The impact of Brexit is not a distant abstraction for Barga. Its ties to Scotland are powerful, rooted in extensive immigration dating back to the 19th century, and more recently to strong economic links based on tourism.
A good example of those ties was yesterday as two people were in Barga enjoying the sun and the first days of the Festa delle Piazzette – both cabinet ministers from the Scottish Parliament .
Michael Russell – Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, he is Scotland’s official negotiator on the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and Jeane Freeman OBE – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.
SCOTLAND’S BREXIT MINISTER SPEAKS THE TRUTH TO POWER by Frank Viviano
On the face if it, Michael Russell has one of the stranger jobs in government. As Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, he is Scotland’s official negotiator on the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union — a step opposed by an enormous Scottish majority.
Russell is the former chief executive of the Scottish National Party (SNP), now headed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which has ruled in Edinburgh since 2007. In the June 2016 referendum that set Brexit in motion, more than 64 percent of the SNP electorate and 62 percent all Scots voted to remain in the EU — compared with 48 percent of Britons nationwide.
“My job is to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit, to focus my efforts on minimising the degree of damage it will inflict,” he says. ‘Better to do this than be in the position of Tory MPs who don’t believe in the claims of the “Leave” campaign any more than I do, but must lend their support to making it happen.”
He is scathing in his assessment of Brexit’s most prominent firebrands, such as Nigel Farage, founder of the rightwing extremist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and former London mayor Boris Johnson, who served as Foreign Secretary in the cabinet of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May until his resignation this month.
“To use a Scottish word, (Johnson and Farage) are ‘sleekit’ — ‘devious and deceitful.’ As for Theresa May, she has no real convictions besides wanting to stay in power. The government is afraid of its own M.P.s, the extremist minority who want a complete break with Europe. What we are watching is a Tory civil war with the rest of us facing the consequences.”
His contempt extends to Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn, who has never been warmly disposed toward the EU. Instead of endorsing organised party resistance to Brexit — 65 percent of Labour voters opted for Remain — “Corbyn could very well turn out to be the midwife who delivers Brexit to the British people,” says Russell.
The impact of Brexit is not a distant abstraction for Barga. Its ties to Scotland are powerful, rooted in extensive immigration dating back to the 19th century, and more recently to strong economic links based on tourism. Russell himself was on holiday here last week, enjoying the first days of the Festa delle Piazzette, when he spoke with Barganews.
In a sense, his brief is a parallel set of negotiations with the May government, framed by the larger departure negotiations between London and the EU member-states. A principal objective is assurance that the terms of Scotland’s current relationship with the United Kingdom — which accords Edinburgh significant autonomy, notably its own elected parliament — will not be altered the wake of Brexit. He is also pushing hard for “the softest possible Brexit,” hallmarked by retention of membership in a customs union, access to the EU’s single market, and continued unimpeded movement of EU and UK citizens across their respective borders.
The last of those points faces deep opposition in England, and not only among hardline Tory nationalists. Severe limits on immigration were the key issue behind Brexit’s referendum victory there. But in Scotland, says Russell, the picture is radically different. Unlike England, he notes, “We are losing population, and increased migration is critically necessary for us. Migrants mean skills, workers for unfilled jobs, and taxpayers.”
Many observers believe that negative economic and political fall-out from Brexit may galvanise sentiment for Scotland’s own departure from the United Kingdom, ending a formal partnership with England that was sealed by the act of Union in 1707. Outright independence, the bedrock ambition of the SNP, lost by a 55-45 margin in a 2014 referendum.
“We’ve been full members of the EU for nearly half a century,” says Russell, and now 5 million of us here in Scotland are about to be deprived of our citizenship in Europe.”
Like opponents of similar nationalist movements on the continent, Michael Russell is dismayed by the assault on vital cross-border institutions that were born in the ruins of World War Two.
“My father made it to the beach at Dunkirk with a bullet in his knee, something that didn’t happen to me, or to my son. Those institutions have given Europe decades of unprecedented peace and economic development.”
Article by Frank Viviano – All the articles from the 8 times Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist/ best selling author and barganews staff reporter Frank Viviano can be seen here
Conversation with Jeane Freeman in Piazza Angelio
Welfare must be based on dignity, fairness and respect – Jeane Freeman was until last week the Scottish government’s minister for social security, responsible for delivering Scotland’s first devolved welfare system. As she succinctly put it, in an interview that took place just prior to her promotion to health secretary: “My job is the creation of a public service that currently does not exist, and I’ve got to do that in three years.”
Frank Viviano is the author or co-author of seven books, including the critically-acclaimed Blood Washes Blood, Dispatches From the Pacific Century and In the Balkans (with Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos).