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When it comes to the EU – there’s no going back

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SCOTLAND WILL NEVER go back to being an EU country unless the rest of the UK does as well, and that seems pretty unlikely, not in the short, medium or long term. There are well rehearsed political and financial reasons for not doing so, but there is also a democratic reason too.

The political reason is easily understood.

Several EU countries have the potential for breaking up in to smaller constituent units, and with Spain in particular, the consequences of that could be very bad indeed given its history during the 20th Century, and the fact that a high proportion of its population still lives with the division and pain of that. Political break-ups will not be encouraged and vetoes will be used, whatever is said when there’s no pressure to admit the truth. End of story.

There are also rules to be obeyed, the main one being the financial criteria required for entry. An independent country with no financial track record is not going to be admitted. The EU already has enough members who are net recipients of funds. Is Scotland important enough to make an exception for? No, we are not. Even without the political disincentive  above, this is enough to prevent entry, but of course, there is that political angle as well. So, there are two huge barriers.

But there is a third reason as well. Given the choice, would we actually want to go back?

Imagine a situation in which three hugely unlikely if not impossible events were to line up. Firstly, Scotland votes to become independent, secondly the Spanish say, “Aye, nae bother…!” – and thirdly the EU decides it wants to take us in anyway and waive the rules to allow that to happen.

Would we then choose to join? 

If the situation did arise, it would be at least a decade down the line. The EU and the UK will have diverged by that point, possibly to a fairly significant extent. The EU will be a different institution to what it is today. The Eurozone crisis which is still with us will have to be addressed. The EU Commission will have to accept criticism that it is not actually very good at doing things. Witness, for example, the Covid vaccine roll-out fiasco, its failure to deal with the migrant / refugee crisis, its weak response to Russian aggression in the Crimea, its ongoing failure to be able to sign-off accounts without qualification.

If all the 27 other EU countries were given a referendum on remaining or leaving, how many would vote to remain? Not even France or Germany could take that for granted. The EU is not held in high regard by its citizens. The EU will have to address all these issues, and ultimately, it will have to decide whether it can control things better by doing more, or doing less.

The evidence we have is that the EU will try to become more effective by exerting even greater control over its member states. The Eurozone crisis in particular is huge, bigger than we can imagine. As a single currency it doesn’t really work because the different economies are so far apart in how they work. Greater centralised control is likely to be the eventual outcome, brutal and all as that might be to economies that don’t align that well with Germany. The EU is likely to become a much more centralised state in which peripheral nations will have to suffer the whims of the big boys.

Whatever the detail of this, the EU we might want to join in the future, if indeed it still exists, will look quite different to what it does today. Its leaders will become less and less willing to indulge debate and vetoes. This becomes a far less attractive prospect, especially to smaller countries.

Another Referendum 

In practice, this means that no future Scottish Government could just assume it can re-enter, simply because the terms and conditions would be different. There would have to be a referendum in Scotland first, and we can speculate on the outcome of that. From a purely democratic perspective, this would have to happen.

Scotland voted to Remain in the EU by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. I was one of the 62 per cent.

In a future referendum, the 38 per cent are still likely to vote to stay out.

The 62 per cent contains a proportion of committed nationalists who voted to Remain through gritted teeth for strategic reasons, believing this would help make their case for Scottish independence. Mhairi Black MP has admitted as much, but there will be others as well. The only campaign message we heard in Scotland in 2016 was “If Scotland votes to remain, and the rest of the UK votes to leave, then that is grounds for independence.” We heard no other message. The argument being put forwards was a strategic one.

Nevertheless, we found out after the vote that SNP supporters were more likely to have voted to Leave than any other party. We know that anecdotally, many SNP activists and supporters simply refused point blank to hand out pro-EU leaflets in 2016. Their leaders and their supporter base where often saying different things. So, how many independence supporting Scots voted to remain through gritted teeth, but would quickly change their minds on the EU if they got their beloved Indy first?

The 62 per cent can only come down.

After Maastricht and certainly after the Lisbon Treaty there was no such thing as “Independence in Europe”. It is now just a slogan. It means… not very much at all.

