The main lesson to take from the EU referendum in 2016 is that a positive, hopeful, patriotic argument beats a negative, pessimistic anti-British argument. The Remainers were unable or unwilling to make a positive case for the EU. They rarely told us of the benefits that the EU brings. There are, of course, many benefits to being in the EU. Some of these British people may well miss. But rather than make a positive argument the Remainers chose to go down the Project Fear II route. This is why they lost and it is also why they will lose any future General Election based on the same arguments. The British electorate is not going to vote for people who think Britain is so hopeless we can’t even manage to leave the EU. We are not going to vote for people who want Britain to fail and we are not going to vote for people who conspire with the EU to make it harder for us to leave. Remainers waving their EU flags and siding with the EU on everything look downright unpatriotic. It’s not a vote winner.
In Scotland we must learn this lesson too. Project Fear I, otherwise known as the Better Together Campaign, cost the Pro UK argument 20-30% of the vote. The paradox is that telling independence supporters all the awful things that will happen if they dared to vote to Leave the UK makes them want to leave all the more. Worse it converts some formerly Pro UK people or those who were neutral.
It is for this reason above all that I wish there were no Gers figures released each year. Hardly any Scots read them in any detail. We just read a few stories in the papers that are negative about Scotland. There is an annual argument where the “Pro UK” side pretends that these figures make Scottish independence impossible, which persuades not one single independence supporter to change his mind, but rather persuades some waverers to embrace the independence message as an antidote to all the negativity.
I have lost count of the number of new nation states that have been formed since around 1990. The breakup of the Soviet Union created 15. The breakup of Yugoslavia created 6. The breakup of Czechoslovakia created 2. Every single one of them managed. Some of them have done better than others. But the idea that Scotland could not manage outside the UK is as preposterous as the idea that Croatia could not manage outside Yugoslavia or indeed that Britain can’t manage outside the EU.
Leaving the EU will bring with it challenges that have to be overcome. But they will be far fewer than the ones that Estonia faced when leaving the USSR. The UK has been a fully functioning independent nation state for centuries. What’s more we know what it is like to live outside the EU, because we did so for all but forty of those years. The UK won’t have to set up the things that make being a nation state possible, like a currency, armed forces and a civil service. We have those things already. All we will have to do is set up trade relations and revert to doing ourselves what the EU at present does for us.
Scotland right now is much more prosperous than any Eastern European country. We also have a higher standard of living than most Southern European countries. We have good universities, wonderful scenery and lots of empty spaces. The best thing about living here is that our roads are less busy than elsewhere and our towns less cramped. Our beaches may be chilly, but we share them with few others.
If history had been otherwise, Scotland might right now be a successful independent nation state, but then so too could the parts of most European countries. If history had turned out differently, we might have an independent Saxony, an independent Burgundy and Portugal might have ended up part of Spain. It no more follows from the fact that Scotland could be independent that it ought to be than it follows for Bavaria or Flanders. Each of these places once was independent and no doubt could be again.
Would Bavaria be more prosperous if it wasn’t part of Germany? Who knows? Is Slovakia more prosperous because it ceased to be part of Czechoslovakia? The prosperity of both parts today is similar.
Independence would be a challenge. It certainly would involve a great deal more change for Scotland to leave the UK than for the UK to leave the EU. But after a few years these challenges would be overcome. Every other newly independent nation state managed. Why couldn’t Scotland? But after all that overcoming it probably wouldn’t change the standard of living here very much.
The Irish economy is closely connected with the UK economy even though Ireland hasn’t been part of the UK for nearly 100 years. The north-south divide in the UK which was caused by the industrial revolution is still with us. The south of Italy is much less prosperous than the north. But if the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had remained independent the people living there would doubtless still be less prosperous than those living in Turin and Milan. If Italy broke up and its parts became independent again, they would be no better off, for independence doesn’t change the economic fundamentals.
The nature of the Scottish economy today is a function of our climate, our land and our history. The industrialised parts of Scotland brought us wealth in the nineteenth century but became our rust belt in the twentieth. The challenge is the same for Glasgow as it is for Belfast, Newcastle and Swansea. Independence wouldn’t change that challenge and wouldn’t make it easier. People in Detroit and Pittsburgh might think that independence for Pennsylvania and Michigan would bring them wealth, but the question of what to do with old inefficient industry and how to revive once prosperous cities would be just the same and no easier to answer.
The UK is going to go through a major change if and when we leave the EU. Scotland would have to go through still greater change on top of this in order to leave the UK. If you think a “no deal” Brexit is scary and will involve disruption, then you will have to be aware that an independent Scotland would have to go through the process of setting up a new nation state while at least initially being both outside the UK and the EU.
No doubt we would manage, but I rather think independence supporters would be disappointed. Their socialist expectations would no more improve their standard of living than they have in any other country that has tried this experiment. They might find that low tax, free market post Brexit Britain was doing rather better. I strongly suspect that within ten years there would be Tories running an independent Scotland and we would have reverted to type. We would go back to being the careful, frugal Scots of history and the economics of an independent Scotland would be more Adam Smith than Common Weal, for that would be the only way to bring more wealth to our nation.
Prosperity requires the traditionally Scottish virtues of living within your means, hard work and carefulness with money. None of these require independence, which is a get rich quick scheme promising wealth without effort and if we just spend enough of someone else’s money we’ll all be rich. Scots have known for centuries that the opposite is true.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/09/the-pro-uk-argument-has-to-learn-from.html