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It’s time to stop spoiling the SNP or the tantrums will get worse

I keep reading stories about how the SNP are trying to block Brexit. Sometimes they seem determined to stop the whole of the UK leaving the EU. At other times they apparently want Scotland to both remain in the UK and in the EU. There have been all sorts of odd schemes proposed. Some Scottish nationalists find a precedent in the fact that Greenland decided to leave the EU in 1982, but remains a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Couldn’t the reverse happen to Scotland? Nicola Sturgeon has come up with five tests that somehow must be fulfilled for her to continue to be content with Scotland being a part of the UK. These amount to Scotland being a full member of the EU and could not be fulfilled in any other way. Sometimes these demands are accompanied with threats of if you don’t do what we want, we’ll hold another independence referendum. Apparently there may be secret plans to hold one next year. Alternatively there are no secret plans whatsoever. It’s all very thrilling and cloak and dagger. Of course, some red meat must be flung to the fanatics from time to time, but the reality is that far from being desperate for independence at the moment the SNP is desperate somehow to stay in the UK.

Why have conditions at all if the SNP really wants independence? Why not simply say we want to leave the UK and stay in the EU. Why try to block the UK from leaving if you don’t want to be part of the UK?  The SNP have quite a large number of seats in the UK Parliament. Apparently they think they can use these seats to somehow veto Brexit. But why should they want to? If leaving the EU is so intolerable that Scotland will rise up and demand another independence referendum, why is the SNP trying to prevent it? Don’t they want independence?

It is becoming ever clearer that the SNP is getting itself into a muddle. Why visit a junior minister in Berlin? He can’t give you independence. The key point to grasp is that while the SNP is full of people who are desperate for independence, Scotland isn’t. There are people like me who are against Scottish independence under all circumstances. There are people who would support Scottish independence if they thought it would make them better off. Finally there are independence supporters who want independence come what may. But these people are not enough to win.

After the EU referendum quite a lot of Remain voters briefly flirted with support for independence. I’ve come across people who I considered to be solidly Pro UK who suddenly wrote things that suggested a certain sympathy with the SNP. But people do say silly things in the heat of the moment. These disappointed Remainers are at the very least not SNP fundamentalists. They will look at the argument for Scottish independence and weigh up the advantages and the disadvantages. The problem for the SNP, as I keep arguing, is that it is much harder to make the case for Scottish independence in the context of Brexit. The SNP leadership are going to have to throw out pretty much the whole of their independence White Paper of 2013. Brexit has sent them homeward to think again. But until and unless the SNP can come up with a credible alternative that looks reasonably attractive, they cannot expect to actually win another independence referendum. They need to answer the difficult questions now because they can’t win independence without a political campaign. During that campaign Scottish minds would be concentrated and politicians and journalists would keep asking the hard questions. The SNP wouldn’t be able to get away with blind optimism and everything would be alright, because while this would satisfy their supporters it won’t satisfy the majority of Scots.

It’s crucial to realise that SNP threats about a second independence referendum are empty for the moment. The first nationalist condition for the possibility of indyref two is that Nicola Sturgeon thinks she can win it. But there’s another condition I believe. If somehow she could persuade a majority in Scotland to vote for independence, but that this led to a significant deterioration in Scottish living standards Nicola Sturgeon knows that she would be blamed. What’s more I don’t think she is the sort of person that would like to see ordinary Scots made worse off. So while she certainly wants independence one day, it’s not at all clear that she wants it right now.

What do the SNP want? They want to make gradual steps towards the goal of independence. This is the crucial point that UK politicians have failed to grasp over the years. Foolishly in the last days of the independence referendum UK politicians made a promise that the Scottish Parliament would gain new powers. I think they should have made it clear that fulfilling this promise was conditional on everyone in Scotland accepting the result. There are two sides to every bargain and the SNP has simply not kept its side. What concessions have they made to the fact that the majority rejected independence?

So we had the Smith Commission which gave lots of new powers to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP wanted more and when they didn’t get all they wanted they claimed that the UK Government hadn’t kept its promise. Under those circumstances it would have been better simply not to have kept the promise. Granting all those extra powers hasn’t helped the Pro UK side of the argument one little bit. The SNP wants independence just as much as they always did. Every new power they gain is a step along the road to independence. UK politicians have to realise that they are feeding whiskies to an alcoholic. It is unlikely that doing this will make him sober.

Don’t make concessions to Scottish nationalism. It hurts our side of the argument by gradually making Scotland seem more and more separate. The SNP want to take baby steps towards their goal and then fall over the finish line. Don’t help them to do this. On the contrary, what the UK needs is more things that bring us together, more things that we share. We need less division not more.

