Saturday 26 March 2016

A United Kingdom constrained only by itself

Why do people choose to support leaving the EU? Why are others keen to remain? It might be that over the years we’ve all been weighing up the pros and cons. But I suspect this isn’t how most people reason. Rather someone who already supports remaining in the EU looks for all the awful things that would happen if the UK were to leave. Alternatively, someone who already supports leaving discounts all these awful things and seeks instead all the horrible things that will happen if we remain in the EU and all the wonderful things that will happen if we leave. Meanwhile both sides ignore, but also try to undermine each other’s arguments. There’s huge amounts of noise, but no-one much is persuaded, at least not by the arguments.

But how do we get to the stage of supporting either side. I think it’s to do with how we see ourselves and the sort of person we want to be. Whatever faults the EU may have, there’s a part of me that sympathises with the ideal of bringing down borders and bringing people together. I would even go further and say that the idea of one world without countries has quite a lot going for it. Imagine if there were a single world government democratically elected. Imagine if there was free trade and free movement of people? Is this not to imagine the end to poverty, the end to prejudice and the end to all divisions in humanity? This begins to resemble something close to heaven upon earth. I think pro EU people tend to see themselves as internationalist. They feel that the UK is sharing in something larger than our own little country. They support the EU in the same way that they support the United Nations and all other international bodies. It feels virtuous to do so.

I sympathise with this viewpoint. To an extent I even share it. But over the years I’ve become a little cynical. I don’t think the ideal can be fulfilled. However much I like the aims of internationalism, I’ve come to realise that there is a reason that there are sovereign nation states. They fulfil a human need. The stage we are at in Europe just now is such that we are simply not ready for internationalism. We will not be able to create a democratic United States of Europe, though we may be able to create an undemocratic one. We are certainly not ready for a world without countries and without borders. We are perhaps further away from this than we have ever been. Some people may find this view overly pessimistic, but we have to face facts. The attempt to bring down borders and create unity among European countries is failing.

The two main methods by which the EU is supposed to come closer together is Schengen and the Euro. The Euro has exposed the idea that there is a single European people with a common European identity. Germans are unwilling to transfer money to Greeks, because Greeks are not Germans. Contrast this with the situation in the UK. We may squabble in Britain, but it is because we have a shared identity that we are willing to transfer money to our fellow citizens without limit. 

Well over two million EU citizens live in the UK. Rather fewer Brits live in the EU. The arrangement works pretty well. The UK economy benefits from European workers while we get to retire somewhere warmer.  The UK has been able to deal with this migration with little or no difficulty. If the UK, over the next few years, were going to receive another million people from Poland, it’s not entirely clear that we would even notice. Free movement of people within the EU has been almost entirely beneficial both to us and to those who move. Why then is Schengen failing? Why is everyone putting up fences? Schengen is collapsing because Europeans, even internationalists, have discovered the limit to their internationalism.

While most EU countries can accept without much difficulty migration from within the EU, migration from outside the EU is a different matter. If we were all complete internationalists, why should we care where someone comes from? Why do we discriminate against our fellow human beings? Why don’t we just bring down all the fences and let in everyone who wants to come? What would happen if we did?

In the course of a few weeks last year over a million people arrived in Germany. How many would arrive if we removed all restrictions and allowed everyone to come. The EU predicts that in the next couple of years another three million migrants will arrive. What if we were even more welcoming? How many might come then? Where would they live? We don’t know. But in all likelihood they would live in various suburbs of large cities with each other. People tend to want to live with others who are similar to them. They want to be able to speak their native language and to be amongst people who think and act as they do. It is natural for them to want to do this.

Over the next few years and especially if the number of migrants increases greatly, a number of European cities are going to gain suburbs which will be dominated by people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East. Will these cities be safer or less safe than they are now? If you think they will be safer, then by all means tear down all the fences and allow in everyone who wants to come. If on the other hand you think that certain suburbs of Paris or Brussels are not the safest places in Europe, then perhaps you will begin to understand why other Europeans are not quite as internationalist as you are. If you don’t want such a suburb where you live, you might also admit that you too are not quite the internationalist you thought yourself to be.

When something bad happens it is important to blame those who did it and not to blame those who did nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the fact that Britain took part in the slave trade, nor is a modern day Russian to blame for the awful things that happened in the 1930s. Collective guilt and collective punishment means punishing the innocent. It is senseless therefore to blame the group for the actions of an individual. Terrorism is the fault of terrorists, it isn’t the fault of anyone else.

But we are ignoring the lessons of history if we think that Europe can absorb an indefinite amount of people from the Middle East and North Africa. We only have Europe at all because, for example, at the Battle of Tours in 732 the Franks were able to defeat the Umayyad Caliphate. We only have countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Romania because they were able in the 19th century to liberate themselves from the Ottoman Empire. Europe would be very different indeed today if during the siege ofVienna in 1683 someone had chosen to open the gate.

In the process of driving out the Moors from Spain many innocent people were killed. It wasn’t just soldiers, who were defeated, but their wives and their children. People who had been born in Al Andalus and whose family had lived there for centuries were exiled forever. Such experiences must have been commonplace not only in Spain, but throughout Eastern and Southern Europe. Many blameless people must have suffered. They must have found this terribly unjust. But it is on this foundation that the Europe that we know was built. Without it we wouldn’t have the EU, because we wouldn’t have Europe. The Pope may complain about walls, but if it hadn't been for the reversal of the conquest of parts of Italy, we wouldn't have a Pope.    

I want to treat everyone as an equal and not to be unjust or unkind to anyone I meet. The UK has benefited from people coming here from all over the world. But there has to be a limit. No reasonable person can be against all migration. Moreover, we must do what we can to help those who are suffering because of war, poverty and persecution. But we do not have an obligation to harm our own society. If helping an unlimited number of migrants means making our own society less safe, then I’m sorry but there must be a limit to our help.

The EU’s failure to control its borders is the greatest threat to our security in decades. An unarmed army can more easily occupy territory precisely because there is no-one to fight. If the EU is going to allow millions of migrants to become EU citizens, this has the power to change Europe in the short and the long term beyond all recognition. In that case for safety’s sake it may be necessary for the UK to think seriously about whether we wish to continue to allow unlimited migration from the EU. If the EU can’t control its external border, it will be too unsafe for the UK to remain in the EU.

It’s time for us all to be honest with ourselves. Of course we all want to feel virtuous and internationalist, but does being in the EU help or hinder the UK in our task of defending our border? Do EU rules prevent us from deporting those people who we know hate the UK and wish to do us harm? Will the EU force us to accept a share of the migrants that are a consequence of its own failure to defend Europe’s border? Would it be easier for the UK to determine who we want to allow to come here if UK law were not subordinate to EU law? The answer to all these questions is obvious.

There are some people who think that there is nothing to be done and we just have to accept that our cities will be under constant threat and that the danger will continue to grow.  No doubt there were defeatists at each of the key moments of European history when we first halted an enemy who until that point had seemed unstoppable and then gradually turned defeat into victory.  

Don't be pessimistic, don't be defeatist. With a British Government that is not subordinate to anyone else and with a British people confident that it can meet all challenges and win, there is no limit to what we can do. We don't know what dangers the future will bring, but we know that every time we have been victorious in the past it was because we have had a UK Parliament constrained only by itself. Until and unless we restore this, we will always be at risk from the decisions of others over which we have no control. Let us have the confidence to defeat all future dangers in the way that we have always done, by relying most of all on ourselves. After all, we've a pretty good record of doing so. 

Saturday 19 March 2016

Brexit would be worth it.

Lately I’ve frequently found myself disagreeing with people I both like and respect. As the EU referendum campaign gets going I find myself more and more drawn to one side of the argument. I wanted to remain more or less neutral for much longer. I wanted to explore the merits of both sides of the argument. But it was as if I was forced to pick the side I would debate and within days I found myself trying to counter the Pro EU arguments while at the same time trying to put forward the best Brexit arguments. The debate has quickly become black and white, while in reality it is much more nuanced. There are some good arguments on both sides. 

