Our concern is with the EU and the case for leaving. Indeed, the case for breaking the thing up. However, we feel we must comment on the proposed second referendum on Scottish independence because there are some obvious parallels.
By announcing her demand for another referendum immediately after Parliament agreed to the triggering of Article 50 but before the Government had a chance to do it, and by demanding that it take place immediately before the UK leaves the EU, Nicola Sturgeon was definitely “playing politics” as the PM said. Well, that’s her job!
The economics of the case for Scottish independence are clearly problematic because Scotland is in considerable difficulty, offset by substantial UK subsidies. However Scotland is not too small to become a successful nation, with the right policies. Several even smaller countries do extremely well but in each case they either have very valuable assets or have developed a strategic advantage in one or more sectors. Since Scotland can no longer rely on oil she would have to become very competitive, perhaps in finance and a few other industries, and by attracting inward investment. This implies aggressive tactics, such as low corporation tax (the Irish model) plus flexible labour laws, or whatever it takes. These are not things the EU would encourage, or maybe permit, should its membership application be accepted. Such things are very far from current SNP policies but it appears that independence is its overwhelming objective so might be willing in practice to radically overhaul its principles, perhaps by swinging from left to right if its voters will allow it.
Our criticism of the EU is that it cares more about “Ever Closer Union” than any benefits that might bring its citizens and this has led it into trouble. We fear the SNP has a similar problem with its “Independence Above All” agenda; it needs a clear view of what it can gain and what constraints it will cast off by leaving the UK.
We could analyse Scotland’s economic prospects outside the UK and show the dangers it faces but this would be to endorse another Project Fear. Let Scots weigh all the factors that matter most to them, not just economic, and decide.
If they decide to leave we should wish them well and not place unnecessary or unfair obstacles in their path, though of course we must be fair to ourselves (the rest of the UK) and not accept burdens they should take with them. If they prosper they will have shown us an example to encourage us to reform and compete, which would be beneficial. Should they flounder it won’t help us in any way but the solution would be theirs to find.
If they decide to stay on the other hand then this time it must really be “a once in a generation” vote. But that would probably happen anyway without legislation to prevent recurring plebiscites; Quebec had two independence referendums before the demand evaporated. It still matters that Scotland should use the powers its parliament now has to revitalise the nation, to give it pride and end the need to blame things on others.
The Catalans have been denied an equivalent vote – they held their own anyway but Spain ignored it, which is not the British way. Independence is a matter for the Scots to decide though the process is a shared responsibility. The Westminster Government does not need to agree to the most disruptive timetable the SNP can demand. How in any case could separation be arranged ahead of Brexit if the vote took place only a few weeks or months before?
We hope the UK will stay intact. Scotland united with England when it was in dire straits at the start of the eighteenth century and played a very full part in British achievements in science, engineering, exploration, soldiering, philosophy and other fields. We hope it will focus on how it can do so again.
Late news: Sturgeon has now said she would not try to stay in or rejoin t
he EU immediately on leaving the UK but apply to join EFTA instead – quite a climb down within just a day. A quarter of Scots who voted for independence also voted for Brexit so perhaps she feared she might lose those who want real independence. EFTA membership might satisfy Peterborough fishermen and those who simply want to stick two fingers up to the overbearing English but it won’t be truly free.
Stop Press: A poll published on the day Ms Sturgeon changed her mind indicates that a lot of Scots who want to leave the UK also want to leave the EU, but this is just a poll, not a vote so we won’t make too much of the numbers but you can find them from here:
The change of plan makes it even less arguable that the Independence-2 vote needs to take place in the final weeks of Brexit negotiations.