Saturday 30 July 2016

Brexit has not made Britain a more intolerant country

The choice of the UK electorate to choose to leave the EU has come as a shock, not only to those who voted to remain, but also to those who voted to leave. I think perhaps it is for this reason that a large number of Remain supporters have been questioning the motives of their fellow Brits. We have been called xenophobic, anti-European and racist. The reality of course is that there isn’t that much difference between a Remainer and a Brexiteer apart from different political beliefs and possibly personal circumstances. We would really be in trouble as a country if 52% of the population were so full of prejudice as some Remainers suggest. The truth however is that everyone, if they are honest with themselves, has a degree of prejudice, but we try our best to overcome it. Which of us has never had an intolerant thought? Come on Remainers why don’t you cast the first stone? But Britain remains a remarkably tolerant, welcoming country, where most people in their ordinary lives try to get on with each other. My guess is that the level of prejudice among Brexiteers is pretty much the same as among Remainers. I have seen rather a lot of prejudice expressed by these Remainers about people like me, so who knows what else they might be prejudiced about.

Britain is one of the few countries with an open and inclusive identity. We accept without question that British citizens are British, no matter where their parents came from. This might seem straightforward, but it is far from commonplace around the world. In Russia it is quite common to call someone a Tartar, or a Georgian even if they are a Russian citizen. The description Russian is frequently not applied to people who are not ethnic Russians. I think this sort of idea applies in quite a number of European countries. For example, Latvian citizens who speak Russian as their mother tongue are not considered to be Latvians. It is partly for this reason that the Hungarian and Polish Governments are so keen to keep out migrants. They do not think that these migrants could ever really become Polish or Hungarian.

Even in our own country the identity associated with the parts of the UK is not always as available to newcomers as it should be. Someone with an English accent in Scotland will not be considered to be Scottish even if he has lived here for decades, unless of course they join the SNP. Scottishness to a large extent is determined by where you were born and who your parents were. These things are fluid, but I imagine this is the case to an extent also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This is one reason why we should all value our British identity. It’s the only identity that unites all of us. Without it we’re liable to judge identity on the basis of where someone was born and whether they can trace their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest or the Battle of Bannockburn.

So let us be grateful that we live in a United Kingdom where we have been able to integrate millions of people from elsewhere and done so successfully. Britain is far less racist than it was when I was a child. Few indeed are the European countries who would have done as well as we have in remaining a cohesive society despite massive changes to our country’s demographics.

In 1945 nearly every British citizen's ancestors had lived on this island for centuries. Of course, we have always had immigration, whether it was from Angles, Saxons and Jutes or later from French Huguenots and Eastern European Jews. But the fact of the matter is that if you look at the crowds celebrating VE day you will find remarkable homogeneity. In the space of seventy years, look at the changes that have occurred.

In 1946 there were nearly 49 million people living in the UK. Now there are 64 million. If population growth were to proceed at the current rate, some people think we might reach 85 million in the next twenty years or so. This sort of increase is clearly untenable. It is not in the interest of any British citizen, wherever they are from, to see our rather small island end up so crowded. Brexit will not mean that immigration ceases. It certainly will not mean that anyone will be deported. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties guarantees that anyone with the right to live here now will continue to have that right. But let’s also think a little practically. We know how difficult it has been to deport people who we know hate us. We know how it has proven impossible even to deport foreign criminals. Does anyone seriously think we could deport millions of Europeans even if we wanted to? What would we do, round them up and put them on trains? What would that do to our relations with other countries? The whole idea is completely ludicrous. No-one, but no-one is going to be deported.

Where I live in Scotland almost everyone is from Scotland. It’s very easy for Scottish Remainers therefore to be smug about how liberal and welcoming they are. There is almost no-one to welcome. When we talk about population growth in the UK we’re not talking about Scotland. The Scottish population grew by a bit over 200,000 between 2001 and 2011. The UK population grew by four million. The English population likewise grew by four million. So it’s pretty obvious where new arrivals go.

Imagine if 4 million people arrived in Scotland from elsewhere in the space of 10 years. Why not? Scotland is largely empty. There is lots of space to build new towns and expand the ones we already have. Imagine if four million English people decided to move to Scotland, because England is full. Who is to stop them? We all have the right to live and work where we please. Imagine if the UK Government decided to create some space in England. They could give tax breaks and grants to English people to move to Scotland. If suddenly Glasgow doubled in size and half of the population was from England, would the Glaswegians be happy? What if only half the population of Dundee had a Dundee accent and the rest had English accents. Would this make Scottish independence more or less likely? I’ve expressed this idea before. The reaction from Scottish nationalists was one of horror. I’ve been accused of putting forward the idea of cultural genocide.  But why is it OK for 4 million people to move to England, but not OK for a similar number to move to Scotland?

