Saturday 16 January 2021

Scottish independence would cause food shortages


It has always been my argument that Brexit made Scottish independence harder to achieve, because it would put a regulatory and possibly physical border between Scotland and England. But until now this has been a theoretical argument. But with reports of food shortages in Northern Ireland we now have evidence of just how important the UK’s internal market is not merely to Northern Ireland but to Scotland too.

At various points since 2016 the SNP argued that Scotland should be allowed to remain in the EU or sometimes the EU’s Single Market even if other parts of the UK left. But we can now see what would have happened if this had taken place.

The supply of goods and services to both Northern Ireland and Scotland come mainly from other parts of Britain. Even those products that come from the rest of the world are shipped first to English ports and then distributed onwards across the Irish Sea and the Scottish border. This is obvious when we go into a supermarket or any other shop. If you compare a French supermarket with a British supermarket you will find very different products.   Even the same international product will be distributed from France with French packaging to French supermarkets.

Scottish nationalists make a big deal about labelling food as Scottish, but Scotland is not remotely self-sufficient in food or much else. We depend on lorries driving from suppliers mainly in England and taking it to our shops. Without these ports and without these suppliers our shelves would be empty except for Scottish beef, whisky and skirlie.

These British dependent goods don’t have a little flag saying they were dependent on British manufacturers ports and supply lines. If they did, they would overwhelmingly outnumber the Scottish flags.

Who is at fault for shortages in Northern Ireland? It is fundamentally the fault of Ireland, because it was Ireland’s insistence on the Northern Irish backstop that put a regulatory border down the Irish sea. It is this and this alone that is causing the shortages and disrupting trade.

Ireland may blame Brexit for the shortages. But both Britain and Ireland chose to join the EEC, and no one would suggest that Ireland lacks the right to leave. The problem of Ireland and the UK being in different trading blocs could equally well have been solved by Ireland leaving too.

Whether Ireland likes it or not Northern Ireland is legally part of the UK and there is an international border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Britain chose in the 1920s to establish a common travel area between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, but we didn’t have to. It would have been perfectly in our rights to build a barbed wire fence or dig a moat.

The problem of how to regulate trade between the UK and Ireland should have been solved where Irish goods and British goods cross an international border rather than within the UK. This would have prevented all trade disruption between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the UK. It was Ireland’s refusal to allow this that is causing shortages.

The problem is that while Ireland thinks of Northern Ireland as being within its sphere of influence and hopes one day that Northern Ireland will secede from the UK and join with it, Ireland has shown that it is unable to provide the goods and services that Northern Ireland lacks at present. Given that there is no regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Ireland why doesn’t Ireland immediately start shipping the products that Northern Ireland lacks? We have to assume either that it cannot or that the people of Northern Ireland would prefer to buy from Britain.

But if the people of Northern Ireland begin to realise that Ireland’s interference in the UK’s internal affairs by means of the Belfast Agreement is damaging both the Northern Irish economy and causing shortages, might this cause those people to cease to consent to the Belfast Agreement? It’s one thing to have a peace treaty that benefits everyone. It’s another to have a peace treaty that damages the Northern Irish economy and causes empty shelves. If that is the case, then the Northern Irish electorate needs to make this clear at the ballot box. It is the support for Irish Nationalism and Republicanism that keeps the shelves empty.

The secession argument in Northern Ireland and Scotland are the same. The argument is that leaving the UK would make both Scottish and Northern Irish people worse off and that our British internal market is more important than our trade with the EU, including Ireland. But it is just this that has been demonstrated in Northern Ireland. If a regulatory border down the Irish Sea damages Northern Ireland though it has not left the UK, how much more would it damage Scotland if secession was achieved?

If even Ireland cannot immediately make up for supply shortages in Northern Ireland and if Britain struggles to supply goods across the Irish Sea when there is no international border, then it is reasonable to assume that food shortages would be worse in Scotland if there were an international border between Scotland and England, because the former UK would have no obligation to supply Scotland at all and could indeed charge Scottish lorries a fee for using former UK roads, ports and distribution centres.

But if trade between the former UK and Scotland were disrupted who would make up the shortfall? The EU in the form of Ireland cannot supply Northern Irish supermarkets. The EU in the form of France, Germany or anyone would do no better with Scotland. The conclusion follows then that Scottish independence would cause food shortages.