Saturday , May 25 2024

How to make the SNP’s task still harder

There is a very respectable argument for Scottish independence that surprisingly is rarely made by supporters.  It goes something like this. We want Scotland to be independent because we want Scotland to be a sovereign independent nation state just like all the others in the world and we don’t care what happens next, because wherever this path takes us, it will be worth it. Historically this is the normal route for places that seek independence.

When the American colonists rebelled against British rule, they had no idea what they would end up with. In the short term it would no doubt have been better for them to have continued living under British rule. These Americans didn’t worry overly much about trade or currency or the difficulties that lay ahead. They were willing to fight a war to gain their independence. They were more than willing to take a risk.

In more modern times I remember when the Baltic States broke away from the Soviet Union. They were in a currency union with the other Soviet Republics. They did most of their trade with the other parts of the USSR. But suddenly there was a mass movement of people joining hands to say they wanted to get out of the USSR. These tiny Baltic States were suddenly independent. They set up their own currencies. They were not part of NATO or the EU. They had no idea when they became independent if they would be able to join. But they didn’t care. I doubt anyone back then made any great promises about the economic prospects of Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania. Since 1991 they have had some pretty tough times. But they didn’t much care about this when they became independent and I suspect they don’t much care now.

In more modern times I remember when the Baltic States broke away from the Soviet Union. They were in a currency union with the other Soviet Republics. They did most of their trade with the other parts of the USSR. But suddenly there was a mass movement of people joining hands to say they wanted to get out of the USSR. These tiny Baltic States were suddenly independent. They set up their own currencies. They were not part of NATO or the EU. They had no idea when they became independent if they would be able to join. But they didn’t care. I doubt anyone back then made any great promises about the economic prospects of Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania. Since 1991 they have had some pretty tough times. But they didn’t much care about this when they became independent and I suspect they don’t much care now.

I have made the point before, but it is worth reiterating. This is a very good argument. To an Estonian who wanted independence in 1991, I have no answer. Likewise to a Scot who wants independence come what may, I have no answer. It is perfectly possible for Scotland to become an independent country. If that’s what you want come what may, then go for it.

I disagree, of course, and will do all I can to prevent Scottish independence. But this is not because I particularly feel that Scottish independence long term would be a disaster. An independent Scotland would be at least as prosperous as Estonia, probably much more prosperous. The future has not happened yet. Scotland could become the next Switzerland if it chose the right economic policies. I oppose Scottish independence for the same reason that an American opposes the independence of California. I want my country, the United Kingdom, to remain intact. That’s it. If an independent Scotland were able to give everyone in Scotland gold bars every week I would still oppose Scottish independence.

There is a reason however that the SNP tend not to use the argument that I have outlined. There is no mass movement in Scotland demanding independence. There are people willing to vote for the SNP and even vote for independence, but the situation here is quite different from the Baltic States or even the situation in present day Catalonia. Hundreds of thousands of people are willing to demonstrate for independence in Barcelona. In the Baltic States there were enough people demanding independence that they could join hands right across the three republics. In Scotland there is nothing like this.

There was a free and fair referendum in Scotland and independence lost. Less than two years ago 55% said No. They said No even when they were promised all sorts of nice things by the SNP. If the SNP had instead argued Scotland would go through tough times for a number of years, but it would be worth it, I strongly suspect the No majority would have been greater. The SNP were unable to make the fundamentalist argument for independence, because there are not enough fundamentalist Scottish nationalists in Scotland. My guess is that there still are not.

At the moment quite a lot of Scots are angry because the UK is going to leave the EU. How dare the UK as a whole have a different opinion to Scotland? Some of those angry Scots are people who previously voted No and they are now flirting with the idea of Scottish independence. I think this is short term and transient. The argument as to whether we should be in the EU for most people is a matter of practicalities. Is the UK better off in the EU or not? At the moment we don’t really know, because we haven’t tried leaving yet. We do however know that the UK for centuries wasn’t in the EU and we did well enough. The likelihood is that we will do well enough again.

Few indeed are the people in Scotland who really have an overwhelmingly emotional attachment to the EU. How many Scots wanted to join the Euro? How many wanted to be part of Schengen? How many wanted the UK to become a part of a United States of Europe. If we all really loved the EU so much why didn’t we sign up to all the EU directives in the same way as Germany or France. Why did we want to opt out of the fundamental projects that were leading the EU to its goal?

