Saturday, 26 December 2015

SNP threats over #Brexit are empty


William Hague has recently stated that although he dislikes much about the EU, he will be voting to remain. His arguments amount to the following. He thinks that we have to be in the single market to shape and benefit from it. He thinks that the EU despite its faults helps other countries to become and remain democracies. It is therefore, he thinks, not in the interest of the UK to weaken the EU and add further uncertainty into an already uncertain world. He furthermore thinks that the UK voting to leave the EU may lead to the breakup of the UK itself by encouraging the SNP to have another referendum.

The first thing to realise about the EU single market is that you don’t need to be in the EU to have access to it. There are presently four countries that have this access without being members of the EU. The idea that Britain would not have access if we leave is therefore strange. It’s in no-one’s interest to erect barriers to free trade. Everyone would lose out. It’s in no-one’s interest either to prevent free movement of labour. Imagine if suddenly the EU said that Brits could not live and work in Poland. Well this would affect few of us. I imagine some English language teachers might have to leave Warsaw. But we’d probably be able to survive that. On the other hand if Britain said that Poles no longer had the right to live and work in the UK, this would have rather more severe consequences, both for Poles and the UK economy. Far more Europeans want to live and work in the UK than the other way round. So the likelihood of Brits not being allowed to live and work in the EU after Brexit must be vanishingly small. This is not least because there is no reason to discriminate against Britain when the Swiss have access to the single market and can live and work anywhere in the EU they please. Of course, the EU could decide to take revenge on Britain for leaving. But really the UK and the EU have things that we want from each other, each side would lose out if we started playing tit for tat. This then would form the basis for a deal.

I think Mr Hague is really worried about not being able to shape the EU single market. Whenever there is a summit, he or his friends and colleagues would not be there. That’s tough for them, but I’m not sure it’s of much interest to the average Brit. The truth of the matter is that we have almost no influence as it is. Mr Cameron went to the EU with a list of reforms and has pretty much found them all rejected. There no doubt will be some token gestures, but nothing fundamental. We have minimal influence on the EU for a simple reason. We chose some time ago not to take part in the two key EU projects which would they hope lead to ever closer union. We decided not to join the Euro and we decided not to join the Schengen zone of passport free travel. The reality is that we are not going to shape the single market whether we are in or out of the EU. We are not going to shape anything much as we ceased being a core EU member long ago.

Would Britain leaving the EU damage the EU? The EU has had a pretty rough few years. The economies of the southern European states are in terrible trouble. The Euro far from fulfilling the dreams of its founders has turned into a recession machine. On top of that we have had a crisis in the Schengen zone, with members erecting barriers to prevent migration from outside the EU. Britain leaving the EU would certainly be a blow. We might well set an example to other countries to do likewise. But here’s the thing. If the UK left the EU, we would become once more a fully sovereign state. The UK Parliament would no longer be trumped by anyone else. Our MPs would be the final arbiter of our laws and we would be able to kick them out if we disagreed with them. The fundamental problem with the EU is that we are ruled by people we cannot kick out. We didn’t elect Mr Juncker and we can’t get rid of him. We don’t elect the European Commission. Its members are appointed. No one can kick them out. This is not much of an example of democracy for countries moving towards this path. A fully democratic UK with as much sovereignty as the USA would provide a far better example of democracy. The USA would not allow a foreign court to tell its parliament or its president what to do. Canadians wouldn’t allow this, nor would the Japanese. Each of these countries functions perfectly well without being ruled by a supra-national body. They have free trade and good relations with their neighbours. They are all better examples of democracy than the EU.

For years people have been predicting the breakup of the EU. Whenever there is another crisis in the Eurozone we wait with anticipation for Greece to get kicked out and for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down. If it was going to happen, it would have happened already. The EU and the Eurozone is for life, not just for Christmas.