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m quite sure William Hague and David Cameron could come up with some very good anti-EU arguments if they wanted to. We all know that Boris Johnson left his decision to campaign for Brexit very late. He might have gone the other way. It’s perfectly possible to imagine him making pro EU arguments in just the same style as he campaigns against. There are Eurosceptics who can see no merit in the EU and there are Europhiles who can see no fault in it, but that’s not how most of us are. Most of us see some merit in staying and some in remaining. Whatever happens, Britain will be a sort of half-way house, not quite in and not quite out. Few indeed are the Brits who want to be in the Euro and in Schengen and who are in favour of "ever closer union". The most ardent Brexiteer accepts that we want to have full access to the single market and that doing so means accepting at least some of the rules that we do at present. In reality the difference between these two positions is not that great.

I’m a rather strange sort of Eurosceptic in that I share the ideal of the European Union. If I thought that the EU would soon become a United States of Europe and that it would be fully democratic, I would want the UK to be a member. The reason for this is that I look across the Atlantic and see the United States and see something that is close to my ideal, at least in theory if not always in practice. The US has a huge internal market. It has local and state levels of democracy that work well. Power is devolved to the extent that the smallest communities can change things they dislike and kick out politicians, judges and sheriffs who they no longer want. At the same time there is a powerful, fully democratic tripartite national government, with excellent checks and balances so that no part can become too powerful. Americans have both a strong state and national identity and they take part in free and fair elections where everyone chooses between the same two main parties. There is one American people, even though their ancestors came from all over the world. There is one identity. There is one Supreme Court that is appointed democratically. There are therefore the three things that we need for prosperity: Democracy, free markets and the rule of law. If the EU were offering me something similar I would grab it in a second.

What matters to me is that I am part of a democracy. It doesn’t matter one little bit that I might be outvoted. For this reason if the UK were part of a United States of Europe, it wouldn’t matter to me at all that we voted Labour while the rest of the EU voted Conservative. To suppose that it does matter is to say that the whole of the USA has to agree with Rhode Island and if it doesn’t, Rhode Island is justified in leaving the USA. But this really is to demand that whatever way Rhode Island chooses the whole of the USA must follow. Taken further whichever way I choose everyone else must follow. This is not democracy, but rather tyranny. I have therefore never been convinced by the Scottish nationalist argument that secession is justified by the fact that Scots vote differently to the UK as a whole. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic argument.

My problem with the EU is therefore not the ideal, but rather the way that it is being implemented. It matters not one little bit to me that the UK might be outvoted in the EU, but it matters fundamentally that the decisions in the EU are made democratically. If the same level of democracy as we have in the UK were present in the EU, I would vote to remain. But they are not. The majority of decisions are taken by unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission, or by an unelected European President, or still more disturbingly of late they are being taken by Angela Merkel.

The EU has long been dominated by France and Germany. This at least provided a sort of counterbalance. But even this has become less important as Germany has become the overwhelmingly dominant economic force in the Eurozone. The decisions that have so affected countries like the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Greece have been taken by the paymasters in Germany. National governments have been overruled. Political and economic decisions have been made without the consent of the people. I am in no way blaming Germany for this. It is a consequence of monetary union, which implies some form of shared decision making. But the quasi political union that has been imposed on so many countries in the EU is fundamentally anti-democratic. It has got to the stage where at times it matters not one bit which party Greeks or Irish, or Italians vote for. Whoever they vote for they are told what to do by unelected European officials.

Last year when faced with migrants entering the EU from Syria and Iraq, Mrs Merkel decided that she wanted to offer any and all of them who made it to Germany political asylum. But soon after, she demanded that everyone in the European Union should accept their share of those who she had invited. If she had been an elected European Union president, this might have been reasonable. But only Germans elected Mrs Merkel. Why should Poles, or Czechs or Brits have to give into her demands, or take responsibility for her unilateral decisions that she later regrets?

