Monday , June 17 2024

The Brexit case against Scottish independence

Let’s imagine that somehow the UK leaves the EU sometime around the end of October and makes a clean break. The EU faced with the prospect of no deal might at the last minute give us a more favourable deal. Alternatively, the UK might actually leave with out further negotiation. All the attempts by Remainers to thwart Brexit might fail, not least because the EU might decide that it doesn’t want troublesome Britain to be an EU member any longer. What would happen next for the SNP?

There would, no doubt, be some economic disruption and therefore SNP attempts to blame the wicked Tory Brexit for any and all difficulties arising. There would be some Europhile anger. But what if despite all the Remainer warnings leaving without a deal didn’t lead to chaos and that the problems were short lived. After all Britain would simply be in the position in relation to the EU that most of the world is. Lots of countries get on fine without being in either the EU single market or its customs union. We did too prior to joining. The SNP therefore might be in for a rerun of 2016. Short term anger about the Leave vote lessened as it became clear that the UK economy was doing fine. So long as the UK economy remains resilient in 2019/2020 the same will happen again.

For so long as there is a Conservative Government it will be possible to block SNP requests for a second independence referendum. They can either go down the illegal route and face a Pro UK boycott and possible jail or they can wait. If the SNP loses its pro-independence majority at the next Scottish Parliamentary election, then that will be it. Independence will be off the table for the foreseeable future. The SNP’s best chance is that sometime soon there is a General Election leading to a Labour Government dependent on SNP votes. Would Jeremy Corbyn give the SNP a second referendum as the price for their support? Who knows? But faced with a choice between Britain and anyone who hates Britain he always goes for the latter. So, he probably would.

But the UK would already have left the EU. How would this effect the argument? This requires some detailed analysis.

  1. Currency.

An independent Scotland, if it wished to join the EU would have to have its own currency and would have to promise to join the Euro. These are conditions of applying to join. There may be ways round this. There may be opt outs. But in principle the Scottish public would have to go through changing pounds sterling into pounds Scots and then into Euros. Any debt such as a mortgage denominated in Sterling could either increase or decrease depending on the exchange rates occurring during these transitions. It would be impossible to predict the result of this. If on the other hand Scots preferred to keep their mortgage in UK pounds, then voting to remain in the UK would be the only sensible course of action. Currency union between the UK and Scotland with one inside the EU and the other outside would be untenable. The mere fact that Scotland would have to promise to join the EU would make such a union inherently unstable even in the short term.

  1. Free trade.

An independent Scotland would have to choose whether or not to join the EU. No one knows whether the UK would at some point in the future be able to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU. But if it did, this deal would not apply to an independent Scotland. Nor would any other deal that the UK was able to negotiate with anyone else, such as the USA. An independent Scotland would have to negotiate its own deals both with the UK and with the EU. The problem is that it could not automatically expect to have both. If Scotland were in the EU, but the UK was completely outside, then there would have to be tariffs between the UK and Scotland. Alternatively, if Scotland remained completely outside the EU there would have to be tariffs between Scotland and the EU. No one can predict with certainty what sort of deal Scotland would get from either the EU or the UK. The UK could negotiate à la Barnier demanding billions even to start talking about trade. It could demand “independence in name only” just as in effect the EU demanded “Brexit in name only”. Who can predict how negotiations between Scotland and the UK would end. The UK might give the SNP everything they want, but then didn’t Brexiteers think that the EU would give the UK everything we want. We have learned over the past few years that   negotiations don’t always go as we want them to.

  1. Power.

The Scottish Parliament will gain extensive new powers, covering 153 areas, because of the UK leaving the EU. If the SNP were to argue for EU membership, they would have to tell Scottish voters that independence would mean giving up these powers. Why do you want the Scottish Parliament to be less powerful? Alternatively, if they were to argue that Scotland would not join the EU, they would have to explain why they were complaining about the UK leaving the EU?

  1. Border.

If an independent Scotland were to join the EU, then it would have to agree to membership of Schengen. This would mean that there would have to be passport free travel between Schengen members and Scotland. This would mean that Scotland could not be part of the Common Travel Area that at present covers the whole of the British Isles. The Republic of Ireland can only remain a member of this area because it has an opt out from Schengen. Of course, Scotland could hope for an opt out too, but that would be up to the EU. For this reason and also because there is no way of knowing whether there would be a free trade agreement between the UK and Scotland, there is no way of knowing if there would be some sort of border checking between Scotland and England.

  1. Fishing.

If the UK leaves the EU completely then the UK will regain control of our territorial waters. We will return to the situation that existed prior to joining the European Community. This will mean that for the first time in decades UK fishermen will no longer have to compete with the EU. The likelihood is that fish stocks will improve, catches increase and fishing communities will begin to do a great deal better. If the SNP wishes to join the EU, then they will have to explain to these fishing towns that the situation that they have wanted for so long is soon going to cease. Scottish independence in the EU would mean giving up control of Scottish territorial waters.

  1. Rights.

At present everyone in Scotland has the right to live and work anywhere in the UK. We have the same rights to benefits, healthcare etc as any other UK citizen. At present EU citizens also have most of these rights too. But these rights are contingent on the UK being an EU member. There will thus after Brexit be a distinction between EU citizens and UK citizens. We may choose to give EU citizens certain rights post Brexit, but we could also limit those rights. In principle a citizen of France could be treated no better nor worse than a citizen of Japan. While the whole of the UK remained a part of the EU the SNP could argue that Scots would retain the same rights in other parts of the UK as we do at present. But with the UK outside the EU where is the guarantee that these rights will continue indefinitely? In the end if you wish to retain the rights of UK citizenship, you can’t vote to become a citizen of another nation state. Of course, dual citizenship might be possible for a time and a future UK Government might grant Scots all the rights we enjoy at present, but it wouldn’t have to. It would all depend on how the divorce negotiations went. Just as post Brexit UK citizens won’t automatically have the right to live and work in the EU, so after independence Scots would have no automatic right to live and work in the other parts of the UK.

