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The SNP is indulging in a dangerous illusion

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THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT that Gordon Dean is right to point out the dishonesty of the SNP position on a future borderwith the rest of the UK.

What was missing from his straight analysis, and the clear message from all those quoted, that as a future member of the EU it is inevitable there will be a hard and harsh border imposed and that we know that because ‘the Northern Ireland Protocol’ tells us that is the way it must be.

The SNP has tried to talk this away as if it is all in the imagination. In the Irish Times Nicola Sturgeon suggests the NI Protocol might be a ‘template’ for an independent Scotland in the EU.  She speaks like this is a) an option, and b) as if the Protocol is a massive success story.

First, an arrangement such as the NI Protocol is not in the gift or negotiating scope should Scotland become a member of the EU. The NI Protocol was a factor within negotiations for the departure of the UK from the EU. Joining the EU is all-in. The hybrid of Northern Ireland being in part within the EU Single Market while outside the Customs Union simply would not be available to Scotland.

Further the only reason the NI Protocol has not had greater impact is because the UK Government has implemented ‘grace periods’ (much to the annoyance of the EU). Grace periods are what they imply, temporary. The EU’s legal action against the UK for extending the grace period unilaterally demonstrates this.

Second, stories of hardship in commercial realities of sourcing goods from GB into Northern Ireland continue. A builders merchant having to add £1600 cost to a single import of goods for ‘sterilised pallets’ (not to mention other logistics costs) – apparently to prevent any disease entering the EU, bugs that will have remarkably appeared since January and never before!   A specialist food business has found that a simple order of four pallets of jam, marmalade and chutney from England required NINETEEN forms – the company expects this to worsen when ‘grace periods’ end.

The Ulster Farmer’s Union President, Victor Chestnutt outlined the immediate impact of the NI Protocol on farming, and on the long-standing relationship between Ulster and Scotland, particularly with livestock:

“There has been a 90 percent decline in the number of NI bulls going to pedigree sales in Scotland and the historic breeding sheep trade has been wrecked. No transition period for farmers was given, we moved straight from securing a deal into the implementation period. 

“Where legislation cannot be changed, flexibilities must and should be found. The EU have failed to recognise the unique situation of the whole island integrated supply chain. We were promised unfettered access to our EU and UK markets, however due to EU not granting flexibilities there has been no clarification if NI can access EU third country trade deals. This must be forthcoming.”

Does Nicola Sturgeon believe the EU would be so exceptionally keen to have Scotland as a member that it would ignore its ‘rules’, the very rules that are the very foundation of its being? That the EU would provide a Protocol for Scotland ‘with easements’ so it could join the EU without actually leaving the UK to any great extent? The NI Protocol has been implemented despite the harm being caused to trade between the UK and the Republic, so why would Scotland be so different?

Then there is the Common Travel Area which Nicola Sturgeon, in the same Irish Times piece, is reported to believe will carry on as ‘nobody with any credibility anywhere that suggests that Scotland would not continue to be in the Common Travel Area”.  Hard to find anyone actually talking about this anywhere, but again the lack of understanding of process is scary.

Nicola Sturgeon believes an agreement on the Common Travel area:

“…would require the agreement of Britain and Ireland and an opt-out from the EU’s Schengen open borders system…”

No. It would be a matter first for the EU as to whether an opt-out from Schengen would continue – and then whether Ireland and the UK would agree – or that the EU would agree even if the UK and the Republic consented. For the Republic and the UK the joint policy has been based on historic patterns where it was a decision to not enter Schengen and instead retain bi-lateral co-operation on internal borders – a 2011 Accord confirmed these arrangements.  Would a new member have the ability to opt ‘out’?

The point here is that perhaps no-one yet is asserting the possibility Scotland in the EU might not remain part of the Common Travel area of our islands, yet it is clear there is no guarantee this would be a reality.

The nature of the relationship Nicola Sturgeon believes to be the future of a Scotland in the EU is simply not credible, based on the reality of the NI Protocol.

The ‘imagination’ of what might happen in respect of significant other aspects of EU relationships with the UK (not the best at present) are simply that – musings and blind faith – that difficult issues will work out to Scotland’s best advantage.

The other aspect to joining the EU would be joining the Euro. Again, most recently on the Andrew Marr Show, the total lack of credible ideas on what would happen on currency and money was clear. In the Scotsman, Brian Monteith described her blustering performance on Marr as showing a ‘lack of preparation and match fitness’. That would suggest that had she been prepared and match fit she would have had a policy framework, and a credible case to present. Doubtful.

Again, the future of banking is easy to see in the Republic of Ireland. The commentator Niall Brady in the Sunday Times(Ireland) outlines the state of the banking sector currently. The £ billions the British Taxpayer sunk into Ulster Bank (then RBS) is now lost at sea. The Republic’s Banking sector is small:

“Heartless bankers in London and Brussels have decided that there is no future for their Irish offspring, Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland.”

Effectively that will leave two big banks in the Republic, AIB and Bank of Ireland. However:

“Yet the big two are big only in a local pond. At European level, they swim among the minnows. The European Central Bank believes the region has too many sub-scale lenders. The plan is to have the minnows eaten up by bigger fish.”

The upshot of which is that:

“Consolidation will inevitably involve more cost cutting, branch closures and job losses. It will also force the state to accept it will never recover all of the €29.4 billion pumped into the three remaining lenders — AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB — during the banking crisis. Based on their present valuations, the shortfall stands at almost €5 billion.” 

Consolidation, or takeover, of Ireland’s banking sector looms. Does Nichola Sturgeon believe that ‘Scottish Banks’ would have the size and strength to survive where Ireland has failed?

RBS was renamed in July 2020 to become Natwest, formally removing Scotland from the name of the lender’s parent company for the first time since it was founded in Edinburgh in 1727.

It is remarkable, with clear evidence to the contrary, that the SNP perpetuates the myth that an independent Scotland would not be ultimately subsumed by the dominant institutions of the EU and be required to draw a harsh line between itself and the rest of the UK. To believe otherwise is a dangerous delusion. Whether this is self-delusion or a wish to avoid spelling out the harsh realities to the electorate is hard to tell.

To the SNP ‘independence’ is a panacea to all the issues its own poor administration has allowed to fester. The delusion is that the EU will save the SNP from the consequences of itself. If these past months of 2021 to date have shown anything it is that the EU is no Big Friendly Giant. This is not a SNP storybook where everyone lives happily ever after.

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