The Brexit vote created a paradigm shift in European economic, constitutional and political life. We are in a new place, caused by a profound change in the geopolitical model existing in Europe for past generations. What was, is no more, and what now is, becomes a new evolving economic, constitutional and political structure shaped by the Brexit dynamic.
The structures and character of this new paradigm will not become clear for some time. It would be an act of wisdom for the independence movement to think before deciding in a precipitate fashion how to exploit this new situation to secure genuine independence. I use the word genuine advisedly, because it is achieving the maximum sovereignty, y over foreign affairs and defence as well as other policy areas, that must be the ambitious aim of this nation.
There is no firm ground immediately available on which to make judgments at present. There are a number of important factors which will determine how we deploy our case for independence, and they will only unfold as UK-EU Brexit negotiations get underway, and as the EU states respond, or do not respond, to the forces among them seeking changes in the treaties and practices that have bound them together.
Why I part company with Nicola Sturgeon
Movement hijacked, again.
First, the SNP has hijacked the independence movement, again, as it did with its White Paper in 2014. There has been a helter-skelter, pell-mell rush to fix the movement to a ‘Scotland must stay in the EU’ position. No other options, it appears, have been considered. Why not EFTA? It provides full access to the EU market, but also retains more sovereignty for its members than is available to EU states. What other options will be available when the UK-EU negotiations reach finality?
The SNP and the eruophiles have promulgated a canard that Norway , for example, just does what it is told by the EU as part of its EFTA-entry deal. EFTA-EU relations are set out in the EEA agreement; Sections 99 and 100 require EFTA members to be included in all matters likely to become law. The claim that Norway does what it is told is undone by the fact that over the same period of time Norway has implemented 4,700 EU directives while EU members states have each implemented 512,000.
By her speech in the Scottish Parliament on 28th., June, Nicola Sturgeon has nailed the independence movement to a single position, just as profound changes unfold as the Brexit paradigm takes us into a very different European world. That is not where the independence movement should find itself.
EU members States’ reaction to “Scottish claims” predictable
Nicola Sturgeon invited herself to Brussels on 29th June. She was not invited by those in the EU power centres, and although politely received by the President of the Commission and the President of the Parliament, she received nothing from them. What she did get, from Spain and France was a reminder of realpolitik, through unambiguous declarations that Scotland was not an issue they would give room to.
The Spanish and French attitudes were predictable. rEU will have to negotiate with the UK, a very large economy, a key Nato member, and in the UN Security Council. The last thing the rEU side wants is to be accused of interfering in its internal affairs, and sour an atmosphere in important negotiations. In the scale of what matters in foreign affairs and diplomacy, there was no danger of encouragement of the SNP line.
What did democracy actually say?
I do not concur with Nicola Sturgeon that we will be taken out of the EU against our will by the vote on 23rd. June. If we are talking democracy, and national will, then the question on the ballot paper and turnout have to be weighed. The ballot paper question made no reference to Scotland as a separate entity from the other parts of the UK. Nor did it say that in the event of rUK voting Leave and Scotland voting Remain, our nation should vote to rejoin the EU on or before final Brexit day.
The votes cast, and the votes not cast, show anything but a political thirst to get back into the EU fold. In round figures the total electorate was 3,987,000. Remain got 1,600,000, and Leave 1,018,000. Did not vote 1,500,000. In that 1,600,000 were Ruth Davidson Tory UK Unionists, who supported the party line, and they were there in the 1.018 m too. We do not know how many, but it is stretching it to claim, as Nicola has, that all of the 1.6m would want Scotland out of the UK and into the EU in the event of a UK Brexit.
Among the 1 million plus who voted to Leave were people like me, in favour of independence from the UK but against any part of the UK, including Scotland, continuing in the EU. I met a number of UK Unionist voting Leave, who were vehemently against Scottish independence. As for the 1.5mn who did not vote, they were not galvanised into action by the SNP position set out in the election manifesto, and repeated in the EU referendum. How they would vote in a second referendum about an independent Scotland joining the EU, once the full details of what that would entail became clear, one does not know.
Taking Remain, Leave and Abstentions together, and the different motives people had for taking one or other position, shows a very mixed bag. A mixed bag from which Nicola has, wrongly, drawn conclusions about the true nature of the Scottish people’s view on the consequences of Brexit for Scottish independence.
The vital matter of a mandate…….
The SNP manifesto , in May, declared that “We believe the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if ………………there is a significant and material change of circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.” There were no further words; no words that said ‘in the event of a Scotland vote for Remain, and an rUk vote for Leave, we ask for a mandate to demand another independence referendum.’ Why was that specific ask of the electorate not included? There were voices, long before the manifesto was drafted, which wanted the insertion of a general mandate to be used during the next five years. If you do not ask for a mandate, you do not have one.
One reason for its exclusion, I suspect, was the party’s position in what were its former heartlands in Tayside and the North East where, in 2014, independence was rejected by 60%. There must have been anxiety about keeping some of that vote in the SNP Holyrood tally, and explicit exclusion of a mandate demand would certainly help snare some of those UK Unionists. In the event, in those areas the SNP vote dropped substantially, and the Tories did well. Would the SNP vote have fallen even more had there been an explicit call for a second referendum mandate? I think it would.
We should remember that in the May election campaign Nicola Sturgeon was at pains to rebut allegations that she was after a second referendum.
“Setting the date for a referendum before a majority of the Scottish people have been persuaded that independence – and therefore another referendum – is the best future for our country is the wrong way round.” Nicola Surgeon launching the SNP Manifesto.
That convoluted language is a rejection of a referendum, not a declaration for a mandate.