The EU has a poor record of making decisions of late. The decision to create the Euro has been an economic catastrophe. It is directly responsible for record rates of unemployment and poverty in southern Europe. The decision to remove internal European borders (Schengen) while failing to defend Europe’s external borders means that the EU has no real control over who enters. This affects the UK even though we are not a member of Schengen. Eventually anyone who has leave to remain in one EU country will have the right to live and work anywhere else. If the EU cannot defend its external border, in effect it will have no external border and neither will the UK. We have a duty to help people in trouble. Moreover immigration is beneficial. But we cannot help everyone and there must be limits. Until and unless the EU secures its external border, there is no limit to the people who may soon have the right to live and work in the UK. The only way to secure our own UK borders is to leave the EU.

None of us can guess what the future will bring. The EU faces two main challenges. How to maintain or alternatively dismantle open borders between the Schengen states? How to maintain or alternatively dismantle the Eurozone? In order to keep these things they are going to have to move towards a much deeper political union. They will also need a fiscal union and a transfer union, whereby money is transferred from the richer parts of the Eurozone to the poorer parts. This will turn the Eurozone/Schengen states into a sort of nation state. Alternatively they will break up. There isn't a third alternative. But while they may make progress towards becoming a nation state is there any sign of the EU becoming ever more democratic, ever more dependent on the will of the people? Judging from the past the answer must be No.

Whatever decisions the EU makes, we already know that they won’t be made democratically. None of the important decisions of the past twenty to thirty years were made democratically. They were all made at various summits and behind closed doors. Most people in the EU didn’t have the chance to choose whether they wanted the Euro or Schengen. Some of those who rejected aspects of the EU that they disliked in referendums found that the results of these referendums were either disregarded or overturned.

If we remain in the EU we are accepting that many decisions that will influence our lives will be made by people no-one elected. As the EU moves further towards a closer union it is becoming less democratic, not more democratic. Even if the UK is not involved in the closer union, we will still find that decisions made undemocratically will affect us and constrain us. It's not possible to be part of an undemocratic organisation without that tainting our own democratic processes.    

On the other hand if we choose to leave the EU, it will be one step on the way to bringing decision making back to the people of the UK. There is altogether too much emphasis at the moment on what would happen if the UK left the EU. I’m afraid we just have to accept that there is uncertainty. But there is uncertainty if we remain also. Who knows what decisions the EU might make? They might decide to allow Turkey to join. They might decide that a condition for EU membership is that all members have to help bail out the Eurozone. In the end they might decide pretty much anything. The UK might point to pieces of paper which are supposedly legally binding. But who decides if they really are legally binding? In the end UK law at present is subordinate to EU law. EU courts and bureaucrats will always be able to reinterpret any opt out we supposedly have to mean that we in fact have to opt in. Unelected EU officials tell us what the law is and our elected Parliament has no choice but to obey. They have done this before, they will do it again. But now we have a brief window of opportunity that may never come again. We can tell those unelected officials that the UK parliament is no longer subordinate.  We can say that we are a democracy not a vassal state and we will choose those laws that suit us and reject those that don't.

I don’t believe that Brexit would damage the UK in the long run. There are indeed great long term benefits. Even in the short term the risks have been grotesquely overstated.  We would be reverting to the position we were in until the 1970s. We would re-join the long list of sovereign nation states which are not ruled by anyone else. The United States would not allow its laws to be subordinate to the laws of anyone else.  To subordinate them to someone who is unelected in the end makes democracy a farce.

Brave people across the world have  frequently had to fight for democracy. When you do so you don’t count the cost. When we fought the Cold War we didn’t think about trade with the USSR. What mattered to us was defending our freedom. How often has Britain been willing to endure privation for a few years because of a principle that was worth fighting for? No doubt trade suffered during the First and Second World Wars because certain markets were closed to us and because of U-boats.  Imagine if someone had said we should surrender because of mere trade. This is the argument of a scoundrel. 

Here in the end is the only argument for leaving the EU. Cease your rather lurid threats.  I don’t care if Brexit would lead to a few years of trade difficulty. I don’t care if markets would react unfavourably. I want to leave the EU in order to defend UK democracy and because it would be worth it. 

Saturday 12 March 2016

Just say No to the Nats

I rarely if ever watch Reporting Scotland. Sometimes by chance I catch a clip of the Scottish Parliament debating. I immediately switch off. I dislike even the look of the place. The colour. The shape. The Nicola.

