The politicking within the UK around our continuing membership of the EU continues to gain momentum. The latest contribution from Lord Lawson – let’s get out – has merely confirmed a growing trend. More and more people it seems want the UK to leave the EU. A referendum on this issue seems just a matter of time. Now, as someone who is strongly in favour of Scottish independence, I hope not to be able to participate in any such UK referendum. However this issue, that of the UK’s membership of the EU is relevant to the debate on Scottish independence. Will the recent developments have any effect on voting intentions in Scotland?
A first point is that all this talk of the UK leaving the EU merely shows up yet again how little influence Scotland currently has on UK policy. For all the talk of a partnership of equals, if a majority of the good people of England vote to leave the EU, then there is nothing that Scotland can do about it. For the UK is a most unequal construct. England dominates with over 85% of the population of the UK. Another related point is that this is not really a UK debate. All or nearly all the voices leading the charge to leave the EU come from England. UKIP, despite its name, is an almost wholly English party, as is pretty much the case with the Conservatives. So the first real lesson from the continuing rise of the anti-EU brigade is to bring out ever more starkly just how little power Scotland has in the UK.
The second lesson relates to the issue of the EU itself. A constant refrain from the NO camp is that Scotland will not automatically remain a member of the EU if we vote for independence. We will face very hard and difficult negotiations and might have to accept humiliating conditions. Why we might not even get to stay in the EU. And of course not being in the EU would be very, very damaging for Scotland. But, hey, wait a minute, aren’t some of the top Unionists advocating for the UK to leave the EU? And are they not saying that leaving the EU would be just wonderful? So according to some in the NO camp, leaving the EU would be terribly bad for Scotland, while according to others leaving the EU would be great for the UK. A tad confused? I await with interest how the Better Together team answer this one.
Related to the above is the whole issue of negotiations with the EU. The standard NO camp assertion is that negotiations between an independent Scotland and the EU will be difficult, onerous and lengthy, with an uncertain outcome. But what about the negotiations between the UK and the EU? If the UK did vote to leave, there would need to be some kind of arrangement with the EU to allow for continuing trade and co-operation. Both Norway and Switzerland for example have quite detailed and complex agreements with the EU so that their citizens and companies can get the benefits from the single market. Yet the anti-EU brigade assure us these negotiations will be easy peasy. Once again we have some Unionists asserting different things for Scotland and for the UK. Negotiations will be really hard for Scotland but easy for the UK.
What all of the above does show is that in the balance of risks and uncertainties about the future, there is much greater risk and much greater uncertainty regarding the position of the UK in relation to the EU than that of Scotland. Negotiations for Scotland to simply change its institutional status within the EU is much less problematic and much less difficult than negotiations for the UK to leave and create a whole new set of arrangements. Just how long would that take and just how uncertain will the outcome be? Over to the Better Together team to enlighten us with some concrete answers.
This current rise to prominence in the London and UK media of the issue of the UK’s place in the EU does raise important questions about the NO campaign’s assertions regarding Scotland and the EU. However one wonders if our totally biased Scottish media will pick up on any of this and subject the likes of Alastair Darling to some serious questioning. I am not holding my breath.