Saturday 25 July 2015

#Brexit kills Scottish nationalism stone dead

Politics can be divided into the transient and the long-term. Most of the issues that politicians squabble about are barely newsworthy. They will be forgotten within a week and certainly within a year. History books are full of forgotten politicians.  Most of what I have read therefore in newspapers over the past six months about politics is therefore of no consequence in the long run. The endless election debates are already nearly forgotten. All the newspaper comment about who would form a coalition with who are now as archaic as the debates about the Corn Laws.  

Labour is squabbling and descending into chaos, but it probably won’t matter. Five years from now Labour will most likely have a better leader than the last one, quite possibly someone who is today more or less unknown. But whoever eventually ends up the Labour leader will face the same long-term strategic issues as any other political leader.  For the next few years there are only two important issues in British politics. How will the UK relate to its EU neighbours and how will it relate to itself?

It’s extraordinary to realise that about a year ago opinion polls were suggesting that Scots would vote overwhelmingly against independence. I remember thinking, sometime in July 2014, that it was hardly worth campaigning anymore and that the referendum would crush Scottish nationalism forever. I’ve learned since that opinion polls are nonsense to be ignored and that my powers of prediction are very limited indeed.

The only issue in Scottish politics that matters to me is keeping the UK intact. Scottish independence would be a life changing event that would be remembered in the history books forever. This ought to matter to every UK citizen more than every other issue combined. We are still faced with the threat that our country will break up. That it will lose a third of its territory. We must all work together to do whatever it takes to make sure that this does not happen. No other country in the world would be as blasé as we are about such an event. The Greeks would consider it a national disaster if they lost one single island in the Aegean, yet the British are either indifferent or at times even in favour of the break-up of our country. It’s all very peculiar. Scottish independence would be a life-changing event for everyone in the UK. If you think our role in the world has been diminished in the last fifty years, can you imagine what it would be like if we became the Disunited Kingdom. We’d be a laughing stock, unworthy of being taken seriously about anything, unable even to keep our own country together. We can prevent this happening. There is a very easy way of doing so. We can vote to leave the European Union.

The EU has a very odd status in Scottish politics. During the referendum both sides were in favour of the EU and the worst calamity that could happen would be that Scotland would be left outside the EU. It would therefore appear paradoxical to suggest that voting to leave the EU would make the status of the UK more secure. After all, the SNP argue that if the UK votes as a whole to leave the EU, but Scotland votes to stay, then this would be grounds for divorce and a second independence referendum. Whether they would be granted such a referendum or try to organise one unilaterally is an issue for another day, but let’s consider how #Brexit might actually influence the debate in Scotland.

The SNP slogan “Independence in Europe” is not really about Europe at all. It would be better to rephrase it as “Independence in the UK”. It is this that the SNP wants. The SNP wants life after independence to appear to be more or less the same as life before independence. The reason for this, is that most Scots like most aspects of life in the UK and want these things to continue. The whole SNP argument is about having your cake and eating it too. Meanwhile, the whole argument against independence is that certain things that we all like and want to continue would cease if independence were to occur. We then get into that sterile debate about scaremongering and what would happen if. In the end, so long as both the UK and the Scotland are in the EU, the SNP reflects that Scots would have the same rights in the UK as the French or the Germans, which means we would have more or less the same rights as we do right now. The EU is the guarantor of everything remaining the same. Without the EU everything becomes different.

Think about what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU. This would start a process of negotiation. The end point of this negotiation would not necessarily be that the UK would actually leave the EU. Remember Greece voted to leave the EU and the Euro, but their Οχι [No] vote despite all the threats and the scaremongering did not actually lead to them leaving. The end point of the UK’s negotiations with the EU could be complete separation, it could be a relationship similar to Norway’s, or it could be some sort of fudge which amounted to continued EU membership, but on rather different terms. The only way to get these different terms is to vote to leave. Therefore even those who wish to remain in the EU, but who wish a rather different relationship, should consider voting to leave as that is the only way this will occur. Cameron will get nothing but scraps until and unless the UK votes to leave. At that point he might just get something substantial.