For the same reason I don’t read the Press and Journal as I’m far more interested in UK or worldwide events than those which can only interest people from Aberdeenshire. I couldn't care less about the price of bulls at the Turriff mart or who won the cake making prize at the Strichen Women’s Rural. I want to read whatever everyone else is reading across the UK. I want that shared experience. If I don’t have it I always feel as if I’m missing out. Frequently I am.

Recently in the Times there was an article by Tim Montgomerie announcing that he was leaving the Conservative party because of David Cameron’s stance on Europe. People on Twitter and in various blogs were discussing it. I got hold of a copy of the Times, but instead of this, I found someone worrying about peat and discussing some dead Scottish nationalist I’d never heard of. I might as well have been reading the Press and Journal.

Apparently there’s a Scottish Parliament election sometime in May. I’m finding it rather hard to work up any enthusiasm about it. Insofar as I write about Scottish politics, I only really focus on the constitutional issues. The goings on in that oddly shaped, rather expensive building in Edinburgh interest me just about the same as the elections to the European Parliament or the regional council. I don’t follow what goes on in Brussels. I can’t name more than a handful of MEPs. I likewise don’t follow the intricacies of the regional council in Aberdeen. Perhaps I should. But there are many things I should do. I should exercise more and eat more vegetables. I should read À la recherche du temps perdu, but I find sentences that go on for three pages dull and can never get beyond page fifty.

The trouble though is that the Scottish Parliament has really rather a lot of power now. If it had been up to me it wouldn’t exist at all. I can never quite forgive the Scottish establishment of the Liberals and the Labour party together with all the self-appointed worthies for creating the thing in the first place. As time goes on Tony Blair’s reputation just keeps getting worse. It was his government that did more to endanger Britain than any other I can think of. The SNP didn’t even want a Scottish Parliament. They weren’t demanding it back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed they opposed it. The Liberals and Labour thought the Scottish Parliament would guarantee them perpetual power in Scotland. The best laid plans etc.

Now look where we are. The odds for the Scottish election are positively frightening.
The bookies think it so likely that the SNP will win a majority of seats that they offer odds of 1/50. The odds of the SNP winning an overall majority are 1/20. If I bet a pound on this result I would only get £1.05 back.  This overall majority was supposed to be impossible. The Liberals and Labour promised us that no single party would ever dominate us. They set up the voting system so that what is probably about to happen could never happen, let alone happen twice running. We're going to rule Scotland forever cried the Liberals and Labour. How's it working out for you folks?

The problem with the forthcoming campaign is that it is barely worth even being interested. Until and unless the mood of people in Scotland changes, the SNP will win the vast majority of seats at Holyrood. They may indeed win all of them. What fun. This is about as interesting as an election to the Supreme Soviet. There’s really something odd about our nature. Do we like to be dominated by one party? First it was Labour winning nearly all the seats, now it’s the SNP. Is this something to do with the repression of the Scottish psyche? All those years of frugality and puritanism. We don’t so much need an election as a psychiatrist. Cults is not so much a suburb of Aberdeen as it is the various places which trap the Scottish mind-set and from which we need rescuing.  

The key to being rescued is to recognise the dark place that we are in now. Don’t vote for those who put us here. Why trust the Liberals and Labour, when it was they most of all who were responsible for the rise of Scottish nationalism? The SNP might even now be trundling along on 5% if Labour and the Liberals hadn’t decided to muck around with the UK constitutional settlement.

The Scottish establishment is universally left-wing. There’s nothing wrong with the Left in moderation. But it so dominates Scottish life that nearly every MP, MEP or MSP we have elected for the past 30 years is from the left.  There are more left-wing MSPs in the Scottish Parliament than any other parliament in the western world. Where else in the world are 90% of the politicians saying more or less the same thing and from a similar perspective? To reach Scottish levels of uniformity, you'd have to go back to the Great Leap Forward, but at least the Chinese had the excuse that their uniformity was imposed by dictatorship. We choose ours. 

