Sunday , May 19 2024

Is the SNP’s “National Conversation” only with itself?

The SNP are planning another so called “National Conversation” on whether Scotland should leave the UK. It was supposed to happen this summer, but has been put off for a while because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. It’s crucial therefore to realise that even if the UK had voted to remain in the EU, the SNP would right now be trying to persuade us that we ought to have a second independence referendum and that we ought to reject the Union we’ve been in for more than three hundred years. The arguments that Nicola Sturgeon and others made about the European Union for some reason don’t apply to our own Union of the UK. She’s happy for Scotland to be in a union with Slovakia, France and Sweden, but can’t bear the thought of our being in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. What has she got against our fellow Brits?

On the other hand the arguments made by the Brexiteers, about sovereignty, regaining parliamentary control and indeed independence, are just the sort to appeal to Scottish nationalists. I think the UK has always been independent even while being in the EU. It is for this reason alone that we didn’t need to ask anyone but the British people if we could leave. But I can also see that we will regain a measure of freedom from the control and influence of the EU. The laws we make in our parliament will be supreme and will not be subordinate to those made by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. It’s obvious why these sorts of arguments might be supported by Scottish nationalists. This is one reason no doubt why 36% of SNP supporters voted to leave.

We are all somewhat contradictory. It is in our nature as human beings to be so. I supported one Union (the UK) while voting against another (the EU). Some Scottish nationalists thought the condition for the possibility of genuine independence was leaving the EU, others didn’t. In general most of us in Scotland, apart from fanatics, can see pros and cons about the EU just as even some more moderate Scottish nationalists can see pros and cons about the UK.

But if we are to have a conversation it is important that the SNP listens to alternative points of view and also provide answers. We know that there are SNP supporters who want independence come what may. But the conversation cannot only be with them. It must also be with those who are content indeed happy with our present arrangement in the UK.

Here are some of the questions I would like the SNP to answer.

  1. Why are you assuming that a Scottish vote for Remain justifies a second vote for independence?

In Scotland around two million six hundred thousand people voted in theEU referendum. The gap between Remain and Leave amounted to six hundred thousand people. But over two million Scots voted less than two years ago to remain in the UK. The number of No voters in 2014 (2 million) is much higher than the number of Remain voters in 2016 (1.6 million). Crucially it is not possible to argue that the Remain voters in 2016 are Scottish independence supporters. Many of them clearly were not. Many would be horrified at the idea that the SNP would use their votes to justify Scottish independence.

Turnout in the EU referendum (67%) was much lower than in the Scottish independence referendum (84%), which suggests that the EU isn’t as crucial an issue to Scots as remaining in the UK. Moreover, we know that a sizeable proportion of Leave voters in Scotland support the SNP. These people no doubt are happy that the UK is leaving the EU.  The SNP therefore has to discount the wishes of a third of their own supporters in order to justify a second independence referendum.

It’s worth remembering too that those Scots who are happy with the result, Leave voters, plus those who are indifferent (abstainers amounting at least to the difference between the turnout for the Scottish independence referendum and the EU referendum) considerably outnumber those who voted to Remain. The fact is that we were voting on radically different things when we voted in 2016 and when we voted in 2014. It is therefore unjustified to use our vote this year as justification for rerunning our vote of two years ago. The fact that we chose to remain in the UK implies logically in and of itself that we were willing to accept the result of UK national elections. If that had not been the case we would have voted for independence. Apart from demonstrating once more that they are poor losers, why are the SNP complaining?

  1. How can the SNP now justify the fact that whenever there is an election campaign they say that it is not about independence?

If the SNP had made clear during their campaign for the Scottish Parliament elections that they would be arguing for a second independence referendum within a few months, it is likely that they would have won still fewer seats than they did. Likewise if the Scottish Greens had made clear that they would support such a bid for independence, they too would have attracted very few votes from people who support the UK. Nicola Sturgeon also said that the EU referendum was not about independence. It becomes clear that nothing is about independence until it is. The SNP cannot be allowed to keep saying that an election is not about independence only later to use that vote to justify a second independence referendum. This is fundamentally dishonest and anti-democratic.