I think support for the EU in Scotland is not fundamental at all, rather it is contingent on the idea that our prosperity depends on the EU and also vaguely on the sentiment that being pro EU makes me more internationalist and generally a good sort. This is of course complete rot. Switzerland is one of the most internationalist countries I can think of, yet it isn’t a member of the EU. The EU on the other hand is one of the most corrupt and anti-democratic of organisations. It is directly responsible for poverty in southern Europe. I think if you are a good sort, you should oppose it both for moral and practical reasons.

It’s worth reiterating also that being a good European does not depend on being in the EU. There are 50 European countries only 28 of which are in the EU. It is rather offensive to conflate being European with being in the EU as if those 22 countries were not properly European.

But what happens if it turns out that the UK outside the EU ends up being more prosperous than inside the EU? Given the right economic choices we can turn the UK into a low tax, low regulation free trade hub. The EU might then begin to look like a rather tired protectionist customs union sinking into decline, lurching from one crisis to another with a currency no-one much wants and an inability to come to an agreement about what to do next to sort the mess.  Would Scots still be so desperate to remain in the EU?

If our support in Scotland for the EU is mainly about economics, then under the circumstances of Brexit working well, we clearly ought not to mind that the UK chose to leave. Of course some people still worry about being able to live and work in the EU. My guess is that will continue more or less the same. It isn’t as if it was impossible to live and work in Europe prior to the EU. Moreover it’s obviously in Spain’s interests that Brits continue to spend their money retiring there. On the other hand few indeed are the Scots who either wish to or can work as bus drivers in Warsaw. Polish is rather difficult you know.

For those Pro UK Scots who wish to defend our position within the UK, it is vital to change our mentality. There are advantages and disadvantages to being in the EU. But we are leaving, so let us seize the advantages and minimise the disadvantages. There is quite literally no point whatsoever in continuing to fight the EU referendum. We are going to leave. What we must think about is this. What sort of relationship to the EU makes it easier to keep the UK together and harder for the SNP to make the case for Scottish independence?

I believe it would be in the UK’s best interest to leave the Single Market. We ought not to be a part of EFTA nor the EEA. We ought to trade with the EU in exactly the same sort of way as Japan does or Australia. We should attempt to trade as freely as possible under those circumstances. You don’t have to be in the Single Market to trade with it, otherwise we would be unable to buy anything from China.  The EU is still going to want to sell us things, so it is in their interests not to be overly protectionist. But most of our trade is with the rest of the world anyway. We buy more from the EU than we sell. Therefore any tariffs would hurt them more than they would hurt us. We might even end up making a profit.  The saving of the EU membership fee alone would more than compensate us for the amount we might pay in increased tariffs. You wouldn’t pay an entry fee to go into Tesco. Why pay one to buy things from the EU? The main advantages for the UK in leaving the EU can only be obtained if we make a clean break. There is absolutely no point going to all the trouble of leaving the EU only to end up being ruled by Brussels anyway.

The huge advantage of going down this route also is that it makes Scottish independence still harder to achieve. The gap then between a UK outside the Single Market and a Scotland inside the EU would be even greater. Scotland would then have a trade relationship with the UK that was no closer than Greece’s. Scotland would not only have left the UK’s internal market, it would also have ceased to be in the same trade bloc as the UK. If the EU applied tariffs to UK exports, Scotland would have to apply them too and vice versa.

The crucial thing in any argument with people who want to contemplate Scottish independence is to concentrate minds. But it is vital that we don’t go down the Project Fear route again. There should be absolutely no exaggerations about Scottish independence. But quietly pointing out the consequences, while at the same time pointing out the great future that the UK has ahead, can win the argument decisively.

The SNP are beginning to admit that Scottish independence would mean some years of difficulty. Quite so. It is becoming obvious that first we would have to set up a new currency and a Scottish Central Bank. It would attempt to peg this currency to the UK pound, but we know from the ERM debacle that pegs can break. If you have a mortgage in UK pounds and the Scottish pound was devalued by 20% your debt would in effect increase by 25%. This is one of the reasons why it has proven so difficult for countries to leave the Euro. Persuading Scottish home owners to take this sort of risk might prove challenging.