Democracy requires a mixture of different ideas. It requires Left and Right to act as a check and a balance to each other.  It's the dominance of the Left  in Scotland and our tendency to want to be ruled by only one party that creates instability in the UK. To satisfy our continual demand that the way Scotland votes is mirrored in the UK as a whole, they would first have had to vote Labour, now they would all have to vote SNP! It's the dominance of the Left that underpins the SNP. It is the source of and the explanation for Scottish nationalism. On the other hand voting for the Right undermines that foundation meaning that first it will topple and one day it will fall. 

There is only one party that can do something to redress the balance and bring Scotland back to the ordinary every day politics that we had until the 1980s. It’s not going to happen overnight, but every Tory that is elected to the Scottish Parliament is bringing us one step back to the UK mainstream where both the Left and the Right have a chance of ruling.

Scottish attitudes are remarkably similar to the other parts of the UK. But we are haunted by the past and cannot bear to see ourselves as Tories. Even those of us who like some Tory policies find ourselves filled with dread at the prospect of making an X next to the Tory candidate’s name.  But long-term making that X may be the best way we have of supporting the UK. The Conservatives have become the natural home for Pro UK people.

Labour and the Lib Dems have turned Scottish independence into a matter of conscience. Their MSPs will be able to vote as they please on this matter. Does anyone really think that Labour or the Lib Dems would stick up for Britain when the time comes for them to do so? They’d be far too scared of losing support. The only Scottish party that will support the UK come what may is the Scottish Conservatives.

If the SNP win more than 50% of the vote, then tactical voting in the constituencies will be utterly pointless. Of course, there may be places where it still makes sense to vote tactically against the SNP. But given that a Labour, or Lib Dem MSP may turn out to be a Nat, I’m afraid I will find myself unable to vote tactically for them.

The Scottish people we need to focus on most are those Pro UK people who, for reasons that escape me, choose to vote for the SNP. We don’t know when or if the SNP will push for another referendum. It could be as early as this summer if the UK votes to leave the EU while Scotland doesn’t.  We don’t know if the SNP would be allowed to have a referendum under those circumstances. I believe that voting to leave the EU makes it less likely that Scotland would choose independence. But there is uncertainty about that. Moreover it may depend on the rationality of the Scottish electorate. We have been swinging from everyone voting Labour to everyone voting for the SNP. This swinging irrational pendulum is inherently unstable. It could turn into a wrecking ball that breaks up the UK.

If the SNP fails to win an overall majority in the Scottish parliament, there will be no circumstance in which they can ask for another referendum. This will be for the simple reason, that they will need the consent of another party that hopefully will believe in the continued existence of the UK. The more Conservatives we have in the Scottish Parliament, the more chance we will have of Ruth Davidson holding the balance of power. If that happened, for the first time in years we wouldn’t have to worry about The Nicola. 

Lib Dem and Labour MSPs might always choose to side with the SNP. After all they are allowed to. Conservatives will never do that. We have a slim chance of giving Ruth Davidson the power to say No to the Nats. But nothing is written, the battle has not yet been fought. If all Pro UK people get together and vote for the only person who will actually take the fight to the SNP, we can still get our country back. For the first time in ages I find myself getting interested again. Wouldn't it be funny if the SNP could no longer make threats? What would they do? Can you imagine the joy of watching their impotence? Can you imagine no longer having to worry about someone trying to break up our country?  

It's the knee jerk hatred of Tories in Scotland that explains both Labour's former dominance and the SNP's tendency towards ruling a one party state. It's a grievance that's been festering since the 1980s.  The SNP are today's anti-Tory party, but too many Scots who don't vote for the SNP help them by sharing the self-same hatred of the Tory enemy. This grievance has been festering since the 1980s. It ceased being rational a very long time ago. If you support the UK it's time to get over it. 

Saturday 5 March 2016

Compared to Scottish independence Brexit is easy

The EU referendum is about remaining or staying in a union. For those of us who live in Scotland there are obvious comparisons with the Scottish independence referendum. But there are differences too. Leaving the EU is not about creating an independent, sovereign nation state called the UK. We are that already. The EU, on the other hand, is not a nation state, though it may be on the way to becoming one. The UK parliament is fully democratic and there are devolved parliaments as well. If the EU were as democratic as the UK is, I would not dream of voting to leave it. But many, if not most EU decisions are made by unelected bureaucrats or people who are appointed rather than elected. In any democracy, parts may be outvoted by the whole, but to be overruled by elites who no-one can remove is not democracy as I understand the word.

