‘THOSE trips to Scotland in 2014 were life-changing. For the first time in my political life, a different future seemed possible.”

That was Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, explaining why she’ll head north on November 18 to speak at the Break up of Britain conference in Edinburgh.

I hope I don’t paraphrase badly – but the former Plaid leader told Bella Caledonia that despite log-jams, scandals, disunity, policy failure and Westminster blockage over recent years, and without the heady excitement of 2014 – Scotland’s still got it.

We still have the smack of a different state.

And though Yessers can easily fall into despondency, it’s worth remembering that others on these islands still believe Scotland adopts progressive policies as “naturally” as Westminster stokes culture wars and still steps up to promote communitarian values the mindlessly adversarial systems of the UK has long since left behind.

It’s a lot to live up to.

But a lot is expected from Scots – by our own voters and from beyond our borders.

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Take the current impasse over Israel/Gaza. The majority of Britons want a ceasefire and twice as many want the UK Government to be a neutral mediator not an active supporter of just Israel – or the Palestinians.

Yet only one UK leader has embodied this majority view from the start of this horrific conflict. Alone in the UK, Humza Yousaf has called for a ceasefire in Israel/Gaza, whilst speaking with warmth, respect and affection about both Jewish and Palestinian communities.

That’s quite a feat, since his own relatives were trapped in Gaza – eventually without water – calling nightly with updates on the Israeli bombs landing all around them. Still, the First Minister didn’t slip into the language of hate, bias or aggression. Not once. That is quite a phenomenal achievement. And it’s been noticed.

On a London-based TV show I was asked: “Does Labour need a leader like Humza Yousaf?”

Um, yes.

But it’s surprising – and ironic – that it took a non-Scottish current affairs programme to pop the obvious question.

The National: Charles delivers a speechCharles delivers a speech (Image: Leon Neal)

Keir Starmer said Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Gaza. And no amount of finessing those harsh words now can soften them, or mitigate the rage felt by Muslim communities and the majority of voters who just want British influence to be placed roundly behind a ceasefire – however hard to achieve.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has said: “It’s wrong to bomb a refugee camp but if there is a military objective it can be legally justifiable.”

This is so wrong it hardly bears analysis. Let’s just say it places the Labour Party on the wrong side of international law, humanity, public opinion and history. And once again, there’s no recovering from it. Since Labour is almost bound to be the next UK Government, that weakens Britain’s real clout in a world that works on mutual respect and cooperation – not grandstanding.

Meanwhile, Yousaf said simply: “I am sorry to those innocent men, women and children in Jabalia Refugee Camp that the world could not protect you. This blatant disregard for human life must be condemned unequivocally.

“Do not let any more children die. We need an immediate ceasefire, nothing less.”


It’s a relief to live in a country whose elected leader actually gets humanity.

But it’s not just about Humza Yousaf.

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It’s not just the “luck of the draw” – the fact SNP members chose a new leader with extraordinary gifts of calmness and empathy just before a world crisis.

It's not just that Yousaf’s approach to the Middle East is an extension of his instinct for mediation in domestic politics – something that’s seen all health strikes in Scotland averted and the local government dispute almost resolved.

It is that Westminster and its parliamentary leaders are locked into looking “strong”, ignoring democratic opinion and maintaining the status quo – even if that means characterising pro-ceasefire marches as rocking democracy to its foundations.

Take the current cross-party manoeuvring to cancel the London March for Palestine on Saturday, which has been deliberately routed to avoid the Cenotaph, the official ceremonies on Remembrance Sunday and the traditional one-minute silence on Saturday that marks the Armistice, signed at 11am on 11 November 1918, which finally ended fighting in the First World War – a prelude to peace negotiations.

Can no-one see the positive symbolism?

A massive march will be arguing for an armistice in the Middle East on a weekend that commemorates armistice in Europe.

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But yet again, Yousaf is the only national leader backing it and saying he is “beyond angry” at the UK Government labelling it a “hate march” to persuade the Metropolitan Police to wade in and ban it. Mercifully, it seems Met Police chief Mark Rowley has resisted that political pressure, so far. But Tory ministers could still invoke draconian powers to stop the protest.

So, where’s Starmer? Where’s Lammy? Where is the political leader who backs the right to peaceful protest in London? The answer – he’s sitting in Edinburgh’s Bute House.

Of course, Starmer’s determination to distance himself from the “toxic” Jeremy Corbyn and associations with antisemitism makes his position …complicated. But there’s more.

Britain’s failing democracy allows both main parties to completely ignore public opinion. First past the post gave the Tories an 80-seat majority with just 41% of the vote. Ten per cent of seats haven’t changed hands since Queen Victoria.

“Little” parties like the Greens – who might challenge or moderate the Big Two – are almost completely excluded. And it’s the same with Brexit.

In fact, you must go OUTWITH Westminster’s orbit, to find political views that contrast with the sluggish London consensus and actually mirror modern public attitudes.

It kinda helps that in Scotland’s case, we have the distinctive, social democratic views that come with being a different country.

The National: Rishi Sunak during the debateRishi Sunak during the debate (Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

But we need to understand the sheer dreadfulness of Westminster is no accident. Adversarial politics is in with the British bricks.

For example, you don’t need to be a card-carrying republican to feel slightly nauseous at the meaningless pomp and ceremony surrounding the King’s speech.

I guess it’s fine if you can pretend that men in red stockings walking backwards is meaningful.

Pretend that Charles and Camilla using different entrances is interesting.

Pretend that it matters whether Charles sat or stood, sounded gravelly and impartial or totally bored.

Pretend that the ensuing “debate” is an actual debate.

And pretend that the two key measures in the speech can possibly work, let alone do any good.

Annual oil licences – will not tackle fuel insecurity or cut energy bills.

Putting more folk in prison is actually impossible, since jails are running at 100% full already.

But still, who cares?

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After all, this is the UK Government that brought you a prime minister who pushed Eat Out To Help Out during Covid without evidence it would work but with plenty evidence it would spread Covid.

But hey.

The words were uttered by a member of royalty, wearing a crown and white tassels on his ancient robe.

As Rory Scothorne has written, the British royal family “indicates to subjects that Britain is not like other states, and thus need not be held to similar standards. By proving we do things differently here, [the monarchy] helps us avoid the realisation that we actually do things worse. It is royalty, above all, that makes Britain’s conservative constitution popular.”

Spot on.

Scots can see it, even if the rest of the UK cannot.

A Panelbase poll in December 2022 found 55% of Scots would prefer an independent Scotland to be a republic rather than headed by King Charles – a result which aligns Scotland with Europe where 21 of 27 EU member states are republics with elected heads of state.

Even amongst the six European monarchies, most dispensed with coronations long ago and just require a simple oath taken in their country’s legislatures. But simple? That’s not what British democracy is all about.

And this is just one part of the obsequious, forelock-tugging reality Keir Starmer’s Labour Party must tackle or meekly endorse. Which will it be?

We already know the answer.

Lesley Riddoch and Rory Scothorne are speakers at the Break up of Britain conference – tickets via https://thebreakupofbritain.net