Thursday 10 September 2020

The warm glow of nationalist internationalism


Brexit has always been a double-edged sword in Scotland. The same goes for leaving without a deal. It encourages support for Scottish independence and therefore helps the SNP, but at the same time makes Scottish independence harder to achieve and therefore hurts the SNP.

Brexit is a Right Left issue in modern British politics. People in the Centre and Centre Left almost universally oppose leaving the EU. A few people on the Left like Jeremy Corbyn follow the historical precedent of the 1970s that opposed joining the EEC because it was a capitalistic business-oriented block whose rules would prevent socialism, but they are few now.

It is for this reason that 61% of Scots voted to Remain. Labour, Lib Dem and gradualist SNP voters were horrified by Britain’s decision to leave the EU, not so much for economic reasons as cultural reasons. Scotland today is perhaps the most nationalistic place in Europe. Nowhere else apart perhaps from Catalonia and Ukraine is there a secession movement that constantly wins such support.

But Left-wing Scots don’t like to see themselves as nationalists, even though supporting independence is the precise definition of a nationalist. They therefore have come up with an odd combination of ideologies. They are internationalist nationalists. What else can “Independence in Europe” mean?

Of course, there is an obvious contradiction in being an internationalist nationalist. If you can’t bear to be part of a union that has existed since 1707 where everyone speaks the same language as you do, how do you suppose you will be able to bear being in the European Union. The EU will pay far less attention to Scotland than the British Government does. But perhaps Scots would not mind. The anyone but England attitude extends to politics. Scottish nationalists would be happy to be ruled by Brussels and become a region of a United States of Europe just so long as the English cannot outvote us.

There is no question that Brexit has caused some Left-wing Scots to flirt with Scottish nationalism. It has indeed caused some of the Lefty Remainer press in England to hope that Nicola Sturgeon succeeds just because they have come to loathe Britain so much that they would delight in our island being partitioned. But the problem for the SNP is that their whole argument since the 1980s has been based on the UK remaining in the EU and no one has properly addressed the consequences of the UK leaving. Scottish nationalists have more passion for leaving the UK now, but their intellectual argument has been destroyed, because “Independence in Europe” only ever made sense if Britain remained.

It is true that an ultra-soft Brexit such as “Norway” or indeed Theresa May’s “Brexit in Name Only” would have softened the blow for some Scots. Remainer Scots might have been content enough with such a deal that they would not have decided to lend their support to the SNP. But the SNP would still have campaigned for independence. They would have campaigned for independence indeed if we had voted for Remain.

Trying to keep Scottish nationalists happy by giving them more powers or by voting Remain or by giving them the softest possible Brexit, would not stop them wanting independence. The only thing that stops them wanting independence is making it harder to achieve. This is the main benefit of leaving the transition period without compromising with EU.

The more Britain can leave the EU the better. A simple free trade deal would be welcome, but even this has never been necessary, because the long-term benefits of leaving the EU will more than compensate for any loss of trade with the EU.

Brexit has been compared to Scottish independence, but it differs crucially in that Brexit could materially change the British economy by making it less regulated, less bureaucratic and more open to trade with the rest of the world outside the EU. Brexit could make Britain more capitalistic not least because we would be escaping the social democratic regulation that the EU imposes on its members. Scottish independence has no such potential benefits because those in favour of it do not wish Scotland to be more capitalistic, they want the opposite. This is like hoping capitalistic South Korea would become more prosperous by emulating the North. 

Likewise joining a protectionist bloc and imposing tariffs on our nearest neighbour and greatest trade partner, while at the same time signing up to more and more bureaucracy and regulation for our businesses could only make a Scotland richer in a world in which Adam Smith wrote The Poverty of Nations.

Let’s imagine the ideal solution. The whole of the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The UK legislates so that the Irish backstop barely applies, putting the onus on dealing with the EU’s external border on the Irish Republic. The example of the Irish Republic would show very vividly what Scotland would become if it became independent. Irish goods would have to pay tariffs with Britain and the EU border between North and South would have to be monitored in some way. Take note Scotland. This will happen to you.

The key to defeating Scottish nationalism is to ignore the fact that Brexit has annoyed some Scots. This has led some of them to lend their support to the SNP. But this support is soft. If it could be shown beyond all reasonable doubt that Scottish independence would lead to a hard border between England and Scotland and make it impossible for Scotland to continue to use the pound, then this soft support will melt away like mist in the morning. The Leftist Scottish middle classes may vote Lib Dem, SNP or Labour and they may wish to temper their nationalism with the warm glow of internationalism, but if they really thought that Scottish independence would make them poorer, their houses worth less and leave their children with fewer prospects,  then they would reject it.  

The SNP’s emotional argument is very powerful, but so is having a certain standard of living. Scottish nationalism can win hearts, but minds can be swayed by the intellectual argument that quality of life in Scotland would be damaged by leaving the UK, because we all feel emotional about our jobs, our families and our children’s futures too.

The way to counter Scottish nationalism is to point out how Brexit has made Scottish independence no longer a small step where nothing much would change in Britain and we would all remain the best of friends, to it being an enormous step that would put Scotland and the former UK on completely divergent possibly antagonistic paths with competing interests. There is already conflict between the EU and the UK. It may turn ugly. You cannot expect to remain friends if you are part of the EU suing the UK. Why should the UK even cooperate with such a bloc, let alone defend it? If Trump decided to leave NATO, then the UK would certainly follow. Our only likely enemy Russia, would have to fight all the way through the EU before it reached us. Perhaps the EU could sue Russia if that happened. 

The more ties the UK can cut with the EU the more ties Scotland would have to cut with the former UK in order to be independent in the EU. This is the double-edged sword in action. Do you really dear middle-class nationalists want to be in a different trading bloc to your greatest trade partner. Most food after all arrives in Scotland from England. Do you really want these lorries to be stopped and tariffs applied to the goods they contain? Do you really want to be an EU citizen when this would give you no more rights to live and work in London than a Bulgarian? There is no guarantee that the UK would allow Scottish citizens to remain British citizens.  Do you really want your house to end up being priced first in Scots Pounds and then in Euros? This would also mean your salary would be paid in two currencies that both could both rise and fall against Sterling? If you want all of those things, then by all means vote for the SNP, because that is what they will give you.

Let’s hope the warm glow of nationalist internationalism would keep you warm at winter before its contradictions became apparent.