  1. What would the SNP do if the UK Government continued to argue that it has already had its independence referendum?

Constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster. Therefore any legal referendum would require permission. The Edinburgh Agreement would give the UK Government the right to at least delay any future second referendum. Whether they would do so or not is a matter of speculation. But what would the SNP do if their wishes were denied? It’s all very well Alex Salmond talking about Theresa May not messing with the Scottish people, but what practically speaking would he suggest? Would the SNP attempt to stage a referendum without permission? Would this be legal? What would they do if Pro UK people decided to boycott such an informal poll? If they won such a poll, would they make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence? Would they stage a revolution? It’s all very well the SNP making threats, but the Scottish people deserve to know to what lengths they are willing to go to reach their goal.

  1. If Scotland became independent what currency would we use?

It will not be possible for Scotland to use the UK pound if Scotland is in the EU while the UK is not. In the short term this will mean Scotland setting up its own currency and Central Bank and then later joining the Euro. Some countries like Sweden have promised to join the Euro but show no intention of doing so. But in the process of joining the EU if it became clear that Scotland had no intention of fulfilling its promise, it is hard to imagine the EU looking on our application favourably.

The problem for Scots is that our mortgages are in UK pounds. If a new Scottish currency fell in relation to the UK pound our debt would consequently increase. This would likewise be the case for any share of the UK national debt that Scotland took on or indeed any debt held by Scottish banks. How can the SNP guarantee Scots that we wouldn’t lose out through falls in currency given that our borrowing now is in UK pounds? This would be far more serious to our finances than the present fall of Sterling in relation to the Euro as few of us borrow in Euros.

  1. Would Scotland have to join Schengen and would this mean that there would have to be a manned border between Scotland and England?

All applicants to the EU have to promise to join the Schengen border free travel zone. The UK and the Republic of Ireland have an opt out from this which means that it ought to be possible for the Northern Irish border to remain open even if the UK is not in the EU while the Republic is. But would Scotland receive such an opt out? We don’t know. But the EU is trying to become more united and there are suggestions that there will be no more opt outs. Given that the UK voted to leave the EU partly to stem migration, the likelihood must be that Scottish independence would lead to a manned border with England. This is because there would be no passport controls between Scotland and the EU. How would this manned border affect trade with the other parts of the UK? How would it affect people in the Borders who travel regularly to England? Might some of them end up being late for work?

  1. How would Scotland be able to maintain our present lifestyle if we lost both the money from the UK Government (The Barnett formula) and had to cut our deficit from 10% to 3%?

The SNP is continually optimistic about Scotland’s economic prospects. There are lots of good things about the Scottish economy, but this must not mean that we duck the hard questions. Scotland receives a considerable grant each year from the UK Government. The SNP has fought hard to retain it. But we wouldn’t continue to receive it after independence. Moreover, in order to join the EU we would have to cut our deficit from 10% at present to 3% and we would have to pay our subscription to the EU without any chance of receiving back our present rebate. The SNP pretend to care about the poorest in our society, but it is precisely these people who would be hit hardest by independence. Public spending in the UK has in fact increased under the present Tory Government, yet it has been called austerity. What word would we use to describe the cuts to public spending which the SNP would need to make in order to achieve their dream of independence?

  1. Why would Scotland want to stay in a trading bloc (the EU) with which we do 14% of our trade, but leave the UK with which we do 64% of our trade?

It would be a disaster economically for Scotland to leave the UK’s internal market. It is this and this alone which allows insurance and banking firms in Edinburgh to do business with people in other parts of the UK. How many of us have a current account with a French bank or take out insurance from a Polish broker? We do so much trade with the other parts of the UK precisely because we are in the same country. We all hope that free trade will continue between the EU and the UK, but we do not yet know what sort of deal will arise from negotiations. It is perfectly possible that the EU might charge tariffs. If Scotland were in the EU, we would have to apply those same tariffs to our trade with the other parts of the UK. Would that help or hinder the Scottish economy?

  1. How would Scotland make a profit from North Sea oil at present prices?

The shale revolution has made the cost of extracting oil much less than it once was. This fundamentally is the reason for low prices today. But it is always going to be cheaper to obtain oil from shale than from drilling under the North Sea. This means that although there may still be a lot of oil left in the North Sea it is hard to make a profit from it. This is now not a short term fluctuation of the oil market, but a long term change in the fundamentals. The break even point for North Sea oil is more than the cost of drilling. Future profits from North Sea oil rigs taken together with the cost of decommissioning them means that far from being a bonus oil may very well turn into a liability.

How can the SNP plan for the future when they have no idea what the price of oil will be? They got the price spectacularly wrong last time. Do we really want the future of Scotland to depend on guesswork?