Then there is the bigger question of what people like me might do, people who voted to stay in the UK and stay in the EU. It is assumed we will want to go back in to the EU – but will we?

If secession is achieved, then we will face a choice of two borders, one within Britain, and one in the North Sea. Going back in to the EU will make travel and working within Britain more difficult. If Scotland were to become independent, someone like me would almost certainly conclude that life would be better if we were all outside the EU, rather than some of us in and some of us out, with a barrier in between. So, as one of the 62 per cent, I would be reversing my vote as well. If some clever person can do a Venn diagram and look for the overlaps, they will probably conclude there are enough people in this category to reverse that 62 per cent endorsement.

Given the choice, there is no way that Scotland would choose to re-enter the EU if it did secede. That will not happen.

Will we become independent? 

I don’t believe that Scotland will vote to become independent, simply because it does not make sense, and the question of the EU simply makes the case worse, because it draws attention to all the issues the Yes campaign struggled with in 2014 which it has never been able to resolve. A border with England is not on for most Scots, having to join the Euro is a no-go area, swapping the larger (actual) UK market for a smaller (but theoretically bigger) EU one will trash our economy, and if we feel we have little say in a union of 65 million people, how much say will we have in a union of 450 million?

An independence campaign based on being taken out of the EU “against our will” was always a nonsense. If Ms Sturgeon believed that, she should have called for a referendum the day after the Brexit vote. That was when her party was at its strongest and the UK Government was at its weakest. It may have been a risk, but she would have set the political weather, and would almost certainly have been applauded for her bravery and gained international support. That was what Bruce or Wallace would have done. Ms Sturgeon would like to be thought of in the same terms, but at the moment of destiny, she didn’t have it in her, and the moment passed. She wont have a moment like that again.

I did a lot of canvassing in the 2014 campaign. There were two main issues then for people voting No. One was a range of inter-related issues around the economy (currency, jobs, pensions), and the other was a dislike of Alex Salmond.  The issue of the EU did not rank highly at all, and it is important that people realise that.

If the SNP wants us to become independent, it has to deal with the two big issues. The Salmond issue should now have been addressed in that the voters obviously don’t want him. The independence movement need to put him in a box and keep him there if they don’t want him to turn the people off to their cause. Even if they can do this, however, it now appears that Ms Sturgeon may have taken over this mantle of unpopularity, even with many of her movement’s own supporters. Both are a liability to their cause in different ways.

More importantly, they have to address the economic problem, but given that they have had seven years to do this and are no nearer finding an answer to that, we have to conclude that no solution exists. Economic strength is the key argument for the Union, and it is that which gives us choices. There can be no other conclusion. When the penny drops with young people, the independence case is gone, as happened in Quebec. Recent polls show that the money in their pockets is the most persuasive factor for them. We know from polls in 2014 that £500 more or less was enough to change votes, so what difference will a near £2000 annual Union dividend make in the end if we can persuade young people that this really is the case?

The EU is a dead issue now, and EU citizens living here need to understand that. They should know better than anyone that supporting a small nationalist movement is not going to end well. Ms Sturgeon is too leaky a vessel for anyone to put much hope in, and will let them down in the end.

Going or staying?  

There is a well known Only An Excuse comedy sketch, a parody of River City, about a man who went away, but then came back. When he came back, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be back, and the people he came back to were not sure they wanted him back either. The indecision and mixed messages and harsh words had ruined the relationship for everyone involved.

So, the EU will be suspicious about our intentions. We went away, and they may not want us back. The UK too will regard us with suspicion from now on because we have said we might go away, but will ultimately forgive us if we can change our leadership and start behaving as part of the family again. Salmond and Sturgeon “can git tae …” somewhere else.

Ultimately, the people will decide, and democracy will prevail. In the final analysis, with all the problems we have in the world, it is better if we stay together. Scots are canny, and will see that. We haven’t gone away yet. There are no bridges burned. Our options are still intact.

On the UK, I think we will stay together because we never have gone away. On the EU, we will not be going back.

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