Monday , October 25 2021

A no deal nail in the SNP coffin

All through the independence referendum in 2014 I campaigned on the basis that a Yes vote would mean Scotland had to leave the EU and how this would have negative consequences for Scotland. This was a true and a legitimate argument. But it wasn’t really about the EU.

The SNP’s independence in Europe strategy likewise wasn’t really about the EU it was about Britain. If both the former UK and Scotland were in the EU, then the relationship between them would be like Spain and Portugal or Germany and Austria. There would be an international border, but no one would notice it. We would all have the same right to live and work and get free healthcare anywhere in the EU including in the former UK.

Scottish nationalists are not natural internationalists, but the point of their support for the EU was never about that. It was about making independence palatable because it wouldn’t be that much different to being a part of the UK.

After the surge in SNP supporter in 2015 I began to rethink. If the SNP argument depended on independence in Europe, then the way to undermine it wasn’t by arguing that Scotland wouldn’t be in the EU after independence, but by putting the UK outside of it. With the UK outside of the EU, the independence in Europe argument collapses. An independent Scotland might or might not be able to easily join the EU, but the EU could no longer guarantee the rights of Scots in the former UK, because the UK would no longer be in the EU.

The more I thought about nationalism in Europe the more it became clear to me that the EU was facilitating separatist movements in Scotland and Catalonia. The EU’s centralising movement had a decentralising counterpart. If Catalonia could break free from Spain and remain in the EU, what was there to stop Flanders, Veneto or anyone else? It was for this reason that I began to argue that the UK should leave the EU and ideally leave it as much as possible.

I did not foresee in 2015 how Brexit would become such a divisive issue. No one was much interested in the EU until we left. In Scotland there is no question that some Remainers have been driven to voting for the SNP. A No Deal Brexit may drive some more. But what matters is not so much the disappointment of Scottish Remainers, but what a No Deal Brexit does to the reality of Scotland’s prospects for independence.

Support for the SNP may increase, but the difficulty of achieving independence has also increased. In 2014 independence would have been difficult enough, but eventually both Scotland and the former UK would have been in the EU together and in time perhaps mere regions of a United States of Europe. But the argument that the SNP lost in 2014 looks massively more difficult to make now.

  1. If there are tariffs between the UK and the EU, there would be tariffs between the former UK and an independent Scotland.
  2. If EU citizens cannot live and work in the UK, then Scottish citizens could not live and work in the former UK.
  3. If leaving the EU meant British citizens lost their European citizenship, then leaving the UK ought logically to mean Scots lose their British citizenship.
  4. If new EU member states have to join Schengen, then the external border of the EU and the Schengen zone will be between England and Scotland. If this isn’t a hard border, what is?
  5. Scotland would be part of a free trade bloc that it could only reach by sea, air or through England by road.
  6. Scotland would be part of a free trade bloc with whom we trade comparatively little but would have to apply the EU’s common external tariff on all goods from our largest trade partner the former UK.
  7. If it takes the UK nearly four years to leave the EU when we’ve been a member for only four decades, how long would it take Scotland to leave the UK when we’ve been a member for three centuries?
  8. If the UK after four years cannot make a deal with the EU, who is to say we could make a deal with the former UK?
  9. If relations between the UK and the EU have deteriorated so much that they cannot agree a free trade deal when they already trade freely with each other, there can be no expectation that relations between Scotland and the former UK would be any more friendly.
  10. The former UK would be developing trade agreements with countries, but Scotland would not be included, while Scotland would have a trade agreement with the EU, but the former UK would not be included. Independence in Europe would put an ever-increasing chasm between the former UK and Scotland.

Disappointed Scottish Remainers may be tempted to join the SNP in order to get Scotland back into the EU, but just watch. Who is a No Deal Brexit going to damage most? The answer is likely to be Ireland, because for historical reasons and the fact that we speak the same language Ireland has close trade relations with the UK. But whatever damage a No Deal Brexit does to Ireland it would do it still more to an independent Scotland. The rational response would be for Ireland to give up EU membership too and try to form a close trading relationship with the UK. It won’t of course for psychological and historical reasons.

But the same logic would apply to an independent Scotland. It would attempt to stay as close as possible to the former UK, even letting the Bank of England set Scotland’s monetary policy, this is how using the pound unofficially works. But this obviously makes EU membership impossible.  It would be an act of self-harm to have Bank of England setting interest rates for a country in a different trading bloc. It is unlikely anyway that Scotland could join the EU while using a non-member’s currency. Having your own currency or using the Euro already is the condition for joining the EU.

So, an independent Scotland would settle for a semi-detached membership of the UK, which not only makes independence pointless, it makes it worse than being a full member of the UK.

Scotland in theory is Europhile compared to those nasty little Englanders, but if I were a Euro federalist, I’m not at all sure that I would want to import five million Scots into my project. If it became clear that Scotland was to be a mere region of the European Union with no more independence than Burgundy or Bavaria, would Scottish nationalists really stand for it or would they rebel again? If you have shown that you can’t bear to be in one union, why would anyone think you could long bear to be in another?

If Britain has been a thorn in the flesh of the EU for the past 40 years and more because we never quite felt European and never quite signed up to ever closer union, who is to say that Scotland would not be just as disruptive? It may not be merely the Spanish who say No to Scotland joining, it may be the other twenty-six member states too.

A No Deal Brexit makes it practically impossible for Scotland to join the EU. It would be such a break from the past three hundred years that it’s difficult to see how a sensible politician could make an argument for it. Scottish Remainers may be angry but they are not stupid.

Every day after a No deal Brexit will see Britain diverge still further from the EU. If it is hard now for Scotland to join the EU, it will become still harder as the years go by. Scotland will get used to controlling our own fishing and agriculture and it will become ever harder for the SNP to argue that giving up powers to Brussels equals independence.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/12/a-no-deal-nail-in-snp-coffin.html

About 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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