  1. Sovereignty.

If an independent Scotland were to join the EU, then it would have to recognise that in many areas EU law would be supreme. At present as a part of the UK the direction travel is towards devolution. The UK Parliament has less and less control over matters that only affect Scotland. The EU’s direction of travel on the other hand is towards greater and greater integration. The move towards the EU becoming a sovereign nation state is gradual but inexorable. The long-term success of the Euro will depend on the sort of political union that enables the US dollar and UK pound to work. The supremacy of EU law then at some point not far from now will amount to sovereignty. An independent Scotland then would become a state rather like Vermont or Texas. Under those circumstances it would no longer be able to leave the EU. The European Union, just like the USA would become one nation indivisible. The UK outside the EU on the other hand offers Scotland more practical power over our own affairs. There are rules that make the Scottish Parliament supreme over most devolved issues. This does not amount to full sovereignty, but over the issues that concern most Scots on a day to day basis it amounts to more power than we would have as an “independent” member of the EU.

  1. Arithmetic

The UK puts more into the EU than it takes out, while Scotland gets more from the UK than it pays in. But if an independent Scotland were to join the EU it would have to pay more in than it took out. Leaving the UK to join the EU therefore has the double consequence of Scotland losing what we gain from the UK while at the same time having to pay more into the EU pot than we would be able to take out.

There is no membership fee required for the various parts of the UK to trade with each other. This is truly free trade. It is one reason why Scotland does most of its trade with the other parts of the UK. Why would Scotland pay a membership fee to trade with EU countries with whom at present it does a relatively small amount of trade, while having in addition to pay a fee (tariffs) to trade with our greatest trade partner (the other parts of the UK). Simple arithmetic suggests that Scotland is bound to lose from this arrangement, not least because Scottish goods might have to pay a fee to travel through England to reach the continent. How else, other than by sea, would they get there?

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog:

The EU and the UK are now on different economic paths. The UK may well become a low regulation, low tax, free trade haven off the coast of Europe. If Scotland chooses the EU path, then the Scottish economy is bound to diverge markedly from the UK economy. Would this divergence be compensated by increased trade with the EU? If so why hasn’t this happened already. After all the UK is still a member of the EU. If Scotland’s share of trade with the EU were likely to grow, why didn’t this growth happen long ago?

  1. Union.

Scotland faces a choice between remaining in the UK or joining the EU. It could decide to leave both, which would be the only way for it to become truly independent. But again the SNP can hardly demand independence because Scotland is being forced to leave the EU if Scotland doesn’t intend to become a member. I suspect also that being outside both the EU and the UK would be a step too far for all but the hardcore Scottish nationalist.

Most nation states have the following things in common. Shared geography, such as an island or a peninsular. Shared language and culture. While most Scots would feel immediately at home in any part of the UK, few of us would be able to live and work easily in most European Union countries. The reason for this is linguistic. Many European Union countries are quite unknown to most of us. How many Scots can name more than one city in Slovenia or in Slovakia. Yet the SNP want us to choose to leave a nation state with which we are familiar (the UK) in order to join one with which for the most part we are unfamiliar. The EU lacks the sense of shared history and identity that is necessary for a nation state to function. Germans do not think that Greeks are their compatriots. They are too dissimilar. Most UK citizens can fit in easily wherever they live in the UK and we are willing to subsidise the poorer parts of the UK without limit. There is no need for bailouts for our profits and losses are held in common.  It is this that makes the UK a nation state that has endured for centuries, while the EU may not survive even the next Euro crisis, because Germans won’t pay Greek debts. Why would Scots choose to leave a union that works for a union that doesn’t work?

  1. Democracy.

Each Scottish voter elects four representatives. One goes to Holyrood, one goes to Westminster, one goes to Brussels and one runs the local council. We have the same say as every other voter in the UK. Scotland’s five million people can be outvoted, but so can Yorkshire’s five million people. This would be the case in an independent Scotland too. Aberdeenshire would always be outvoted by Strathclyde. This is not a fault in democracy. It’s a feature. But who decides how Britain, Scotland and the local council are run? The people we elect. The UK Government is wholly made up of MPs who were directly elected. So too is the Scottish Parliament made up of such people. The local council too. But who runs the EU? Is the EU run by the people that we elect to the European Parliament? Do they form a Government that decides all the important matters? No. Every important decision in the EU is made by people who have been appointed. No one elected Barnier, or Juncker. Ursula Von der Leyen may become the next President of the European Commission and Christine Lagarde the President of the European Central Bank, not because Europeans voted for them but because of a behind closed doors stich up between France and Germany. Why would the SNP want Scotland to leave a fully functional democracy (the UK) where each Scot has the same democratic rights and power to influence events as every other UK citizen, in order to join what is an oligarchy with a democratic façade.

Scottish nationalists are liable to respond to these points with their usual mixture of fury and insult, but unless they can come up with convincing answers to how an independent Scotland would cope with the realities of Brexit, then they are liable to find that they have lost the argument and with it any chance of achieving Scottish independence.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog:

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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  1. If there were a Second EU Referendum then Scotland should have its Independence Referendum first because it is wrong for those who are leaving the UK to determine its future.

  2. Really great analysis is all I can say 😉