BY EFFIE DEANS
We have all rather forgotten about Brexit in the past few months. Whatever damage Brexit might have done to the economy is trivial compared to what Covid has done. Being locked up in our homes with an illness killing thousands with no end in sight has rather put other matters in perspective. If we can manage Covid and we will have to, we will certainly be able to manage Brexit.
It doesn’t look as if the EU and Britain are going to be able to come to any sort of deal. So, it’s going to be a no deal Brexit in the end anyway. Whatever remains of the Withdrawal Agreement signed last January will be gradually dispensed with or ignored. If Poland and Hungary can tell the EU where to go while being members, Britain can certainly do the same while not being a member.
Britain will be able to develop our own trade policies, pass our own laws and regulations and do what we please without paying the least bit of attention to the EU. In the end international relations come down to power and mutual self-interest. If they make it difficult for us to buy their produce, we will buy it from elsewhere. If they are angry, we can ignore their anger while also undercutting them.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP and lots of Scots Remainers will also be angry. Some of them will tell opinion pollsters that they will vote for Scottish independence. Some people will even believe them.
But politics in the end is about reality. What we are really concerned about is not so much ideals as standard of living. The biggest change that could happen to any one of us is not Scottish independence but losing our job and being unable to find another one.
The difference between living in a country that can afford generous benefits, good healthcare, decent schools and universities is very great indeed. If you think life is tough in Scotland try living in Eastern Europe or even Southern Europe. It’s an hour or so on a flight, but life is much tougher than here.
There is no automatic right to the standard of living that Scots enjoy. This is especially the case when we spend considerably more than we earn and receive a subsidy from the British Treasury. Take away the subsidy and you are more likely to end up with Portugal or Poland than Denmark. If you want to live in Lisbon or Warsaw why don’t you move there rather than force the rest of us to live there too.
If you seriously maintain that Scotland at present does not receive a subsidy, how do you explain Kate Forbes continually asking for more furlough from the Treasury? Why doesn’t she simply refuse all Treasury money and raise all the furlough money from Scottish taxpayers? If you think Scotland is making a profit right now and could easily afford Universal Basic Income, why not say we don’t want any Treasury money and introduce it immediately? We don’t need Mr Barnett’s obsolete formula because we can manage just fine on our own. But Forbes cannot set a Scottish budget because she needs a UK budget to tell her how much Treasury money she is going to get. This is rather inconsistent with the claim that she doesn’t need it and could manage fine in an independent Scotland without it.
The mere fact that Scotland benefits financially every year ought to be enough to make independence supporters think twice about giving up free money, but a no deal Brexit ought to make them think twice for all sorts of other reasons.
You may be angry that Scotland did not have a veto on leaving the EU. But how could parts of the UK have remained in the EU while others didn’t? In an independent Scotland Aberdeenshire wouldn’t have a veto on EU membership because we were concerned about our fish. But anyway, whether you like it or not the whole of the UK is outside the EU. What does that mean for Scottish independence?
Well the problem is geographic as much as anything. When Wales and Scotland contemplate closing the border with England, they are really imagining what would happen if either Wales or Scotland chose the route of independence. What they forget is that almost everything that ends up on our supermarket shelves comes via England. Imagine if English lorry drivers chose to refuse to cross the border out of sympathy for Welsh and Scottish Covid fears. What would we eat?
If Scotland were independent and joined the EU, we would have to pay tariffs on everything in those English lorries and there would have to be a regulatory border between England and Scotland where the EU imposed its Common External Tariff.
In order to reach the EU free trade zone every single Scottish lorry would have to travel through England or else our goods would have to travel by air or by ship. What if England decided to charge our lorries a fee for using English roads as well as a tariff? Who would stop them? The SNP?
So, the SNP are offering us free trade with the EU with whom we trade relatively little, but we have to cross a hard border to get it. In exchange the SNP will give us trade tariffs with the former UK with whom we do most of our trade. If we are making a loss now, how will this turn it into a profit?
Worse still, because the EU requires all new member states to join the Schengen free travel area, which would mean anyone in the EU could travel without passport checks to Scotland, the former UK would have to regulate the movement of people just as much as trade. If they didn’t check Scottish passports and visas, people sitting in camps in Calais could simply fly or sail into Scotland and get a bus to London.
If Scottish voters knew the truth about what a no deal Brexit means for the prospects of Scotland joining the EU, very few would vote for it. This is why when Nicola Sturgeon writes in a German newspaper, she mentions none of these things.
But she must know that an independent Scotland could not join the EU for these reasons. She is therefore conning Remainer Scots.
The only alternative would be for Scotland to be neither in the UK nor in the EU trying to make a deal with both. But as we have just learned neither the EU nor the UK have to make a deal with each other, nor would they have to make a deal with Scotland. This is something that Nicola Sturgeon won’t tell you either.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.