Saturday 1 April 2023

Both the Rejoin and SNP arguments have been destroyed


The SNP argument has always depended on the idea that it is undemocratic if Scotland votes to Remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole votes to Leave. It is the same argument when the UK as a whole votes for a Tory Government, but Scotland votes Labour or the SNP.

Of course, there is nothing undemocratic in a part of a democracy voting differently to the whole. The only way to prevent this is to have a one-party state where there were no “undemocratic” alternatives to vote for. Perhaps this would be an independent Scotland where every part would be so in love with Mr Yousaf that they would get down on their knees and pray that he become lifetime president.

It's only on the assumption that Scotland is already independent that it is unfair that Scotland left the EU because the whole of the UK voted to leave. After all Scotland didn’t really leave the EU. It was never a member. If it joined the EU, it joined when the UK as a whole joined.

For the same reason Scotland is not about to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Only sovereign nation states can have international trade agreements. Parts of nation states cannot. This is why if Scotland became independent Aberdeenshire could not apply to join the United Nations and nor at the moment can Scotland.

There was a lot of anger however in Scotland about the UK leaving the EU. There is little doubt that this contributed to some of the SNP’s support since 2016. But it was Brexit that destroyed the SNP’s argument. It is a double-edged sword that initially could be used by Mr Yousaf as that enormous sword wielded by William Wallace or was it Robert the Bruce. It would cut off Tory heads indefinitely until suddenly Scots began to realise the consequence of Brexit for Scottish independence and that it destroyed their argument.

On the first day of independence. Scotland might decide to join the EU. But in the beginning God said let there be no trading relationship either with the UK, the EU or CPTPP. Only sovereign nation states can have trade agreements or apply for membership of international organisations. So, Scotland asks the EU to join. But membership of the EU is incompatible with CPTPP membership, because the EU has a Common External Tariff and does not allow member states to pursue their own independent trade agreements.

In order to apply to join the EU Scotland has to agree to Schengen and the Euro (unless it can obtain an opt out, because of the persuasive talents of Mr Yousaf). It also has to apply the Common External Tariff to goods and services from the former UK. But we know from the deposit return scheme that the response of many UK manufacturers of bottles to Scotland asking them to make new labels is simply not to bother trading with Scotland. So how would former UK suppliers react to a regulatory border between Berwick and Gretna asking them to fill in forms and pay taxes to send their goods to Scotland? My guess is that some wouldn’t bother also. They already would have an internal market more than ten times that of Scotland. Who needs the hassle?

Now of course none of these things might happen. The former UK might in response to Scottish independence choose either to rejoin the EU or else the Single Market and Customs Union. After all that would be helpful to Scotland. But it would mean giving up the CPTPP, so then again.

So, despite Mr Yousaf’s Ministry for Independence, which sounds awfully like the Ministry for the SNP, he has a problem. The SNP’s fundamentalist wing led by Ash Regan (or rather Wings and Alex Salmond) was humiliated in the leadership vote. So, we are not going to turn any elections into de facto referendums or plebiscites. Mr Yousaf may be going into fifth gear, but he knows that independence is a long-term project.

But in the long-term Scotland is going to have all sorts of new trade agreements like CPTPP. Our businesses will get used to trading freely with what Remainers have been calling small nations like Japan, Australia, and Canada. Eventually there may be a free trade agreement with the USA. But the minute Scotland became an independent state it would cease to have any of these trade agreements. After all Scotland would not have made them. Even if Scotland chose to join EFTA it would have to ask the EU if a trade agreement with CPTPP or the USA were compatible with membership of the Single Market.

The CPTPP is fundamentally different from the EU. There is no political project. We thought in the 1970s that we were joining a common market, but we were really joining the beginning of a new state called Europe.

The CPTPP does not require free movement of people, it does not charge a membership fee to trade freely with its members, it does not have a parliament, nor a president, nor does it make rules that supersede those made by sovereign parliaments, it does not have a single currency and it says nothing whatsoever about Britain’s relationship with Northern Ireland. All it does is offer free trade and offers it for free.

But this is the problem for Mr Yousaf. The SNP is a sovereigntist party. It is trying to establish Scottish sovereignty. It was always an uncomfortable fit that it should immediately wish to share that sovereignty with the EU in such a way that the EU had suzerainty. EU law is supreme, member states are subordinate to the EU. If that is the case now and it certainly is, it will become still clearer in the years ahead.

This was my logic for voting to leave the EU that otherwise had many economic advantages. If you don’t want to be a region in a United States of Europe, vote to leave it, because you will never get another chance. Quite soon it will be practically impossible to leave the EU. Look how they negotiated with Britain and almost kept us in.

But this means that Mr Yousaf will have to use his talent at argument to persuade Scots not only to give up trade agreements like CPTPP which would have no affect on Scotland’s sovereignty if it were independent, but instead to choose a trade agreement with the EU which immediately abrogates the independence Scotland would have just won.

Every trade agreement the UK makes takes us further away from the EU’s political model of trade and makes it harder for the SNP to argue for the trade benefits of EU membership, not least because of the consequences of EU membership for Scotland’s relationship with the former UK.

If CPTPP destroys the Rejoin argument. It does. It also destroys the argument for Scottish independence.