piece, it may well resemble some quaint prediction of “the future”, similar to an episode of “Tomorrow’s World” from 1972. However, back in 1972, who would have thought that in the year 2016, the people of Britain would actually vote in a referendum to go back to live in 1972. Yet, history will record that on 23 June 2016, fifty-two percent of the population of the UK did exactly that.
When I started writing this column, Boris Johnson looked likely to be the next Prime Minister, yet now he himself is consigned to history. Consigned not only to history, but to his own place in the Guinness Book Of Records, having made an even shorter bid to lead a political party than the previous record-holder, Chukka Umana. That most traditional of English blood sports, namely back-stabbing in the Tory Party, is now in high season. First, Boris stabs Cameron in the back, only for Gove to stab Boris in the back. Only for an orderly queue to form of various Tories lining-up to stab Gove in the back. If only there had been this much demand for daggers forty years ago, this country would still have a thriving steel industry.
And so, in a doomed attempt to save what is left of that steel industry, the Parliamentary Labour Party decided to kick off its own frenzy of back-stabbing. Indeed, such is the multiplicity and severity of the stabbings he has received from his own side, Jeremy Corbyn’s back must now look like a tea-strainer. His Shadow Cabinet is now literally just a shadow, as members have been lining up to resign, some of them writing letters of resignation even before they were appointed. Much of this has doubtless been due to a pre-planned Blairite coup, but there is little doubt that Corbyn has been less than convincing in his time as party leader. Even his predecessor and the Leader of the Party in Scotland have suggested it may be time for him to go. It must come as a bit of a wake-up call when even the likes of Kezia Dugdale and Ed Miliband reckon that you’re not up to the job.
Over in Europe, the mood of the British nation was completely misinterpreted. By the England football team, who seemed to be under the impression that fifty-two per cent of the population had voted for them to leave Europe at the earliest possible opportunity, even if it meant doing something utterly unheard of such as losing to a country the size of Dundee.
Of course, not everyone in the UK voted to leave. Ninety-six per cent of the people of Gibraltar, for example voted ‘remain’. This mainly due to the fact that they live in a place that very much resembles Britain in the 1970s, and their only taste of the future is when they drive over the border into Spain. Northern Ireland likewise turned their backs on the past, as only the only the most violent extremist would want to go back to 1972 in that part of the world.
And, of course, Scotland also voted to stay part of Europe. This is partly because we have embraced Europe and Europeans, and we feel solidarity with the other small nations of the Continent. Furthermore, modern Scotland is now home to people from many countries and we have welcomed them into our hearts. Indeed, on the Monday after Brexit, I was in a pub in Leith watching the England v Iceland Euro 2016 game. It was only when the final whistle blew, that I realised virtually everyone in the pub was Icelandic.
It now looks likely that Scotland will hold a second independence referendum which is already making ‘no’ voters hot under the collar, as they remind us that Alex Salmond promised that the 2014 Indyref would be a “once in a generation event”. However, this is Scotland, a country where the concept of a generation is fairly fluid. If you can be pregnant at thirteen and dead by fifty-seven, four years in a generation. And very few of us can remember 1972.
Vladimir McTavish will be appearing at The Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh at 7.30 every night from Thursday 4 to Sunday 28 August (except Monday 15) as part of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe www.outstandingtickets.com