………….Not to mention a majority
The assertion by the SNP of the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold a second referendum is an aspiration not a right. The Parliament is a creature of statute, the progeny of a Westminster Act , setting out its powers, and its limits. It can do anything with the powers given, but cannot act beyond the legal boundaries set by the 1998 Act, which gave it life. In her speech to the Parliament, the First Minister said she was preparing legislation for a second referendum, but she did not say she would place it before the Parliament, for decision. That power does not exist.
Not withstanding that obstacle, if legislation is drafted as promised, then we are entitled to see the question she would like us to answer in a second independence referendum. A freedom of information request beckons, because it will all be in the question. Will it seek independence from rUK only, thus leaving us free of any umbilical link to the EU; or independence linked to EU membership only, or referenced to any new situation and material circumstance emerging from the UK-EU negotiations? To pose those questions about the question shows how foolish it is for the independence movement to allow itself to be hijacked and tied now to only one option.
Of course the legal constraints on the Scottish Parliament can be overcome by an expression of political power exercised in a general election. In 2011 the SNP sought a mandate for a referendum, and won it with an over all majority. In 2016 the SNP lost 6 seats, is a minority government, and did not ask for a referendum mandate. The political force necessary to extract a referendum from Westminster is missing.
Scotland-UK-EU and why caution is necessary about future relations
The EU is a customs union. Tariffs are applied to external countries, with special exemptions for some developing states in certain trade areas. A new trading relationship between the UK and the EU will be required upon Brexit day.
The trading figures point to what the final outcome of negotiations is likely to be. Not certain, but likely, given the logic in the numbers. The 27 rEU members export 290bn (pounds Sterling) to the UK each year, UK exports to rEU are 228bn – a trade surplus advantage to rEU of 62bn. In negotiations that is an advantage to the UK. No wonder the German industrial federation, even before the UK vote, called on the EU to agree to a non-tariff free trade agreement with the UK. Germany’s share of the 62bn is 27bn. The estimate is of 5 million rEU jobs dependent on access to the UK market. The UK too, has jobs reliant on access to the EU.
Those trade figures point to commonsense prevailing, with a free trade agreement the most sensible outcome.
Scotland exports around 76bn of goods and services each year. Our biggest market, which would become our most important ‘foreign market’ on independence is rUK, to where we export 48.5bn (64% of the total). To the rest of the non-EU world we export 15.2bn (20%), and 11.6bn to the EU (15%). That last figure could be smaller and the export figure to the rest of the world larger, because Scottish goods going through European ports on the way to the world, are logged as exports to the EU. This is known to the Scottish Government which, in its exports briefing noted: “The Netherlands and Belgium are consistently reported in Scotland’s top trading partners, however as these contain key ports many of these goods are for onward supply to other countries.”
Over the last 12 years Scottish exports to the EU have been in decline, as the EU economy has not been resilient in the face of changes to world economic development. Over forty years ago the EU states accounted for 35% of global GDP, today it is 16% of world trade. To argue that because of our trade, Scotland is heavily reliant in remaining in the EU does not wash. rUK and the rest of the world (USA 4bn alone) is the big factor we have to take into account when deciding our future.
Within the EU rigidity has been imposed by its fixation with one-size-fits-all policy, when flexibility by its member states is needed in the face of long term profound economic change in the world.
Some EU Scottish Problems
We heard nothing from the SNP during the past weeks of campaigning of matters that should give cause for Scots to hesitate before plunging into an absolute pro-EU stance. They illustrate on the one hand that one-size-fit-all does not in fact fit all; and on the other the severe restrictions a neo-liberal policy, which the EU pursues, will have on important national decisions we would like to take, but cannot.
First, to two Scottish social ills that mar our society. We have a problem with alcohol. Within its limited powers the Scottish Parliament sought in 2012, four years ago, to reduce its harm by reducing consumption, though the unit pricing device. The Scotch Whisky Association went to law to prevent its implementation. The case was heard by the European Court of Justice which determined that the measure was contrary to EU law, and sent the case back to the Court of Session for final decision, where it now rests. The outcome is not known at the time of writing, but for four years a Scottish solution to a real Scottish problem has been frustrated.
Second, there is the problem of poverty and low wages. In 2014, in the Procurement Reform Bill, the Scottish Parliament sought to include in it a clause that would compel a private company, taking on a public contract, to pay the living wage. The EU Commission wrote and told them that was contrary to EU law.
Today, the living wage exists for those 25 years old and above. If the Parliament sought to ensure that those below the 25 year level also get the living wage, through clauses as intended in 2014, it would again be declared against EU law.
There is also the fact that an EU law it will make it impossible to renationalise our rail and postal services. Staying in the EU also means that procurement policies will operate which, for example, has seen some two-thirds of the money spent on the New Forth Road Bridge go out of the country.
Out of the EU Scotland’s NHS and public owned water are safe from TTIP. In, they are not.
Speeches by SNP leaders give the impression of an unalloyed set of benefits flowing from Brussels, whereas the facts paint a different picture.
No mention has been made of the Common Fisheries Policy, responsible for the decimation of what was once a powerful Scottish fleet, and onshore industry. Stay in the EU and what is left of our fishing industry remains trapped in the CFP.
The UK-EU Agreement will shape the next independence campaign
Given that rUk is by far Scotland’s largest export market (45.8bn) , with which Scottish business is interlocked, the final terms of the UK-EU trade and other relations will be what the Scottish independence movement will have to assess, in making the new case for independence. That agreement will in many ways, economic, constitutional and political, determine what our arguments for independence will be. However much it stretches our patience, we should wait and see what it brings, and how we are to react to it. The next referendum will be Scotland’s last chance. The present direction being taken by the independence movement, hijacked by the SNP’s blind attraction for the EU, could lead us to defeat when the new paradigm, properly handled, can lead us to victory.