But the EU is going to change, no matter what the UK decides. There are going to be different classes of membership of the EU. There is going to be the core group of Eurozone members and then there are going to be the rest of us. The latter could even be called associate members and may well include those non-EU members of the single market and Schengen zone. There are going to be different rules according to these factors. Is a country a member of the Eurozone and Schengen? This puts it in the core. Is a country only a member of Schengen? This puts it in the associate members. Is a country neither a member of Schengen nor the Eurozone? This frankly makes it less of a member of the EU even than Switzerland.

The core EU countries are going to move towards ever closer union. The end point of this will be some sort of federal United States of Europe. But however we vote in an EU referendum, we won’t be part of this, not unless we choose to join the Euro and Schengen. Whatever happens we will end up an associate member like Switzerland and any other EU country that decides it doesn’t fancy joining the Euro or Schengen. In one sense, therefore we will leave the EU, no matter what which way we vote.  We’ll be like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland et al, or rather we’ll be less full members of the EU even than they, for they after all are part of Schengen. The reality is that we are this already.  In another sense we’ll remain in the EU whichever way we vote. We’ll keep some aspects of the EU, such as the single market and the rules that go with it and we’ll keep free movement of people, perhaps with some slight modifications. We’ll keep these things no matter what, not least because there isn’t a single country in Western Europe that doesn’t have them. Alternatively you can believe that voting to leave the EU casts the UK into outer darkness.

The issue then is how we get to this associate member status. This could also be described as how do we get to where we in fact are. Do we get there by a process of negotiation or do we get there by being told what the nature of our associate membership will be. If we vote to leave the EU, the end point will be some sort of associate membership the terms of which will be determined by negotiation. The only way to get any sort of renegotiation on the terms of EU membership is to ask to leave. Anyone who doubts this should read the Lisbon TreatyOnly when a country asks to leave the EU can negotiations even begin. Until then it’s just a lot of fluff as Mr Cameron is finding out.

So if we vote to stay in the EU we will end up with associate membership and if we vote to leave we will end up with associate membership. In some ways the referendum is about nothing. But what hand would you rather be playing? That’s the issue. That indeed is the only issue. 

What of Scotland? Well the SNP will want to hold another referendum on independence whether or not we vote to remain or leave in the EU. They don’t need an excuse. Their only reason for wanting a referendum last time was that they won a majority in the Scottish parliament. Even if Britain votes to stay in the EU, it may well be that in a few years that the SNP will want to have another go. The thing with nationalism is that you can’t appease it. You can’t say if only we do this or that the SNP won’t want another referendum. Whatever you do, they will want another referendum. Mr Hague might be better learning from how the Spanish deal with secession movements. It's very easy indeed to make their threats empty. You just have to say No. Sorry Nicola, the people said No. Bye. 

As I’ve long argued however, leaving the EU makes Scottish independence far less likely. It virtually makes it impossible. Membership of the EU is the condition for the possibility of sub-nation nationalism. All the things that everyone in Scotland likes about the UK, such as the pound, such as an open border, depend on Scotland and the UK having the same EU status. If the UK voted to leave the EU and Scotland voted for independence in order to stay, it would be impossible to argue that life would continue more or less the same. In these circumstances independence becomes a massive leap into the unknown. Given the nature of the Scottish economy at present, given our dependence on subsidy from the rest of the UK, the idea that a vote to leave the EU precipitates Scottish independence is very dubious indeed. Nicola Sturgeon would love Scotland to be independent, she will bluster and complain, but she knows in her heart that we cannot afford it. Until and unless that changes Scottish independence is a dead parrot. You can bash it all you like, it won’t wake up.