But on reflection the Scots who would object to 4 million English people coming to Scotland have a point.  What they are saying is that they want to retain the character of Scotland and that this means that the vast majority of the population of Scotland should be Scots. They think that if millions of English people moved to Scotland then they would lose Scotland. They would lose the Scottish accent, the distinctive Scottish culture and the chance to determine their political future. If millions of English people were set to move to Scotland, the majority of Scots would want to see this limited in some way. It wouldn’t mean that they’d be against the English people already living in Scotland, but they wouldn’t want to lose the unique character of their own country.

There is no danger whatsoever of millions of English people moving to Scotland. Fear not Scottish nationalists! Your worst nightmare won’t come true. But the character of vast chunks of England has been changed beyond all recognition in the past seventy years. Do English people not have the same rights as Scots to protect the character of their country?

No sensible person should oppose all immigration. We couldn’t stop it even if we tried. Moreover, it is massively to our advantage that people from Europe and elsewhere can continue to come to live and work here. It benefits us, it benefits them. People who supported Brexit did not do so because they hate their neighbours, but because they saw Brexit as the only way to even limit immigration. They were right in this.

Just as it is not racist for an Aberdonian to prefer to live in a city where the majority of the population are Scots, so neither is it racist for English people to want to protect the character of their towns and cities. Most people all around the world wish to live in towns and cities where the majority of the population are like them. This is true for Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Hungarians and Poles. This is something basic in human nature. It is the reason we have countries at all, rather than live in one great world state.

Brexit has not made Britain a more intolerant country. On the contrary by limiting immigration we may all be able to integrate further and get on better than before. But above all don’t sneer at people who saw uncontrolled immigration changing their world forever and who voted to take back control.  Don’t sneer especially if that is not your world.

Scottish Remainers who have next to no experience of mass immigration should try to understand the legitimate concerns of those who do have that experience. It’s easy to be open, welcoming, tolerant and smug if you live in the average Scottish town where 99% of the population is Scottish. Would you really feel the same if only 49% had a Scottish accent? Which way would you have voted then?

Saturday 23 July 2016

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.

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?

Saturday 16 July 2016

You've already had your independence referendum

I feel like I’ve been in one long referendum campaign for the past five years and more. I’ve written over two hundred blogs, nearly all of them about Scottish politics. It gets tiring. Now some Scottish nationalists want another referendum. The SNP campaigned for Scottish independence first time round and lost by 10%. They campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU and lost by 4%. Their response each time to losing is the same. We want another go. What if they had a second independence referendum? What if they lost again? Would they want still another go? This is fundamentally anti-democratic and is deeply damaging to our democracy.

It is exceptional for a part of a sovereign nation state to be given the chance to vote for independence. Few indeed are the places in the world that would allow such a vote. I can think of nowhere in Europe. Spain won’t allow Catalonia a legal vote to secede. France would not allow Corsica. Germany would not allow Saxony. The USA fought a war to prevent secession and doubtless would do so again. But the UK Government decided that it would not stand in the way of Scottish independence if that is what the majority wanted. The majority did not want independence. The vote was not even that close. 10% is a big majority in a referendum.

Now what is the point of having a referendum? It is to decide a question one way or another. If it doesn’t do that, it has no purpose. I would have been more than happy if the UK had never gone down the route of having referendums, if we had remained simply a representative democracy. But if you are to have a referendum, the result must be accepted by winners and losers and the result must stand for some considerable time.

So that everything would be fair, both the UK and Scottish Governments signed an agreement in 2012. It’s worth quoting from this Edinburgh Agreement. The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 was to “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.” Has this happened? Have the losers accepted that the result was decisive? Did they respect the result?

Let’s imagine that there were to be another agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments to have a second referendum. Would they use similar wording about the result being decisive and that everyone respecting it? But what would be the point, for we already know that if the Scottish nationalists lost, they would immediately demand a rerun until such time as they won?

But what if the SNP eventually did win one of these independence referendums? Would there be a chance two years down the line for the Scottish people to vote again? Of course there would not. Why do Scottish nationalists get as many chances as they want, but Pro UK people only have to lose once?

