I only really started to support leaving the EU after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Until then I had been able to balance the benefits of EU membership with the flaws inherent in that organisation. What changed my mind was that I could see the path we were on was leading to Scottish independence. At some point in the relatively near future there would be a second independence referendum and the SNP would win. Their support increased massively after 2014. This continued right up until 2016 when we voted for Brexit. It wasn’t a coincidence.
Many Remain voices had argued that Brexit would split the UK, but as with so many other aspects of their campaign, subsequent events have shown them to be wrong. The SNP declined from their 2015 peak when they won nearly all the Scottish seats at Westminster. Sturgeon’s fiery rhetoric and demands for indyref2 have more or less ceased. In 2018 the SNP released something called a “Growth Commission”, but only people like me paid much attention and that only to point out that suggesting Scotland use a “Panama Pound” would be like Darien Scheme Mark II.
The main reason I supported Brexit was that I thought it would discourage Scottish nationalist voters because it would make Scottish independence unpalatable. The whole model of Scottish independence put forward by the SNP, since well before 2014, is that Scotland should be independent but in almost every other respect life would resemble what it does now. The SNP want to retain as much as possible of the UK despite leaving it. It is for this reason above all that they campaigned for a currency union with the UK. In Brexit terms they wanted the softest form of independence possible.
If Scotland could retain nearly all of the benefits of being in the UK while leaving, it is natural to suppose that this might appeal to independence supporting Scots and waverers. The Pro UK argument depended on pointing out that many of these benefits depend on actually remaining a part of the UK. This was the argument we essentially won in 2014.
But we weren’t going to win this argument forever, not with Scottish nationalism continuing to rise in support. If people want independence enough they will accept short term disadvantage in order to reach their goal. Countries have fought wars of independence after all.
This is why I reasoned we needed more. If Britain could only leave the EU, then Scottish nationalists would face a horrible dilemma. Soft independence would no longer be possible.
An independent Scotland would face a choice. Either it could decide to join the EU or it could decide to be both outside of the EU and outside of the UK. The latter is unlikely to appeal to those Scots who rejected even the softest form of independence in 2014. But joining the EU after independence would be just as problematic.
If the UK were completely outside the EU, but Scotland was inside, then Scotland would be part of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, but the UK wouldn’t be. Scotland would have to promise to join the Euro and Schengen, which are conditions of joining. This would obviously have the effect of kicking Scotland out of the UK’s internal market and would put Scotland in a different trading bloc to its closest trading partner (the UK). Once you understand this, you can begin to see why Scottish independence has been dealt a devastating blow by Brexit.
But unfortunately London based politicians have little understanding of Scotland. All those campaigning in the Remain Rearguard apparently were unaware, or else they didn’t care, that they might in effect stop Brexit, but a few years down the line this would breakup our country. Would it be worth it?
A soft Brexit helps the SNP. Imagine if the Republic of Ireland had been kicked out of the Common Travel Area and a manned border had been erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This would have decisively shown Scottish nationalists that independence would lead to a border between Scotland and England. There are very few Scots indeed who would vote for this. It would have destroyed the case for independence for ever.
It can, of course, be argued that there would still need to be a border because if Scotland were in the EU it would have to be part of Schengen. The Republic of Ireland has an opt out from joining Schengen. But this is a rather subtle point. There would have been nothing as good as border posts in Northern Ireland “pour décourager les autres”.
If the UK were completely outside the EU, it would be able to have its own trade deals with anyone else. If an independent Scotland were in the EU, or even if we were outside the EU, then these trade deals wouldn’t apply to Scotland. Scotland would have to apply the Common External Tariff to all goods moving between Scotland and England, which makes some sort of checking inevitable.
As it is, because we are at the moment getting the softest of Brexits, the UK will struggle to make any trade deals with anyone else and there would be practically no difference between an independent Scotland in the EU and the UK outside of it. The UK will mimic the Single Market and the Customs Union, so the gap between an independent Scotland inside the EU and a UK outside of it narrows perhaps even to invisibility. The Brexit dividend of stuffing Scottish nationalism begins to lessen.
It’s not all bad news. The UK will hopefully soon be outside the EU. Whatever deal the UK has with the EU wouldn’t apply to an independent Scotland. Scottish independence would still involve Scotland both divorcing the UK and coming to some sort of arrangement with the EU. If we have learned anything in the past two years, it is that such arrangements are tricky. Nothing is guaranteed and it is impossible to predict how such negotiations might go. The UK might negotiate with Scotland à la Barnier demanding a pound of flesh for free trade, the EU would probably side with Spain so as not to encourage separatism, so who knows what sort of deal an independent Scotland might get. If the fifth largest economy in the world (the UK) gets the deal of a vassal, why would they treat Scotland better? If it turns out to be impossible for the UK to actually leave the EU, other than in name only, why should Scottish nationalists expect to ever be able obtain anything other than independence in name only? They are likely to end up as disappointed as the Brexiteers are at the moment. Scotland after all is much more interconnected with the UK than the UK is with the EU. It would stand to reason then that Scottish independence would turn out to be harder than Brexit. If none of these things are actually possible, then what on earth are we arguing about?
Moreover in time the UK might just be able to escape from the EU completely. Once we have left there would be no going back. In order to rejoin the EU, the UK likewise would find itself having to agree to join Schengen and the Euro. We would have no rebate and would have to do exactly what the EU told us to do. Rejoining then would mean accepting inferior terms to those we have at present. Good luck arguing for that at an election.
But would there be anything to stop us leaving the EU completely in a few years? All it would take is for a party to propose this at a General Election and then win that election. Parliament can repeal any Act of Parliament and repudiate any treaty. So Scottish nationalists would have to calculate not only where the UK is now, but where it might end up ten or twenty years from now. To that extent the Scottish nationalist’s dilemma is always going to be there.
Leaving the EU completely is by far the best way to keep the UK intact in the long term. If more politicians understood this, they wouldn’t be so complacent about the threats to the unity of our country. Remainers and soft Brexiteers have made life easier for the SNP. I hope we don’t live to regret this. But any sort of Brexit still makes the SNP’s task of persuading a majority of Scots that independence is desirable and viable harder than it would have been if we had voted to Remain. Our key strategic goals remain the same and they are related. We must get out of the EU completely in order to maintain forever the unity of the UK.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/07/scottish-chequers.html