It is for this reason that the response of pro UK politicians and journalists has been so disappointing since the EU referendum. Some people began writing about federalism as a way of keeping Scotland happy. Others began writing about giving Scotland a special status so that it can retain aspects of EU membership. Some Pro UK MPs even think it is a good idea for Scotland to have its own national news programme at six. Each of these things is just one more gradual step along the way to independence. There is only one lesson from the past twenty years of Scottish politics. Making concessions to Scottish nationalism gradually strengthens it while weakening the UK. Cease making concessions. Instead reassert the unity of the United Kingdom. Make it clear that our country is not splitting. Not now, not ever.

The SNP is a spoiled child that uses the threat of independence to gain concessions. It is happy for the UK to continue to subsidise Scotland. But it always bites the hand that feeds it. It is absolutely crucial that UK politicians begin to understand the SNP mentality and the SNP tactics.  No matter what you give to them they are not going to be content. All you do is demonstrate your weakness. So give them nothing. Of course, be friendly and diplomatic. There is no harm in consulting and listening. But never treat Nicola Sturgeon as if she is the leader of an independent sovereign nation state. She isn’t. Always remind her that she lost the only vote that mattered.

Brexit is going to happen or else we don’t live in a democracy. But it cannot happen unless the whole of the UK leaves and under the same terms. How could Scotland retain free movement of people while the rest of the UK did not? What would stop those people simply crossing the border into England? How could the UK as whole come up with a trade deal with, for example,  Australia if Scotland was governed by EU rules? Would that trade deal only apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland? On the other hand what if new EU regulations applied in Scotland, but not in the other parts of the UK? This is a recipe for confusion and chaos. If Scotland somehow stayed in the EU while the UK left it would make Brexit far less beneficial for the other parts of the UK. Instead of the UK Parliament being free to make our own rules we would always have to think of whether it would be commensurate with Scotland being in the EU. We would be constrained, for example, with what we could do with regard to  UK VAT because Scotland would still be in the EU and subject to EU rules on VAT. This would apply to any number of issues. Most importantly we couldn’t make the UK Parliament fully sovereign because the law in Scotland would still be subordinate to EU law.

There is an interesting debate to be had in the UK at the moment about the type of Brexit we should have. Some people have argued that we should simply leave the EU abolish all tariffs and say to the EU we are open to trade. If they chose to punish us they would in fact harm themselves. On the other side of the argument there are those who argue for a soft Brexit. Some favour a Norway model, some favour a Swiss model. Between a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit there are endless permutations. Let us hear the arguments. Let us weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. I tend towards supporting simply leaving, as I don’t want the EU to have any influence at all on our lives in the UK. But I also recognise that this may involve some challenges. There are people I respect who support a soft Brexit. I’m open to persuasion on this. Let’s have the debate.

The various parts of the UK have a role in this debate. But no one has a veto. What’s more someone representing 5 million people in Scotland should have no more influence over the outcome of the debate than someone representing 5 million people in Yorkshire. We are all equally British citizens. I ought not to have more influence because I am Scottish than if I am someone from the Isle of Wight.

It is vital that  no one should even consider making the sort of concessions that Nicola Sturgeon wants. They amount in effect to independence through the back door. If Scotland were in the EU while the other parts of the UK were not, then Scotland de facto would have achieved independence. Scotland’s being in the EU while the UK is not is simply incompatible with Scotland being in the UK. Greenland may not be fully independent, but it is as near to independence as it’s possible to get while remaining part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The SNP has become too used to having its own way. It’s time someone firmly said No and pointed out clearly that Scotland is not an independent sovereign nation state, but rather a part of one.  Nicola Sturgeon disgracefully had a meeting with the UK Prime Minister without there being a Union flag on display. She would not have done that if the leader she met had been from China. Why then does she disrespect the leader of the country which includes Scotland? It is time that everyone realises that Sturgeon’s threats are empty. She is all over the place at the moment trying to stay both in the UK and the EU. This is a position that is obviously self-contradictory. Why hold such a position if she thought she could win an independence referendum? Look beyond the bluster and the necessity of keeping the SNP fanatics onside and it becomes ever clearer that Sturgeon doesn’t even have an argument.  No further concessions need be made. Indeed they are the equivalent to giving in to a toddler in the supermarket. I want. I want. I want. It’s time to stop spoiling the SNP or the tantrums will only get worse.

This article was originally published by the author 12 August 2016 http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2016/08/its-time-to-stop-spoiling-snp-or.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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