Friday 18 May 2018

Pommes frites à l'écossaise

Apparently the Scottish Parliament has just refused to consent to Brexit. The Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and SNP all joined together to thwart the plans of those wicked Tories to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament. There is a peculiar logic going on here. There are various issues that are at present controlled by EU bureaucrats in Brussels. Many of these are also issues that are devolved in the UK and controlled by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments. The UK Government proposes that the vast majority of these powers should be given to the devolved Parliaments while some are temporarily controlled by London. So it’s fine for Brussels to run everything, but if Westminster even temporarily controls anything this is enough for Scotland’s Left and Centre to start gathering the clans for the great 2018 Rebellion.

Of course, this has nothing much to do with Brexit or various powers to do with agriculture and fishing. Why is it just fine that unelected Brussels officials can run Scottish matters, but elected British MPs can’t? The SNP and their Lib Lab Greenie friends were more than happy for someone else to control these issues just so long as no-one from England got to tell them what labels to put on tins of food and how to plough a straight furrow. This is all just the usual playing to the lowest common denominator in Scotland. Westminster is a word that actually begins with E and ends with Land. It is this above all that makes it wicked. It’s worth remembering however next time you get the chance to put a cross on a ballot paper that Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems are part of the “Anyone but England camp” and are opposed to even minimal, temporary measures to make sure that everywhere in the UK has more or less the same sort of coordinated policies with regard to devolved powers.  The Welsh saw the sense in this and agreed to the arrangement. But it's never difficult to distinguish between the Scottish Parliament with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. 

Scottish nationalism is going nowhere at the moment. This is why it needs the grievance and the cooperation of its fellow travellers, helpers and hanger ons. 

Scotland is nearly perfect in every respect. In the springtime and early summer the beaches, the lochs, the rivers and the mountains are more or less empty and it can be hard to imagine that there is anywhere prettier or indeed better to live. But just as our countryside can be spoiled by the dark clouds and the sudden rain that obscures the view, so too our character is spoiled by our sense that someone else must always be to blame for whatever goes wrong and that person invariably lives south of the border.

Bullers of Buchan Aberdeenshire

Blaming someone or something else is far easier than taking responsibility for your own actions. It makes a person passive and this passivity is the reason for his failure rather than anything anyone else did. Give someone a reason to fail and he will grasp it. Take away any reasons for failure and the person just might reach success. It is those Scots who are most dissatisfied with their lives who find the source of their lack of happiness not with themselves, but with someone else. It is they who blame Westminster or Britain or the fact that Scotland isn’t independent for their own failure. If only Scotland were independent, all would be perfect. I would be happy and fulfilled and whatever is wrong with my life would be made right. But the source of a person's failure does not come from without, it comes from within.

Independence supporters invariably wait for independence or Nicola Sturgeon or someone else to give them more money, a better job, more benefits and whatever else is lacking in their lives. They expect someone else to do the hard work and want someone else to bring them success. This is why they fail. This is why all that is left is for them is to go on endless rather pointless marches, dressing up like parody participants on the White Heather Club. But independence would not bring with it helicopter money and Irn Bru restored to its full sugar strength and it wouldn’t solve the grievance.

The Republic of Ireland has been independent for decades, but scratch the surface (as I occasionally do) and you very rapidly find that exactly the same grievance remains today as it did long ago. The Brits are responsible for everything bad that ever happened to Ireland and everything bad that ever will happen in Ireland.

Socialism/social democracy is about grievance. It’s the rich man’s fault that I am poor. So rather than work hard to earn more myself I will vote for parties to take away the rich man’s money. No wonder the Lib Lab Greenies side with SNP. They all have a grievance about something. The fault lies always and above all with Tories and who is it who is most likely in the UK to vote for Tories?

We are where we are in Scotland because Labour and the Lib Dems decided that it was unfair if Scotland voted for the Left, but England voted for the Conservatives. If it had not been for that original grievance we might not have had to endure pointless Scottish Parliament debates about nothing at all. The Scottish Parliament does not have anything to do with foreign affairs. It is not its business. Whenever the Scottish Parliament debates foreign affairs, it is really just talking to itself about a matter that is outwith its remit.

Brexit is a UK matter. No consent is necessary from Scotland. If it is wrong for Westminster to encroach on devolved powers, it is equally wrong for the devolved Parliaments to encroach on reserved powers. But, of course, the SNP hope that they can get people in Scotland to feel aggrieved about the Scottish Parliament being ignored. Labour and the Lib Dems are happy to help.

Luckily however the details about Brexit are becoming ever more tiresome for everyone in Britain. The idea that Scots are going to man the barricades over whether this or that devolved power will immediately be returned from Brussels to Scotland or whether we might have to wait a while would appear to be unlikely. Some Nats will no doubt dress up as Jacobites, but they don’t really need the excuse of Westminster supposedly acting without Scottish consent as an excuse for wearing such clothes. I suspect some of them sleep in them just as small children especially little bhoys have been known to refuse to take off their Celtic strips.