When we talk about the Union that brought about the UK, we are really talking of ancient history. The UK is not four sovereign nation states held together by some acts of parliament from long ago. Rather it is one sovereign nation state, with parts that happen to be called countries. Most European countries are made up of places that used to be independent kingdoms. Germany, Spain and Italy can all point to a time when their parts were independent. This is all quite normal. There is nothing exceptional about the fact that Scotland was once an independent kingdom. Rather it would be exceptional if the parts of the UK had not once been independent. The fallacy of Scottish nationalism is to imply that the fact that Scotland once was independent means that it ought to be independent again. Essence is not origin, an oak is not an acorn. To apply the SNP's 'logic' would entail arguing that every part of Europe that once was independent should regain that status. This would lead to hundreds of statelets. Alternatively we can accept that the UK is just as much a single, unitary sovereign nation state as anywhere else in Europe. The EU, on the other hand, is not. Each member of the EU is sovereign as each may choose to walk away from the EU. We don’t need to ask anyone else if we may have a referendum on EU membership.  It is because the EU and the UK are such different 'unions' that very different arguments apply with regard to leaving one as opposed to leaving the other.

The SNP lost the Scottish independence referendum because they were unable to provide good answers to a number of crucial questions. The most important of these was currency. They were desperate to retain the pound. But this crucially may have proved incompatible with independence. Moreover, other people in the UK said they didn’t want to retain a currency union with an independent Scotland. We had interminable debates about whether these people ought to be believed or not. Some people pointed out that the Eurozone provided a perfect example of the folly of creating a currency union between different nation states. Others pointed to how the UK had maintained a currency union with the Republic of Ireland for many years. All of the options were explored in minute detail, but the uncertainty about currency was the major reason why Scottish nationalism lost. All the other options except keeping the pound are unattractive, but currency union between independent nation states is inherently problematic. This still remains the issue the SNP are unable to even address, let alone answer.  

If the UK left the EU, would we have a problem in setting up our own currency or sharing someone else’s? Obviously not. We would keep the pound and use it just as we do now. The main argument that proved so problematic for the SNP is not all a problem for the UK. We could leave the EU and with regard to currency we wouldn’t notice the difference. Of course, the pound might fall. But while that has disadvantages for holidaymakers it has benefits for exporters and foreign visitors to the UK. But whatever the plusses and minuses of what might happen to the pound in the next few months, it can be clearly stated that the main issue in the Scottish independence referendum is a non-issue now.

If the SNP had been able to persuade most Scots that we’d be better off after independence, they might have won. But most of us realised that their figures simply didn’t add up. Scotland depends on a subsidy from the UK Government. If we lost that subsidy, we’d be worse off. This was the case even when the price of oil was at its highest. It’s still more the case now. Until and unless Scotland is more or less breaking even, independence will be a very tough sell for the SNP.

The UK on the other hand subsidises the EU. We pay into the EU every year nearly 13 billion pounds a year. We get back around 6 billion. All those people in the UK who get money from the EU could equally well receive it from the UK Government. Indeed we’d have nearly 7 billion pounds in change left over to spend as we pleased.

EU rules mean that whatever benefit is available to a UK citizen has to be available to each and every EU citizen who lives here. But, if I try to claim, unemployment benefit, housing benefit or child benefit in, for example, Poland, I’ll rapidly find that the amount I receive is very small indeed. Only a very few EU states pay anything like the benefits that we can receive in the UK. Moreover, how many UK citizens even want to apply for benefits in places like Poland, or Bulgaria? Very few Brits want to work in the EU, not least because few of us have the linguistic skills needed to do so. What this means is that the UK pays benefits to EU citizens, which few UK citizens take up in the EU. I fully recognise the usefulness of having reciprocal rights, but the cost to the UK is very high indeed when it amounts mainly to one way traffic. That may be a price worth paying, but once more the UK pays in more than we take out.

