Tuesday 10 May 2016

Brexit as seen from Scotland

In the 1975 referendum campaign the Tories and Liberals supported the European Union, and Labour was split down the middle over it. One of the few parties that opposed the EU root and branch was the Scottish National Party, which is perfectly coherent when you think about it. The SNP was arguing the case for Scottish independence, and a country cannot be independent if it belongs to the European Union, so the SNP was anti-EU.

Today, the SNP is the party that now dominates Scottish politics, and it is also the one that has the most incoherent set of policies relating to the EU imaginable. This incoherence exists on so many levels, but let me just pick out the major ones as they are enough to be going on with.

The first relates to the position of an independent Scotland in the European Union. The SNP's official line during the 2014 referendum campaign was that  Scotland would automatically remain a member of the EU via some nifty footwork under Article 48 of the Founding Treaties. Opponents argued that an independent Scotland would have to join the queue of applicants from outside the EU and then apply as a new member under Article 49. We don't know who was right, and it doesn't matter, but what does matter is that the issue was never as done and dusted as the SNP blithely wanted the rest of us to believe.

What is beyond dispute is that several existing EU states, of which Spain is probably the most vociferous, did not want Scotland to even enter the EU because that would have encouraged the secessionist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country who want to breakaway from Spain. Perhaps needless to say, the nationalist parties in those lands also want to remain under the thumb of Brussels. So an independent Scotland would have found itself caught up in the internal political wrangling of several major EU players who all have valid internal reasons of their own to want to discourage such breakaway states from even existing, and if they do exist, at least prevent them from joining the EU.

The issue is not what is right or wrong here in any abstract, moral sense. The issue cuts to the quick of the international order which is the same today as it was when the Athenians enunciated it to the small, weak, island of Melos in 416BC: The strong do as they will and the weak do as they must to survive.

So, Scotland's position, had the country voted for independence and then sought entry to the EU would have been very weak indeed. It is possible that Scotland would have been eventually admitted to the gang, but that would have been on terms dictated by Brussels, so forget using the pound which is what the SNP wanted, because Scotland would have been instructed to use the euro as one of the conditions of entry to the EU. Think about it for a minute, why would the EU negotiators make any concessions to their Scottish counterparts who had a really weak hand to play because the whole thrust of their argument had been the illogical one of seeking  independence from London, whilst pleading to remain in the European Union?

If the SNP were serious about the strength of their case about EU membership, and feel genuinely certain that the EU would accept public version of how Scotland would join,  then they would be encouraging the English people to vote to leave the EU, and the Scots to remain. Such a strategy at least has the advantage of some intellectual coherence about it, but instead the SNP are using the full powers of government to encourage the people of the United Kingdom as a whole to remain in the European Union.

What the SNP are doing here is not just implicitly conceding all the earlier objections that people made to the party's publicly stated policy regarding the country's EU status, but they are also explicitly accepting that this is a referendum for the whole UK. Given that Nicola Sturgeon is reported to be planning to visit England herself to jolly along the Remain voters there, they can hardly deny that fact. If it is a vote for the whole country, then it must be a decision for the whole country, so how in the name of God's left bollock can the SNP then say that if English votes take Scotland out of the EU, that would be enough to trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland?

Even if the SNP was able to escape from that trap of their own making - and I am sure that they would be able to spin it to their more credulous supporters somehow - the SNP would then be faced with three big political hurdles. The first would be that they would have to call their second referendum and the second is that they then they have to go on to win it. Given the result of the first referendum, and the voting figures from the May 2016 Scottish elections, it is far from certain that they would win another referendum. Then they would face their third and final hurdle which is even more massive than the first two: they would have to get the EU to agree to admit them on the SNP's fanciful terms.

All the previous points that I made about several EU countries opposing secessionist states as a matter of their internal politics would still apply, with the Scottish negotiating hand being even weaker than it would have been even in 2014. Scotland would appear not as a confident, modern state seeking to join a group of equals on equal terms, but as a supplicant, begging to be admitted on any terms at all. Obviously, the wolves in all the major capitals would lick their lips in eager anticipation at the chunks that they could take from Scotland's flesh. Forget the pound, of course, and perhaps get ready to wave goodbye to any and all fishing waters. Then ask yourself, would Scotland even be able to keep control of her oil?

Think about it - states like Spain will know that they have the Scottish on their knees.  Why should they make it easy for Scotland when they can get the Scottish government to sign up to anything that is contemptuously tossed in front of them?

A far more honest, straightforward policy for anyone who voted Yes in 2014 is to vote Leave in 2016. Scotland and the rest of the UK can then sort out their internal constitutional position, free of Brussels, since neither side would have any interest in remaining within the EU.

An independent Scotland, if it came about, would control not just the vast offshore oilfields, but the bulk of Europe's fishing waters. Those waters could provide employment for an army of Scottish fishermen under a government that could forbid foreign fleets from touching them.

On the other hand, if Scotland did decide, quite democratically, to remain within the United Kingdom, the post-Brexit UK would be a very different country than the one that we all inhabit at the moment. It is ludicrous to claim that UK politics would carry on as normal following a Brexit vote, because the fallout from a Leave vote would lead to the discrediting of the political elite all across the country. There would be a new politics for a newly invigorated land, with quite possibly a new constitutional settlement between the home countries.

The choice is yours on the 23 June 2016. Vote for more of the same, or defiantly vote to demand the possibility of a better tomorrow that will only come about if we leave the European Union.

1 comment:

  1. The SNP are political opportunists, I agree, but if UK votes out of EU, the opposite spin would be that EU will be only too keen to support and welcome an independent Scotland and ensure plenty of development funds are spent there to further isolate rUK and demonstrate to all that leaving the EU is a bad idea.
    Yes this view relies on a bunch of assumptions about the what the EU might or might not do - but so does yours.

    I'm going to vote to stay in the EU, because I think whilst the thing's got issues, I also think it has far fewer issues than our corrupt, undemocratic, self-serving bunch of English clowns in Westminster. That's the choice here.


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