It would have been undemocratic and a disgrace if the UK Government had failed to grant Scottish independence if there had been a vote in favour of it. Imagine if the UK Government refused to accept the result and described it as merely advisory. But here is the thing that is so undemocratic. If the SNP win that’s it, Scotland becomes independent. There would be no going back. But if they lose, they think they just have to wait a couple of years to have another go. Sorry, but this die is loaded. This game is rigged. 

What we are learning about referendums is that losers don’t want to respect the will of the majority. They just want to win. But this is just the same as if Labour won the majority of seats in Parliament, but the Tories decided they would continue ruling anyway.

If referendums are to mean anything, they have to be implemented and there has to be some considerable gap of time between them. What does a “decisive expression” mean if less than two years after the Scottish independence referendum we have to try again? If referendums don’t decide questions, the answer is not to have more of them, but to have none of them.

Scotland is an integral part of a single nation state called the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom according to the normal usage of the English language is also a country. Far too many Scottish nationalists don’t understand this point. It’s worthwhile therefore once more going to the dictionary. This is from the OED definition of a country:

Someone who has German citizenship is from the country called Germany, likewise someone who has British citizenship is from the UK. I can’t have Bavarian citizenship unless I can get into a time machine. Likewise I am not a citizen of Scotland. Scottish nationalists may not like this fact, but it nevertheless is the truth. The fact that the UK is made up of parts that formerly were independent, is no different from the fact that Germany, Italy, France and most other countries are made up of formerly independent countries.

This should all be basic. What it means though is that when we have a nationwide UK referendum it is quite simply irrelevant how the various parts of the UK vote. Similarly when there was a referendum in Scotland on independence, it would have made no difference if the Borders had voted to remain. They would have been “dragged” out of the UK against their will. Would that have been unfair and anti-democratic? No, because the vote was across the whole of Scotland and democrats are obliged to accept the will of the majority.

Scottish nationalists will object that the Borders are not a country. But strictly speaking and in international terms neither is Scotland. Scotland is not an independent sovereign nation state. If you ask people all around the world to name the countries of the world they will name nation states. They will not generally name parts of nation states. Scotland has not been a nation state for centuries and recently we voted decisively not to become one again. The fact that Scotland is frequently called a country or even a nation is completely irrelevant. In international terms Scotland is not a country in the way that France is, because Scotland lacks the qualities that define what countries are in international terms. The quality that Scotland lacks is that it is not an independent sovereign nation state. Scotland therefore has no more justified grievance about being “dragged” out of the EU than would the Borders or Aberdeenshire have a grievance if they voted to stay in the UK but Scotland voted to leave. Nicola Sturgeon may act as if she leads an independent country, but she should continually be reminded that she does not. She has the status of the Governor or Texas or the leader of Lower Saxony. Such people are no doubt important in their way, but they really should not get above their station. 

Amusingly if the SNP really thinks that parts should have a veto against the whole, then it would be worth reminding them that this could equally apply to any future Scottish independence referendum. In that case they may end up with an independent Scotland consisting of Glasgow and Dundee.

How though should we respond if the SNP actually do decide that they want another independence referendum? I don’t think they will in the end. As I have frequently argued, Brexit makes the argument for Scottish independence much harder to make. But I may be wrong about this. Ruth Davidson and others have suggested that the UK Government ought not to oppose a second referendum. The logic of this is that it would encourage support for independence if the UK Government was seen to be thwarting the will of the Scottish Parliament. The trouble is that too many Scottish politicians respond to the SNP with appeasement. If only we make one more concession to the nationalists, they'll become proud Brits once more. This is obviously false. There is no appeasing Scottish nationalism. They will take every concession and still ask for more. It's time to cease giving in or we might as well give up. 

But how should we respond to SNP demands? There are a few alternatives that are worth exploring. We could take the Spanish route and follow the example they have shown in dealing with independence demands from Catalonia. The Spanish Government simply tells the Catalans that they will never have a legal vote on independence and that Spain will do everything in its power to stop secession. From the perspective of keeping Spain together, this is without doubt the safest route. But on the other hand it isn’t very democratic. Why force people to stay if they really don’t want to? If the resolve to leave builds up enough, you may even end up with some sort of revolt. The Spanish route is quite clearly both possible and legal. It's working out fine in Spain. Catalonia is no closer to independence. Still I would be reluctant to suggest that the UK should go down that route unless absolutely necessary. Every time Alex Salmond pops up on television however, I'm inclined to prick his pomposity with an outright refusal. Let us however not play this card, but rather simply keep it always in reserve. 