If Scotland became independent, there would be rather a lot to do in order to get this new state up and running. There would need to be a system of collecting taxes, a system of paying benefits. There would need to be armed forces, a diplomatic corps etc, etc. Most of us when faced with the prospect of this during the independence referendum just didn’t want to go through the upheaval, nor did we want to pay the cost.

If the UK were to leave the EU, there would be none of the upheaval of creating a new state. This would be for the simple reason that we already are a sovereign nation state. We have all we would need to be such a state immediately. Our pensions would still be paid, just as they are now. The BBC would go on just the same as it always has. For the most part none of us would even notice leaving the EU.

What are the main things that we would need to do upon leaving the EU? Well we’d need to come up with some sort of trade agreement and we’d need to come up with some way of guaranteeing that Brits would still have the right to live and work in the EU. There’s nothing much else of crucial concern that we’d need to do.

Compared to the work of Scotland becoming an independent state, Brexit looks like child’s play. In all the arguments about Scottish independence, hardly anyone mentioned the idea that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to trade freely with the other parts of the UK. Nor did anyone seriously suggest that Scots might lose the right to live and work in England. Even in a campaign when both sides resorted to a lot of negativity, no-one thought it credible to suggest that there would be trade barriers or that we’d be prevented from living and working in each other’s countries. The reason this wasn’t mentioned was that it simply wasn’t credible.

There is not a single country from Iceland to Greece, from Finland to Spain that does not trade freely with each other. Everyone in Europe west of Belarus' can live and work in each other’s country. Most of these countries are in the EU, but a number of them are not. The idea that Brits are going to be discriminated against as some sort of act of revenge and kept on our tiny little island like a prison is simply preposterous.

We already fulfil all the criteria for trade with the EU. We have done so for decades. The EU moreover sells more to us than we sell to them. It is therefore they who would lose out if there were any restrictions on trade. EU citizens are still going to want to live and work in Britain, so who is going to prevent an agreement which allows Brits to continue to live in Spain? This is not least because British expats buy houses and spend money when they retire to Spain and in doing so help the Spanish economy.

It would be difficult and disruptive for Scotland to leave the UK. This is not least because the UK is deeply intertwined. Our populations are mixed and we have a long shared history. Most Brits have a feeling of togetherness with all four parts of our country. We would feel breaking the bonds of the UK far more perhaps than most of us even realise. But which of us has the same sort of feeling about the EU? Europe is a rather arbitrary continent, with odd boundaries. Most Brits would struggle to name more than one city in a Slovenia, or Slovakia. Few of us indeed know a single word of Hungarian or Finnish. We have little indeed that we share with most of the people of the EU apart from geography. These bonds are weak and easily broken.

But anyway Europe is not the EU. There are around 50 sovereign states in Europe. Only 28 of these are in the EU. Leaving the EU does not mean leaving Europe. We would remain exactly where we always have been, an island next to a continent. We go on holiday to Europe. We never quite think we’re a part of it.

There may be some short term disruption involved in leaving the EU. There would be uncertainty. But at the moment, for campaign reasons, the risks of leaving the EU are being exaggerated. There might be short term costs and challenges to be overcome, but long term the UK looks like a more stable bet than the EU, which is struggling with the challenges of open borders and a currency shared between many nation states. This involves uncertainty too. The risks with regard to the breakup of Schengen and or the Eurozone are far higher than the risk of Brexit. Who knows what decisions the EU might have to make to keep these creaking projects together? What price might we have to pay if we are still tied to an organisation that is run so badly that it's two major unifying projects have led to chaos and poverty? The EU is not a safe haven, rather it's a port on fire and under quarantine. Anyone seeking to moor there should watch out for both sparks and contagion.

The crucial difference between Brexit and Scottish independence is that the UK is already a nation state. To leave the EU would simply be to become what we already are and what we have been for centuries. There’s nothing scary about that, certainly not compared to what the SNP have to offer. The arguments that defeated Scottish nationalism don’t even apply in the case of Brexit. They need not concern us, because they don’t exist.