It’s 2017 and the UK has just voted to leave. The SNP will be going nuts if Scotland votes to stay. They will be demanding another referendum. But they would obviously have to wait until the UK’s negotiations with the EU have concluded. The reason for this is obvious. How could we possibly judge whether we wanted Scotland to be independent from the UK unless we knew how the UK would relate to the EU? Until the consequences of #Brexit had been sorted out, no-one could sensibly decide on the consequences of #Scexit. This then kicks the issue of Scottish independence into the long grass. By the time the ball is found perhaps the nationalist surge may have declined.

Would #Brexit make a vote for Scottish independence more or less likely? Well given that nearly everyone in the Scotland loves the EU so much it would appear to make a vote for independence inevitable. But appearances can be deceptive. What are the issues that matter most to Scottish voters? We all want to be able to travel freely in the UK without a passport. We all want to continue using the pound. We all want exactly the same rights throughout the UK as we have now. Indeed we all want our pensions and wages and pretty much everything else to be more or less the same as our friends and relations in other parts of the UK. If it can be shown with certainty that any of these things would cease with a vote for Scottish independence, it is much less likely that Scots would vote to go it alone.

But imagine that the UK has left the EU. In order to become independent within the EU Scotland would then have to first leave the UK and then join the EU. This may or may not happen at more or less the same time. It doesn’t matter. Could Scotland retain the pound under these circumstances? Maintaining a currency union when both Scotland and the UK are in the EU would be difficult enough. We’ve just seen the difficulty countries get in when they try to establish monetary union without political union. But it is very hard indeed to believe that the UK having just left the EU would allow a currency union with a Scotland that has chosen to remain in the EU. This is not least because a condition for membership of the EU is the promise to eventually join the Euro. The UK would thus be continually faced with the threat of #Scexit. No one is going to allow this to happen.

If Scotland were in the EU while the UK was not, the border between England and Scotland would be the border of the EU itself. It’s hard to imagine that this border would not require people to show their passports, just as they do when they travel from Belarus to Poland. If this were not the case then EU citizens could freely move from Scotland into England, while UK citizens could freely move from the UK into the EU. Again it’s possible that some sort of deal could be done. But if the UK leaves the EU, it becomes much more likely that a hard border is erected between England and Scotland.

Lastly if the UK leaves the EU then all of the rights that EU citizens have to live and work and receive benefits in the UK would have to be renegotiated. But then so too would the rights of Scots. No doubt most of these rights would continue and anyway most Scots, at least for a time, might have UK passports, but these rights begin to look very contingent and perhaps short term.

If the UK voted to leave the EU and Scotland chose to stay, it would put these places on radically different paths. Scotland would be choosing to join a collection of European states that are on a path to “ever closer union”. The end point of this is hard to predict, but in my view if the Eurozone were going to break up it would have done so by now. In time, the EU is going to become something very similar to a United States of Europe with a single currency called the Euro. Eventually every member of the EU will have that currency and will be more or less ruled from Brussels with such devolved powers as Brussels allows. If Scotland chose to vote for independence after #Brexit, that is the path that we would be choosing.  The UK on the other hand would be on a radically different path. This means that Scotland and the UK would be diverging over time in ways that are impossible to predict. But it is quite certain that in time our relationship would become more and more distant. This would inevitably damage the UK’s single market and have negative consequences for Scotland’s trade with other parts of the UK.

For those Scots voters who want independence and for things to remain more or less stay the same #Brexit massively clarifies the issue. It would be impossible for the SNP to maintain that life would stay the same if we voted for independence. #Brexit plus #Scexit looks like a brave new world and we would have to be very brave indeed to take both these steps. Far from #Brexit making Scottish independence more likely it rather makes it virtually impossible. The condition for the possibility of Scottish independence is that the UK remains in the EU.

The debate about the EU is complex. I’ve always seen it as a pros and cons type argument. There are things I like about the EU and things I like less. But let’s be clear one of the pros of the UK voting to leave is that it guarantees for the foreseeable future that Scotland remains in the UK. #Brexit kills Scottish nationalism stone dead. 

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