Almost no-one in Scotland wants to join Schengen and almost no-one wants to join the Euro. A few may fancy being an independent Scotland within a United States of Europe. But small countries with struggling economies are not treated very generously by the EU. In the end no-one in Scotland will object if we end up with associate member status of the EU. Access to the single market plus free movement of people is all pretty much anyone in Britain wants.  How many voters in Scotland are going to climb the barricades for the sake of the Common Agricultural Policy or the latest regulation from the European Commission about light bulbs? There are no grounds for the SNP complaining, though they will of course complain. Scotland as a part of the UK is going to end up with associate membership of the EU, no matter what. But really we have that already, the issue is simply whether we get to renegotiate the terms of our membership. That’s the choice. The SNP do not need a reason to seek divorce from the UK, but even they might realise that these are not grounds, not least because this sort of semi-detached relationship with the EU will be just as popular in Scotland and within the ranks of the SNP as it will be elsewhere in the UK.

Leaving the EU is really just about renegotiating how we relate to this group of countries. You can call this staying in the EU if you like. The difference is as much linguistic as anything. In many ways Switzerland is already more of a member of the EU than the UK is. The same EU single market rules apply to them, plus the additional rules that govern Schengen. The only issue that matters is how best the UK can get the relationship with the EU that most of us whether Europhile or Eurosceptic, or somewhere in between want. Unless you want to join the Euro and Schengen, you want a different relationship to the EU than that which Germany or France has. In that case you want membership terms that reflect this difference. But it is now obvious that nothing whatsoever will change until you vote to leave. At that point we can renegotiate a relationship that reflects the long term fact that we are not a part of the core EU. The rules and duties that apply to Eurozone/Schengen countries as they move towards a United States of Europe ought not to apply to us. It’s not fair that at present many of them do. Mr Cameron has been asking for some of these rules to change. No-one wants to listen. The only way they will listen is if we vote to leave. 

11 comments:

  1. "UK voting to leave the EU may lead to the breakup of the UK itself by encouraging the SNP to have another referendum"

    Deary me - William 'heart of a lion' Hague cowed by the SNP. Who will save the UK from its glass-half-full career politicians.

    Focus on building and asserting a strong UK Wills and you won't have to be fearful of losing it, or even fighting for it in the first place.

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    1. I suspect he was simply trying to frighten the scaredy-cats in England into voting to remain within the EU. He knows full well that the SNP leadership would not be so daft as to follow the wishes of their lunatic fringe into economic oblivion.

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    2. I suspect he was simply trying to frighten the scaredy-cats in England into voting to remain within the EU. He knows full well that the SNP leadership would not be so daft as to follow the wishes of their lunatic fringe into economic oblivion.

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    3. Thanks coldwaterjohn, in that case I think his party overestimates the mileage obtainable from SNP-panto.

      BTW I had wrongly credited his position as a glass half full.

      It's the language of weakness that irks. Suggesting the choice is between the lesser of two painful existences, getting duffed up by the SNP or the EU.

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  2. This article contains a number of unsupported assertions especially those contained within the paragraph, “Almost no-one in Scotland…” – who did you ask? Where evidence is supplied it is linked to articles from the Telegraph, the newspaper than never prints unsupported assertions especially those sourced from the Scotland Office. Refuting or not, step by step, unsupported assertions would require quite a lot of research, research clearly not done which make the article look more like a rant than reasoned journalism. Indeed, the main theme of the article is not clear to me. Is it the EU hokey-cokey song the SNPBaad mantra?

    What the article fails to do, along with failing to convince me of the merit of the arguments contained within (the exception being at the end), is to consider the conundrum the SNP will face in choosing to campaign for remaining within the EU – look what good that did Scottish Labour in 2014 when it chose to be part of the Better Together campaign.

    Yes, UK voting to leave the EU may give the UK government a strong hand in negotiating how it exits but the same argument could (and should) have been made if Scotland voted to leave the UK. Had it done so, the subsequent negotiations may have led to a more democratic UK.

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  3. The arguments about leaving the EU are the same as they were about Scotland leaving the UK. Its all about finger pointing and laying blame somewhere else for perceived failings. Nats point at Westminster UKipers and their like point at Brussels and both camps ignore the realities that leaving would inflict upon the economy.

    I find it amazing Effie that you could argue for Scotland to remain in the UK and yet argue against the UK staying in the EU.