Alternatively you could go down the route of saying to Scotland you can have another referendum whenever you please. The Scottish Nationalists want the Scottish Parliament to control the timing and the wording of all future referendums. But do we really want to go on having endless referendums until the SNP get the result they want? That too is unfair and does not respect the referendum result we had in 2014.

A better position would be to say to the SNP, like Theresa May has just done, you have already had your referendum and the issue is settled. This isn't to say that there will never be another Scottish independence referendum, but there has to be a decent gap between them. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, the UK simply does not have the time and energy to both deal with leaving the EU and Scottish independence. Secondly we don’t know yet what sort of a relationship the UK will have with the EU. This is not because we don’t have a plan. We do. We plan to leave the EU. But where we will end up depends not just on what we in the UK want, but also on what the European Union wants. We can’t dictate to them. Our plan may conflict with what they want. Let’s hope we end up with a relationship of free trade between friendly European countries. Let’s hope we can all more or less continue to live and work in each other’s countries. But no-one can know for sure how a post Brexit UK will relate to the EU, because we haven’t even begun the negotiations yet.

For this reason any Scottish independence referendum must wait at the very least until the UK leaves the EU. It would make sense furthermore to see how this relationship is working out before Scotland decided that it couldn’t bear to remain in the UK. So the answer to a request from Nicola Sturgeon to hold a second independence referendum ought not to be “No”, but rather “Not yet”. Less than two years have passed since the last one. The SNP talked of that referendum as being a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well two years isn’t a lifetime. How long should the SNP be made to wait? Who knows? This need not be determined now. But here's my suggestion. Brexiteers had to wait 41 years for a second referendum. Let the SNP wait at least half as long. 

In the meantime it is vital that Pro UK remain supporters accept that the UK is going to leave the EU. Decide if you still want Scotland to be part of the UK. If you do, stop helping the Scottish nationalists by agreeing with them. Rather start helping the UK by fighting those who would try to dismember our country. Cease being negative about Britain and our economic prospects. Such negativity is liable to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead help turn life outside the EU into a success story. There are challenges ahead but if Leave and Remain people unite we can meet them all. Above all don’t be like the SNP. Accept the result and move on.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Scottish independence is a dead issue

I woke up one morning in Spain to find that Britain had voted to leave the EU. I got a shock. I was certain that Brexit would lose. I reacted to the news with some pleasure, but also some nervousness. It would probably have been better for me financially if we’d voted to remain. This is at least the case in the short term. Although I campaigned hard for Leave, I would have reacted to a Remain vote with a certain amount of relief. As I said right at the beginning of the campaign there are good arguments for staying in the EU and there are good arguments for leaving. It was always a question of balancing the pros and the cons.

I have had to follow events from afar, catching headlines on newspaper stands and snippets of news on the BBC. But I think that sometimes helps. Firstly it is necessary to delete all the noise. From the perspective of the world outside Britain it matters not one jot who leads the Labour Party right now. All this turmoil is very interesting to us, but it won’t matter five years from now. Likewise the backstabbing in the Conservative Party will not matter much even by September. My first choice for Tory Party leader was Boris. He’s intelligent and a great communicator. His flaw is that he sometimes lacks judgement. My second choice would have been Gove. He’s by far the most intelligent Brexiteer, but has little charisma and likewise has shown a lack of judgement recently. I fear that he allowed the Cameroons to sway him. Third choice is Theresa May. Her flaw is that she is a Eurosceptic who didn’t have the courage of her convictions. She quietly campaigned for Remain because she thought they’d win. But she’d probably do a pretty fair job of uniting the Tory Party and she’d be able to make the tough choices that will need to be made in the future. Long term too it won’t matter very much who leads the Tories.

The UK faces a number of long term issues that are important. It’s time everyone focussed on these rather than the minutiae of political talent contests. The most important issue that we face is the question of whether or not we are a fully functioning democracy. There have been some disgraceful demonstrations against the result. Sorry folks, this is just wrong. Unfortunately it has become a bit of a habit recently. Every time we have an election or a referendum, those who lost complain and try to overturn the result. This is quite simply anti-democratic. It needs to stop.