  1. Do we know how long it would take for Scotland to join the EU and under what terms?

There is little doubt that an independent Scotland would eventually be allowed to join the EU. There might however be some obstacles in the way. We would have to overcome the objections of Spain. When Kosovobecame independent in 2008 it received the recognition from many countries, but not from Spain, which does not like to recognise newly independent countries, because it fears that this will encourage separatism in Catalonia. Of course, if Scotland became independent by means of another legal referendum Spain might be persuaded to allow Scotland into the EU. If on the other hand there was any sort of unilateral declaration of Scottish independence, it is unlikely that anyone in the EU, let alone Spain, would look favourably on our application.

The terms of Scotland’s membership would depend on negotiations. But it’s worth remembering that Scotland’s population amounts to one hundredth of the population of the EU. Scotland has to leave the UK prior to even beginning negotiations with the EU. But under those circumstances we wouldn’t have much choice but to accept whatever deal from the EU we were given. What alternative would we have? Would the SNP describe this as a leap into the dark or are they able to explain when and under what terms Scotland would join the EU?

  1. How much would it cost to set up a new independent sovereign nation state called Scotland?

We know that Scotland would have to severely tighten its belt in order to leave the UK, but at the same time we would have set up costs. We’d need some sort of armed forces. We’d need some sort of international diplomacy. We’d need a means of taxing our population and paying benefits. This issue was debated during the last referendum, but it still requires an answer. Some people think the cost could be between 1.5 and 2 billion pounds. So in addition to all the cuts we would have to make, we would have additional costs too. One of the main benefits of being in the UK is that we share the costs of things like the DVLA, HM Revenue and Customs, the British Army, Navy and RAF. Scottish independence means losing all sorts of economies of scale. How would this make us better off SNP?

  1. What will the EU look like in ten years?

The SNP is privileging EU membership over UK membership. They think that being in the EU is a better bet than being in the UK. But do we actually know what the EU will be like in a few years?

The EU has two major structural problems Schengen and the Euro. Both of these are crucial for the future development of the EU. If you are in favour of the EU you really ought to be in favour of both. The problem with Schengen is that EU countries are closing their borders. Eastern European countries in particular are unwilling to accept migrants. They are willing to erect fences to stop them. How does the EU resolve this? Does it force Poland and Hungary to allow free movement of people? We just don’t know.

We are all familiar with the trials and tribulations of the Euro. There are only two options that can work long term. Either the EU becomes something very similar to a Federal United States of Europe or it breaks up. Unless and until the EU gains political and fiscal union the Euro will remain dysfunctional. At the moment the Euro is a recession machine that is impoverishing Southern Europe. Fiscal transfers must be made from the richer parts of the EU to the poorer parts, just as they are made in the UK at present. The alternative to this is that everyone goes back to their own currency.

What is going to happen? We don’t know. The Euro may muddle along, but sometime soon a new crisis will develop that will make the EU decide either way.

What of Scotland? How much independence would Scotland have in a new nation state called the United States of Europe? Not much. We would be outvoted by any EU Parliament. Why complain about being outvoted by Westminster if you just join a new nation state which will outvote you even more?

Do Scots want to transfer their money to Italy, Greece and Spain and indeed to countries that are much poorer than these in Eastern Europe. Many Scottish nationalists over the years were unwilling to share “oor oil” with other parts of the UK. Why then should they be willing to transfer Scottish money to anyone in Europe who is poorer than us? If we were involved in a transfer union in the EU, how would this affect living standards in Scotland?

On the other hand what if the Euro is destined to fail? I don’t think it will, but it might. If I had savings in UK pounds, which were then turned into Scottish pounds, which were then turned into Euros and finally turned back into Scottish pounds again, I would end up losing a huge amount. It would be like going round the bureaux de change so as to turn my money into dollars, then yen, then rupees and then back to pounds. This is one of the best ways to lose money I can think of. Can the SNP guarantee that this would not happen to my savings over the course of the next few years?

Some people want independence come what may. They want it so much that they don’t care what it costs. But the rest of us want answers from the SNP. There’s no use having a conversation if it remains one sided. The SNP has a perfect right to be optimistic about Scotland. I share that optimism so long as we remain part of a post Brexit UK that I think has a bright future. Certainly the UK faces far less uncertainty than an independent Scotland would. But if the SNP wants to make the case for independence it’s no use seeing everything through tartan coloured glasses. They need to start answering the tough questions otherwise we may conclude that they are just talking with themselves.

This post was originally published by the author 5 August 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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