Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Why Scottish independence is more likely if the whole of the UK stays in the EU

There is a theory going around in Scotland that if the rest of the UK (rUK) votes to leave the EU whilst Scotland votes for the EU then Scotland can have another referendum, and that in such circumstances Scotland is more likely to vote 'YES'. Certainly the first part has great force. Scotland voted against independence on the constitutional basis of EU membership, so it would be reasonable that, if it requested, the Scots could have another indyref. However, the second part, that the Scots would be more likely to vote 'YES' is much less clear. Indeed I rather think that they would be LESS likely to vote for independence under such circumstances.

This is contrary to received opinion, I know, and no doubt people will accuse me of lots of things, but hear me out. I am, of course, aware of all of the arguments, very attractive, of how an independent Scotland might have more in common with the European continent than an isolated (dare I say 'nationalist') England and maybe then a less connected Wales (and Northern Ireland). Maybe one can even think of a sort of nationalist domino theory with Scottish nationalism saved by left wing politics and an internationalist cooperative outlook.

But beware unintended consequences. Always beware. If the UK did vote to leave the EU then the  UK could indeed have more control over its immigration policy - but only if it left the internal market. It is of course possible that the UK could vote to leave the EU and remain in the internal market, but then that would ruin the whole point (as far as the average UKIP supporter is concerned) of leaving the EU since the UK would be obliged to keep its borders open to citizens from around the EU. Switzerland are facing this dilemma at the moment, and they have been told firmly that they cannot have it both ways, even though Switzerland is not in the EU (same applies to Norway). If you remain in the internal (economic) market, then you must observe all the rules about free movement of labour.

The point here is that if the UK left the EU, it would no doubt negotiate some sort of a trading agreement with the EU, but that it would, indeed, have control over its immigration policy. It would not be part of the internal market.  It could stop Poles, Bulgarians, Rumainians, etc and, if Scotland was independent, potentially Scots from coming to rUK and living and working there.

Now please note, I use the word 'potentially'. It is quite possible, indeed certain (assuming separation was done amicably rather than through secession) that there would be an agreement about English residency rights for Scottish citizens. However, who it might apply to and whether it could apply to future generations of Scots is less certain. How Scots could or could not expect to have their British passports renewed would also be left uncertain. What is more to the point the rUK Government is very unlikely to agree to be generous about such rights before a referendum. No doubt there would be the same sort of debate as occurred about whether rUk would agree to allow Scotland to use the £ as common currency.

However when it came to another indyref the threat (whether scare story or not) that Scots would be treated no more favourably than people from the USA or Canada in wanting to settle in the rUK would have to balanced against the attractions of Scotland being in the EU without rUK. Scots would be asked to compare the benefits of rights to settle in Sweden, Germany. Poland etc with the rights of settling in Manchester or other parts of England. I suspect that this might not weigh in favour of a 'YES' vote. Indeed, the fear of such an eventuality may end up undermining the prospects of even a new referendum vote.

The point that I'm getting at here is this. Scottish Nationalist support for Scotland remaining in the EU is very welcome. But I hope nationalists don't predicate this on any sort of hope that the UK will decide to leave the EU. I hope that Scottish nationalists do not start sniping at the pro-EU campaign being fought down south, as division in such a campaign may well lead to consequences that nobody wants. It is in everybody's interests to remain in the EU. Please let us all make that clear.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dave
    Nice points; thanks for sharing.

    I formed an opinion back in early 70s seeing the first wave of SNP (I lived and worked in Scotland) that EU provided the first real context for independence. (The same had applied to N Ireland earlier - civil rights movement- but that not surprisingly had got very nasty after a year or so.) In the absence of a British Empire and having had a resolution of the existential threat of WWII in favour of USA securing global security, the EU provided a supra-national economic and social context. Borders as such could disappear and common rules of trade and etc. made Scotland look viable.

    However, the old ways held together for longer than I could have thought. Now that the de-industrialisation of Britain seems to have finally caught up with the Labour Party we have, perhaps, the first British anti-austerity party looking for a new social settlement?

    Who knows how secure the EU is going to look even as early as next year, though?