It is vital that the UK actually does leave the EU, because that is what the electorate voted for. There can be no attempts to stop this by using the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament or some obscure law or other. If the UK does not leave the EU, then we do not have a democracy. Simple as that.

I have no great fear now about life outside the EU. Project Fear II has turned out to have been grossly exaggerated. The pound has fallen, which makes things rather more expensive when we’re on holiday, but it will massively help the UK economy. Everyone in the world is trying to devalue their currency. The worst position of all is to have an overvalued currency. The markets are going up and down, but that doesn’t massively worry me as from the perspective of five or ten years a few weeks of turbulence will likewise be just noise. Everyone who is important wants the post-Brexit world to work. We will end up with more or less free trade with the EU and we will regain some control over our laws and our borders.

There was quite a lot of noise likewise from the Scottish nationalists in the days after the vote. But they found out very quickly that from an international perspective Scotland is a region of the UK in the same way that Catalonia is a region of Spain and Saxony is a region of Germany. Many Scots may not like this, even some of those who voted No during Indyref, but this is because they are not following through on the logic of the position. Scotland is called a country and a nation and there is nothing wrong with that, but Scotland is not a sovereign nation state. It therefore matters not one little bit that Scotland voted to remain while the UK didn’t. In any nation state there will be parts that disagree with the whole. If that were grounds for secession, then no nation state could long endure. Nicola Sturgeon’s complaint is exactly the same as if Texas voted to secede because it didn’t vote for Obama. Only a few rednecks in cowboy boots think that way. Again it is anti-democratic and it is wrong. We had a free and fair referendum on independence less than two years ago. The SNP lost. Get over it.

Will there be a second independence referendum? I think not. No-one in the EU wants to encourage sub-nation nationalism. There are too many parts of the EU member states which would love to secede too. The whole of the continent is made up of places that once were independent and might likewise dream of being a nation again. It is for this reason that the most powerful people in the EU are going to refuse to negotiate separately with Scotland. When the UK leaves the EU therefore, Scotland will go with it.

Let’s imagine the SNP tried to have a second referendum. When would they have it? Would they have it before the UK has finished leaving the EU or after? But how could we in Scotland possibly know whether we wanted to leave the UK until we knew what sort of deal the UK gets from the EU? Moreover can you imagine the chaos of the UK negotiating to leave the EU while Scotland at the same time was negotiating to leave the UK? So it is clear that in order for Scotland to join the EU, we would first have to be outside of the EU. We would then have to apply to join. But the conditions for joining the EU are that a country has its own currency and agrees to be part of Schengen and join the Euro. No matter how angry some Scots are at the moment I can’t see many of them voting for that. Do you fancy changing the value of your house first into Scottish Poonds and then into Euros? 

The whole SNP indyref argument was that life would be pretty much the same after independence. We do more trade with the other parts of the UK than with the whole of the EU put together. Much more. Why would you want to leave one trading block (the UK) with which you do most of your trade to join another (the EU) with which you do very little? This would massively change all of our lives. Brexit will be disruptive enough without adding further uncertainty.

Many Scots don’t much like the UK and many don’t feel very British. This is a serious problem that UK politicians need to address. But self-interest will tell the vast majority of Scots that we have to remain in the UK. This is not least because we are subsidised by the UK to the extent of billions of pounds every year. In any second indyref campaign it would become abundantly clear that Scottish independence would mean huge public spending cuts and tax rises. This wouldn’t be scaremongering or Project Fear III, it would be simple arithmetic.

Voting for Brexit has annoyed many Scottish nationalists, but when they calm down they will realise that it makes Scottish independence much harder. If Scotland were in the EU while the UK were not there would be a chasm between England and Scotland where once there had been only a border that no-one much noticed. Some Scots would be dancing for joy at digging such a moat, but the vast majority would not. It is for this reason I think that Nicola Sturgeon knows that she would lose a second referendum. She will squeal, but in the end she will do nothing. 

If you voted for Remain yet support the UK don’t let the SNP use your Remain vote to suggest that you support them. Above all don’t let the SNP talk about Scotland as if we already were an independent nation state. We are not. We voted against that idea quite recently. It is no more undemocratic if a part of a nation state doesn’t get what it voted for than if a constituency votes for a different party than the one that ends up in government. It is however undemocratic for people like the SNP continually to make threats when they lose. But don’t worry. That’s two referendums they’ve lost. They’ll not win a third. Scottish independence is a dead issue.