    You also never responded to the question I put to you about our trade deficit and leaving likely forcing a run on the pound and crippling interest rates, worth the risk?

    However I do agree that the Nats are in an impossible situation.

    Independence for Scotland is as far away as its ever been.

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  4. Meant to add this link: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/13/beware-balancing-act-george-osborne-false-economy

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  5. I'd agree bedelsten. I'm not quite sure where the argument in this piece is going. It's undeniable given the polling evidence that Scots are considerably more pro-EU than voters in the rest of the UK. I don't actually think the conundrum faced by the SNP is that important; moves for indyref2 will certainly be strengthened in the event of a differential outcome which sees Scotland voting to remain and the rest of the UK to leave, but Effie is (unusually) correct in as much as the outcome of the brexit referendum is immaterial to those campaigning for independence. Just like Labour and the Tories, the SNP has pro and anti EU people within its ranks. Attitudes as to whether an independent Scotland should be part of the EU in the event that the rest of the UK votes to leave will be coloured by many factors; Norwegian style association may indeed be the best bet but it's a discussion that can wait until the dust of the brexit vote settles.

    Like so many unionists, Effie and those who agree with her are blind to the fact that many of the arguments they use in favour of leaving the EU are essentially the same as those they rubbished and heaped ridicule on during the indyref. Simultaneously of course they continue with the false claim that those in favour of independence tried to claim it would be a risk free enterprise, whilst simultaneously over-emphasising the risks of independence and insisting that remaining in the union was and is risk free.

    In contrast, we are now treated to many of these self same unionists insisting that there are virtually no risks in leaving the EU and that staying will be a disaster.

    As you've noted already, the original article is long on assertion, short on evidence. In truth, the article encapsulates perfectly the way in which the 2 sides of the independence debate are increasingly talking past each other. Effie and her ilk are never going to accept that there is an economic case for independence; it is an article of faith to most unionists that Scotland is subsidised by the UK, that it would be an economic basket case post-indy, and that as such Scottish independence is practically impossible. Of course, it ain't necessarily so; most "reasonable" supporters of independence, and those few "reasonable" unionists not captured by a variant of the "too wee, too poor, too stupid" meme, are quite capable of seeing that just as there are risks and opportunities on both sides of the independence debate, there are pros and cons relating to brexit. However much unionsits insist it isn't so, there is nothing intrinsically ridiculous in an independent Scotland remaining part of the EU if the rest of the UK decides to leave, any more than it would be beyond the ken of man to envisage an independent Scotland outside the EU in the event that the rest of the UK decides to stay.

    It suits the purposes of "ultras" on both sides to predict doom and gloom. It is quite obvious from her output, conversion to Conservatism and Cassandra-like predictions of calamity that Effie is just such an ultra.

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  6. My views Effie: on the Union (Pro) and the EU (Pro) and redefining the open border between both parts of Ireland (against). So when I say this, you know I am not giving you a kneejerk reaction.

    Nailing the Union to the cross of Brexit is a folly. It will lead to Scotland leaving a go it alone UK. It is a dead end. The history of these islands proves that devolutionists will become Nationalists if the centre refuses to bend, as you advocate. The tragedy of Irish history is that so many in Britain are blind and deaf to its lessons.

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  7. The Republic of Ireland had a referendum and voted to leave the EU. The ROI Government under heavy pressure from the EU bigwigs forced another referendum which give the opposite result ( me thinks skullduggery played a part in this result. So much for the free will of the people, first time round. The EU Presidents and Commision will stoop to anything to keep themselves in their well paid unaccountable jobs. In the belief that better together is best for them but is it best for the ordinary citizens? The EU is a failing ideology and will crumble. Did you know that the EU can enter any EU country by military force if that country does not follow its directives! ( Sounds like the Nazis in WWII. ) Is the ever closer EU becoming the Federal States of Europe I.E. The Third Reich?

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    1. Where to start except to say your first sentence is factually wrong. Please inform yourself - there's a big Internet out there so ignorance is no excuse.

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