There’s a cartoon floating about the Remain pages on Facebook just now. The strip depicts a Brexiteer galleon sailing towards a precipice while the canny Scottish crew-members have liberated a skiff and are making for the shores of the European Union. There are two things wrong with this sketch; firstly, the shores of the EU are not necessarily welcoming; secondly, the skiff is depicted with paddles. Scotland doesn’t have any.
On March 13th Nicola Sturgeon announced she would seek permission from Westminster for a second Independence Referendum. Although Theresa May dismissed the announcement as “playing politics” she is unlikely to refuse the request for fear of reinforcing the impression of Tory Imperialism over Scotland. Sturgeon is looking for a date around autumn 2018 to spring 2019; when the UK is in the midst of the Brexit negotiations, so the Nats can manipulate the uncertainty surrounding the deal-making in their favour. Theresa May, quite rightly, wants a date after the Brexit talks are completed and the Scottish people can make an informed decision with knowledge of their future prospects. Morbid as it is to say so, delaying a plebiscite could mean there are fewer of the elderly voters around who saved the day in the 2014 Independence referendum, while more younger voters, keener on separatism, could be of voting age.
Despite wanting to leave the EU in the 1975 membership referendum, the SNP now claims to have EU molecules in the party’s genetic constitution. However, a recent Scottish Attitudes survey carried-out between July 2015 and January this year showed that 43% of respondents want the EU’s powers reduced and 17% want to leave, more than at any time since 1999. This compares with 43% favouring reduced powers and 22% wanting to leave the UK as a whole. This means that over 60% of people in Scotland can be classed as Eurosceptic, just five points below the figure for Britain as a whole and higher than recorded by any previous Scottish Social Attitudes survey. Given also, that the Nats are a zibaldone of opinions from across the political spectrum united only by their love of Braveheart, tying independence with EU membership to tightly could be a dangerous existential game for the party.
As mentioned above, the shores of the EU are not necessarily welcoming to an independent Scotland. Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis recently stated during a visit to Peru that “Spain supports the integrity of the United Kingdom and does not encourage secession or divisions in any of the member states. We prefer things to stay as they are”. He then added that “If by mutual agreement and under the constitutional regime, Scotland ends up being independent, our thesis is that it can’t stay in the EU. It would have to queue up, meet requirements and go through the usual negotiations”. Also, the Icelandic foreign minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson has torpedoed the auxiliary option of EFTA membership for an independent Scotland by stating that applications would not start until the country is fully independent, which could take several years, leaving Scotland deeply indebted and economically rudderless.
This brings me onto the metaphor of a paddle-less skiff. According to the IMF World Economic Outlook for Spring 2016, if Scotland was an independent nation, its deficit would be -10.1% of GDP , twice as bad as Japan (-5.2%) the next most indebted nation, and more than twice that of the UK as a whole (-4.4%). Even if the EU conditionally accepted Scottish membership, the deficit would need to be below -3% for entry. Such a debt-restructuring process required would make the current Tory austerity regime seem very tame.
Scotland’s greying population and weak tax base has long been offset by the bounty of North Sea Oil, but the OBR now forecasts revenues to average around £0.7 billion a year between 2015–16 and 2019–20, rather than the £2.6 billion a year it anticipated just a few months ago. According to the Financial Times, Scottish GDP in the third quarter of 2016 grew 0.2 per cent while equivalent UK growth was 0.6 per cent. Compared with the same period of 2015, Scottish GDP was up only 0.7 per cent, against the UK-wide figure of 2.2 per cent. Despite a financial black hole of an estimated £15 billion that has risen under the SNP’s watch, a HM Treasury report from autumn last year showed that £10,536 of public expenditure is spent, per capita, each year on people north of the border. That’s £1,460 more than the UK average of £9,076.
Out of nearly £591billion of UK public spending in 2015-16, England accounted for £483bn, Scotland £57bn, Wales £31bn and Northern Ireland £20bn. The Scottish government’s own figures from January this year demonstrate that 63% of Scotland’s trade worth £49.8 billion is done with the rest of the UK, compared to 16% worth £12.3bn with the EU. Only someone who believes the Battle of Stirling Bridge was fought in a field, could deny the exponential benefits of Scotland’s 320-year old Act of Union with England.
Now I have a confession to make. Though initially supportive of Brexit, I turned towards the Remain-side and eventually voted to stay. I did so because as campaigning wore on, I became disillusioned by a creeping populism and xenophobia, that I feel, won the day to an extent. I also felt it logically inconsistent to have campaigned for ‘the bigger picture’ during the 2014 Independence Referendum, only to quibble about my gripes with the CAP, CFP and European Arrest Warrant, during the EU Referendum. However, it was the UK as a whole, that voted to leave the EU, not the constituent parts, and I accept that decision.
At a recent PMQ’s Theresa May confronted the SNP’s deputy leader Angus Robertson’s threat of another Scottish Independence Referendum by declaring “Scotland will be leaving the European Union, either as a member of the United Kingdom or if it were independent, as it is very clear from the Barroso document that it would not be a member of the European Union. What we need now is to unite, come together as a country, and ensure that we can get the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom”. And that I believe is what Remainers like me must do. Another Independence Referendum will only disrupt and misdirect energies that should be channelled towards pressuring the government for a suitable deal with the EU that preserves free-market access and secures a solid base for the UK’s future prosperity.
Callum is a free-thinking Whig politically and plant machinery operator professionaly
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty