Sunday 6 September 2020

Would Scotland join the EU?


Since the EU referendum in 2016 Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been amongst the most prominent Remain supporters trying to stop Britain leaving the EU. Sturgeon and her MPs supported every move in the House of Commons to stop Brexit. She had photo opportunities with various EU figures. She wanted there to be a second confirmatory referendum on Brexit with a rigged question that didn’t allow the British public to vote for a complete break from the EU. Oddly she is against a confirmatory referendum on Scottish independence.

By doing so she gained the support of much of the London media who would delight in losing Scotland just to have a measure of revenge against Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers. But would an independent Scotland actually join the EU?

There is no doubt that a significant proportion of independence supporters genuinely want Scotland to join the EU. Some have changed their minds in the past six years precisely for this reason. But it must be remembered that SNP voters supported Brexit more than the voters for any other party. Some of them did so to hasten an independence vote, but a significant proportion of independence supporters would also like to be independent from the EU.

If Scotland were independent there would no doubt have to be a vote on joining the EU. There would be negotiations between Scotland and the EU and then Scottish voters would decide whether they liked the deal or not. It is by no means certain that joining the EU would win.

There is no question at all that if Britain as a whole had remained in the EU then an independent Scotland would have wanted to join. This was the argument in 2014. For Scotland to be both outside the EU and outside the UK would have been hugely damaging not merely in terms of economics and trade but also in terms of borders and all the other things that make up the international relationship of nation states. But this is not the present situation.

If Theresa May had succeeded with her establishment stitch up organised in cooperation with the EU, then Britain would have had the closest possible relationship with the EU that could still be called leaving. This might have made it possible for Scotland to be both in the EU and maintain a close relationship with the former UK. But Theresa May failed, not least because the SNP chose to vote against her Europhile version of Brexit in the hope of getting Remain. This has now cost them dearly.

The UK is not going to have a close relationship with the EU. It looks in the short term as if we may not have a deal with them at all. The Covid crisis actually makes leaving the EU without a deal easier, because the economy has been so disrupted by lockdown and furlough that we will barely notice leaving the EU without a deal in December. But the SNP will notice.

Brexit means that if Scotland joined the EU, the external border between the EU and the former UK would be between Berwick and Gretna. Ireland was able to use the Belfast Agreement (wrongly in my view) and its influence in the EU to gain a concession on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Whether this backstop lasts will be up to the people of Northern Ireland, but it is hard to see how Scotland could gain a similar concession. There is no equivalent of the Belfast Agreement that applies to Scotland because Scotland did not have thirty years of terrorism.

But the idea that Scotland could turn the former UK into the equivalent of Northern Ireland in order to keep the border open is to argue that the former UK would allow EU regulations to apply to it for Scotland’s benefit. But why would they? Would the former UK give up a trade deal with America to keep the SNP happy?

An independent Scotland would have to sign up to join both Schengen and the Euro. Scotland might cross its fingers and say that it never would join the Euro. It might resist joining Schengen. But does the EU really want another Britain that continually resists all the things that are intended to bring the EU members closer together? But membership of Schengen would mean that Scotland would have to leave the Common Travel Area. Ireland has an opt out from Schengen just as the UK did, but why would Scotland get an opt out when every new member state has had to join?

Free movement of people from all over Europe, plus the SNP’s desire to have a more open immigration policy than the former UK would make it such that there would have to be passport checks if not visas in order to prevent Scottish residents from simply getting on the train from Edinburgh to London.

The promise, even if insincere, to join the Euro would obviously make any attempt by Scotland to use the pound unilaterally unstable. It is anyway unclear how a country could use the pound while being inside the EU if the former UK was outside the EU. Interest rates and monetary policy set by the Bank of England in London might be completely inappropriate to Scotland’s needs within the EU. The only sensible path for Scotland would be to set up our own currency and prepare to join the Euro.

Would Scotland be a net contributor to the EU? This really is the test. If Scotland were to be a beneficiary of EU money, that would be because we would be the equivalent of one of those Eastern European member states that require subsidy from the EU. But to admit that we require subsidy from the EU is to admit that we cannot afford independence on our own.

The SNP and its supporters may deny that Scotland is running a £15 billion deficit or may claim that it doesn’t matter, but how much would EU contributions add to this non-existent deficit that doesn’t matter?

Scotland on gaining independence would have to tell independence supporters that in order to join the EU Scotland would not only have to give up control of our territorial waters, not only give up Scottish Parliamentary control over everything that the EU at present controls, not only establish a hard border with England and prepare to join the Euro, we would also have to pay billions for the privilege. To suppose that we wouldn’t have to pay, would be to suppose that we couldn’t afford independence.

EU membership is untenable for an independent Scotland. The best chance of making it work would be for Scotland to align itself as closely as possible with the former UK both socially and financially. But if you are going to do that then independence amounts to little more than the UK ceasing to subsidise Scotland and Scots having to pay off our deficit by ourselves in order that SNP supporters get to wave flags and kick Tory Scum out.

Remainers would be disappointed because Scotland would certainly not join the EU. Brexit makes Scottish independence only tenable if Scotland is both outside the UK and the EU. But this is precisely the nightmare scenario that the SNP were desperate to avoid in 2014.