Tuesday, 19 January 2016

If the choice is Scotland or democracy, I choose democracy

The Stronger In campaign are making a big show of Alex Massie's dismal europhile propaganda. It's on a par with the appalling display of fact free europhilia from Fraser Nelson, claiming that Scotland would break away should we leave the EU. Whether it would or wouldn't is not the question we should be pondering here. The real question is why on earth should we care?

For starters all the waffle about tariffs is a straw man. Massie has been paddling in the shallow end like his boss. Nobody who's done any serious analysis on the subject of Brexit envisages the UK leaving the single market as well as the EU any time soon - or at the very least nobody suggests that free trade would not continue in some form - primarily because it is politically implausible and technically difficult to do it any other way. The risks are too great for both sides to contemplate. Tariffs are just not even worth mentioning.

We can only conclude that Massie has been conferring with those who are about as thick as he is when it comes to the process of Brexit. After years of study we concluded that Britain's exit from the EU would have to be a phased withdrawal in order to minimise the risks - and our own civil servants when confronted with the same realities will likely conclude the same thing

If Scotland were to vote for independence it would be presented with a similar process. Scotland and England have centuries of integration that is not so readily unpicked. Again we would be looking at minimising the risks and if EU membership for Scotland is not on the cards (which it probably wouldn't be), continued membership of the EEA would be granted - encompassing the four freedoms.

Any attempt by the EU to peel Scotland away in such a fashion would be viewed as a hostile move by Brussels and would sour relations with London. The EU would not be in a rush to try it on. 

Consequently, Scotland would find itself more at home in Efta along with the rest of Britain. In that we would see very little change in terms of the Scotland-England relationship, but it would see Scotland handed the same benefits we would have outside of the EU: a full vote and veto on all the major global bodies. It would enjoy unprecedented influence over its own affairs, particularly at the IMO and NAFO.

The choice on the table for Scotland then would be to run into the arms of Brussels to become a region or to be an actual country and be treated as such. Once out of the EU, with all the benefits that entails, Scotland would most likely opt to remain out also.

This arrangement would eventually see Scotland taking its own financial affairs on board, and any moves toward the EU could be met with more hostile terms from London. Since Scotland owes more to London that it does Brussels, we could very well use our leverage to ensure they stayed out of the EU. 

So then at the end of this process, we have only a quasi-independent Scotland because full separation, when all the technicalities are considered, is a fantasy. Scotland would be self-governing but only to a point. I really don't see why that is worth a horror story. 

It sounds entirely reasonable and it can't stray too far off in that London would still hold many of the cards so long as Scotland is using the pound. If Massie thinks Scotland would be in a rush to join the EU and take the Euro, he's barking. 

But actually, the fly in the ointment here is that when all the political realities are weighed up, it wouldn't change that much for Scotland and so the SNP would have to answer the more basic question of "why bother?". What Scotland would get by quitting the UK would be a marginal number of extra powers in proportion to its economic clout. Good luck with that. 

Then there is a more pressing question for us. Why should the rest of Britain give it a nanosecond's thought? Why should they be held to ransom by Scotlands with its minuscule contribution to GDP and tiny population? Certainly if Nelson and Massie exemplify Scotland's literary exports then we are not losing out in any way.

Moreover, I no more trust the polls Massie cites than I do the ones that said Labour had a general election lead and the one that say Leave is presently in the lead. I think it's a safe bet that the polls are wrong and Scotland is just as likely to bottle it this time around, not least out of fear that breaking the UK in transitional time could complicate that which is already quite complex. 

It also hinges on the SNP holding the same level of popularity by the time it came to a vote. By which time there would a great deal of fatigue with political upheaval. This is more likely to go dormant for a time to see how Brexit pans out. Given that parliament would be more than occupied with more pressing matters after Brexit, the SNP would struggle to even get a second referendum through. They are after all outnumbered by English MPs who will not be in a rush to take any more risks. 

On balance I would say that we have little to fear from Scotland voting to quit the UK, it's not that big a deal, it wouldn't change very much, and is massively unlikely anyway in a post Brexit world.

Whichever way you look at it, there is no good reason why the threat of a Scottish hissy fit justifies our continued membership of a supranational entity that seeks to erase us from the world stage and subordinate us forever. In that equation, Scotland just isn't that important. It is better to lose Scotland than it is to surrender our democracy. If Alex Massie thinks otherwise, he can piss off, basically.

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