In order to join the EU Scotland would have to promise to join the Euro and the Schengen zone. We would then lose the money we get from the UK under the Barnett formula, while at the same time having to pay our subscription to the EU minus the rebate that was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher. We would then have to attempt to cut our deficit of 10% down to 3%, otherwise we wouldn’t be allowed into the EU at all. This would involve both much larger tax rises and spending cuts than Scots have hitherto experienced. It would make Tory austerity look like generosity, which in fact it is. Scotland makes a 15 billion pound loss every year, which is made up by the UK Treasury. This strikes me as rather generous given how insulting many Scots are about Britain. To cease making a loss every person in Scotland would have to pay around three thousand pounds a year. You may think independence is worth it come what may, but I’d rather keep my three thousand pounds thank you.

Meanwhile our trading relationship with our biggest trade partner the UK would cease to be an internal market and we would be no closer to the UK in trade terms than any other country in the world. Whether there would need to be a hard border between Berwick and Gretna is hard to say. But it might be difficult to avoid this if Scotland is in Schengen. The Republic of Ireland at least has an opt out from Schengen which will make it easier for them to maintain an open border with the UK. Scotland might of course be able to obtain all sorts of opt outs too. Then again the Spanish might decide that they really don’t want to encourage secession movements and might block or delay Scotland’s entry into the EU “pour encourager les autres”.

At the same time as all of this we would have to set up a new sovereign nation state called Scotland with all of the costs involved. None of this can remotely be described as scaremongering. Moreover none of this need put off a fundamentalist nationalist. No doubt, after some years Scotland would be doing very well indeed. But let us at least be honest about what we would need to do.

The other side of the coin is that the UK can do very well outside the EU. Free from the constraints and the bureaucracy of Brussels we can turn our country into a beacon of business and free trade. We will be able to negotiate trade deals with anyone we please, because we will not require the agreement of 27 other countries. We will be able to attract skilled people from all over the world to come and live and work here. The crucial point however, is that we will choose who has the right to come. The UK can become an offshore business centre like Japan. The advantages potentially are enormous, but people need to fundamentally change their mind-set. Stop thinking about the disadvantages of leaving the EU, start thinking of the advantages. When you make that switch you will start helping, until then you will remain hindering.

This is the positive message about Britain that we need to counter the SNP’s argument. We campaigned far too negatively last time round and nearly lost because of this. The EU referendum campaign was lost by the Cameroons because they chose to go negative again. What we need is a simple clear positive message about Scotland and the UK. Don’t be negative about Scotland, but quietly point out the disadvantages of leaving the UK, while pointing out the advantages of staying. Moreover, we must start being patriotic about the UK and positive about our chances outside the EU. I despair of those Remain people who continue to threaten disaster for the UK. Our best chance of defeating Scottish nationalism long term is to disagree with them about the UK’s role in the world. Being positive about Brexit is our best argument. If the UK makes a success of our role outside the EU we will leave the SNP without an argument. On the other hand Pro UK people who continue to be negative about the UK’s prospects are making the SNP’s argument for them. Our one chance of making the positive case for the UK is to be positive about leaving the EU. We can tell a better story than the Scottish nationalists. It’s time high time we all started doing so.

The EU is in trouble. Every day I find myself thinking we made the right choice to leave. Italy looks like the new Greece, but Italy is too big to bail out. Thank goodness we are not going to be in the same club as Turkey. Uncontrolled immigration and open borders looks ever more unsafe. How long before another EU country follows the UK lead. Some Scots might think they can find a safe haven in the EU, but it’s not at all clear that the EU can even survive long term, at least not in its present form. This need not concern fundamentalist Scottish nationalists. For them, of course, it doesn’t matter what the future may bring, for Scotland ought to be independent come what may.

But the fundamentalist SNP position looks increasingly odd when you compare them with other independence movements like the American revolutionaries. Imagine if the Americans fought their war of independence in order to throw off British rule, only to ask the French king to rule over them instead. “Give me liberty, or give me death” would be a strange rallying cry under those circumstances. Give me liberty, or give me Brussels is Nicola Sturgeon’s version of this. It appears unlikely that she will be remembered for as long as Patrick Henry.

Scottish independence would involve an almighty struggle and tough times for all Scots. If you think it would be worth it fair enough, but why would you go to all that trouble only to end up being ruled by the EU?

This post was originally published by the author 22 July 2016.

About Effie Deans

Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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