We are all having to wait interminably for Brexit. Why should someone who didn’t want the powers returned at all (a Remainer) get upset that there is a delay in returning powers he didn’t in fact want returned in the first place.

But devolution can only work in a UK context if it does not lead to great differences between the various parts of the UK. If the EU needs harmonisation, so too do we, only more so, as one of the main benefits of living in the UK is that we can live and work anywhere we please with a lot more ease and familiarity than if we chose to move to Slovenia or Italy. There is a reason why some powers are centralised in Brussels. It is because they want the same rules and regulations with regard to these matters to apply everywhere in the EU. But if the same rules are necessary across the EU, then it is likely that they will require a degree of coordination in the UK too. It is for this reason that it makes sense that Westminster has a role in coordinating how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland use the powers they will gain from the EU. The reason is that Westminster is the only elected UK Parliament where people from every part of the UK meet as a matter of course.

However in principle it would be better if the vast majority of powers were transferred from Brussels to the devolved UK Parliaments as soon as possible. The reason for this is it will put parties like the SNP in a very nice sort of dilemma.

The key to Brexit is to get out. We may or may not leave in an ideal way. We may have to make compromises. We may even have to stay in some sort of customs union for a while. It doesn’t matter. The UK Government has a very small majority. Some things may not be possible. I would have walked away in 2016. But there isn’t a majority for that now. There probably wasn't even then. I would have responded to Mr Varadkar, by first erecting a fence between Northern Ireland and the Republic and then by digging a moat, but I have a tendency to get frustrated with such people and rather wish we had a big enough gun boat with which we could blockade Dublin so as to encourage their diplomatic efforts. But this no doubt is to be intemperate. Cooler heads than mine will wisely counsel that instead we must be patient.

Let us focus on getting out. After that there will be future elections and the chance to vote for things to be different. If a customs union doesn’t work and constrains us in a way that is intolerable, it won’t last. We will be able later to vote to get out of it. It doesn’t much matter when this happens now or a few years from now. Take a long view.

Once we are out of the EU there will be no getting back in. To get back into the EU we would have to follow the rules for joining. One of these is accepting that we must join the Euro. Likewise we would find that whatever concessions the UK had been given during our years of membership, such as our rebate and our not being a part of Schengen would not be on offer anymore.

Most importantly of all re-joining the EU would mean that the powers that the Scottish Parliament is up in arms about this week would have to be given back to Brussels. This is the dilemma for the SNP. Any future independence campaign would either involve promising to join the EU, or it would involve promising not to be part of the EU. But membership of the EU would involve the Scottish Parliament losing powers that it is up in arms about at present and agreeing to both join the Euro and Schengen while in time becoming part of what the EU intends to become a United States of Europe. This is a funny sort of independence. An independent Scottish Parliament in the EU in all practical respects would be less independent than the present devolved Parliament in the UK.

If Scotland on the other hand chose to be independent outside of the EU, then whatever trade deal will apply between the UK and the EU after Brexit would not apply to Scotland. We would have to negotiate our own trade deal both with the EU and with the other parts of the UK. 

Just as the UK may, depending on negotiations, loose some of the benefits of EU membership, Scotland might find leaving the UK involved the loss of certain benefits that are contingent on being a part of the UK. After all, we could no longer fall back on both the UK and Scotland being part of the EU, because we no longer would be. Brexit takes away the guarantee that everything will be more or less the same after independence. There is no guarantee about that at all now.

We have moreover learned in the past couple of years that the border between independent nation states is not simply a trivial line that is marked on a map. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has caused endless discussion and at present it looks as if keeping it open will constrain the UK’s actions for some time to come.

No doubt everyone would want to keep the border between Scotland and England open in the event of Scottish independence. But this would all depend on matters that are simply impossible to guess at present. Would Scotland be part of Schengen, would Scotland be part of the EU’s Single Market or customs union? Might an independent Scotland try to be like Norway, France, Vatican City, Northern Cyprus or Belarus? Who can tell? There are any number of ways to be independent and any number of border arrangements in Europe.

But I strongly suspect that if in a few years Nicola Sturgeon the First President of Scotland came to London asking for help in keeping the border open although this would admittedly involve some constraints on the UK's ability to trade freely with whomsoever it pleased, the UK's Prime Minister might just decide to send her homeward to think again. It would be reasonable to point out that Scotland had chosen to leave and should face the consequences and take its grievances elsewhere.  If President Sturgeon were to continue on both shoulders to exhibit post-independence pommes frites à l'écossaise the temptation to resurrect and repair an ancient wall and then to dig a moat, just to make sure, might at some point prove overwhelming.