Okay, over the past few days i’ve been the recipient of a lot of comments from UK unionists, or if you like call them British Nationalists, on the subject of why Scotland can’t stay in the EU despite recently voting 62% to remain in the European Union.
The main talking points have circulated around:
1) The idea that it was a “UK wide vote” so therefore the Scottish result is irrelevant
2) The fact that in 2014, there was 55% support for Scotland not becoming independent, as shown by an official referendum
3) The idea that there is no possibility of Scotland staying in the EU if the rest of the UK leaves the EU.
4) The claim that Scotland can’t have another independence referendum because the last one was only two years ago, and the outcome was “No”.
All of these ideas are at least partially false, so here is a little bit of informal exploration of these ideas.
SCOTLAND CAN’T STAY IN THE EU, FULL STOP
On the face of it this makes sense. On the other hand we already know there are exceptions to this thinking both inside and out of the UK, and the EU. Take the case of Hong Kong as it relates to the UK and China for instance, or Denmark, the Faroes and Iceland. Or even Norway, Sweden and Finland. These countries and territories all have varying statuses regarding the EU (or the UK in the case of Hong Kong) despite the fact that they are by no means all independent from each other, or in the case of some Scandinavian countries, they are independent but they still are in the Schengen agreement and other EU treaties (some of which treaties some EU member states, such as the UK, are not, for example the UK isn’t in Schengen, or the eurozone).
In short, there are options. The EU does take a hard line on the fact that you can’t be in the single market without also accepting free movement of workers, which makes sense, but the other stuff is negotiable. It doesn’t even have to be negotiable within the EU. Look at Gibraltar, which is in the EU as part of the UK, and contrast it to the crown dependencies, Man, Jersey and Guernsey, which aren’t in the UK or the EU but which share UK defence and foreign affairs strategy (they pay the UK for the privelege of being protected by the British armed forces). That will continue regardleaa of the UK’s EU status. Contrast those again with Scilly and Wight, which are in the UK just like Gibraltar (and so therefore are in the EU). There are plenty of exceptions, so this idea that Scotland simply can’t possibly be in the EU if the UK leaves is nonsense. Something could be worked out.
REPEL ALL BOARDERS!
The hard border issue is another related issue to that. Many claim that if Scotland were to remain in the EU there would have to be a hard border with checkpoints and passport controls between Scotland and England. People who claim this clearly ignore or know nothing about the notable absence of hard borders between Northern Ireland and Eire whether they were in or out of the EU, and there are a number of other examples where land borders exist both in and out of the EU, and in and out of the Schengen area, and yet there aren’t these hard border restrictions. Again, it’s clear these things can be worked out to the benefit of everyone, with a bit of negotiation.
SCOTLAND VOTED TO REMAIN IN THE UK!
Not quite. In 2014, Scotland was offered the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No”. You will note the clear absence in that question of the United Kingdom. The result of that vote was 55% No, meaning that the consensus, by a small margin, was that Scotland should not be independent.
This ties in neatly with claims made by many British nationalists,and some of the anti-EU supporters of Scottish independence, who say that EU membership isn’t “real” independence anyway. This is usually meant as a slapdown, i’m not sure they’ve thought through the implications of what they’ve said. Let’s explore that now. If indeed EU membership is NOT real independence, then it follows that if Scotland did remain in the EU, it would not have real independence.
Did you get that? If it remained in the EU, Scotland would not be independent.
If that is true, then it means the 2014 result would be upheld.
To put that another way, SCOTLAND CAN LEAVE THE UK and the result of the 2014 indyref, that Scotland should not be an independent country, would still be honoured, since EU member states aren’t “really” independent.
So, to summarise, imagine Scotland stayed in the EU, and this meant it was not truly independent, THEREFORE the result in 2014, which said that Scotland should not be independent, would be satisfied completely. Scotland would not become independent at any point and that 55% majority would have been respected.
This is doubly true considering that during the 2014 campaign the leaders of both Labour and the Tories strenuously insisted that the only way to safeguard Scotland’s place in the EU was to vote No to independence. It therefore follows that those who voted No in 2014 did so in the firm belief that Scotland would continue within the EU as a result of their vote.
So if anyone tells you that arguing for Scottish membership of the EU goes against the 2014 indyref result, you can quite clearly see how the exact opposite is true.
In fact Scottish membership of the EU would be the ONLY way to guarantee that both recent referendum results were respected, meaning the 2014 result, and the 62% result in Scotland to remain in the EU in 2016.
Try explaining this to a British Nationalist and see what they say. Go on, try it. They can get very desperate indeed. I’ve even been called a “separatist” for wanting Scotland to remain within the EU, and this from the same people who only four months ago voted to take the UK out of the EU! Do they know what the word “separatist” actually means?
GET OVER IT!
Moving on now to the idea that “we voted as a united kingdom, so we have to brexit as a united kingdom”, well that’s simply sloganism. We’ve seen above that in the real world, any number of ifs and buts can be put into practice if there is a will to do so, and you can easily argue that there is a democratic will to keep Scotland within the EU, regardless of the fate of the UK, however, how could we move forward, and indeed “get over it”?
One enticing solution, which has received virtually no attention at all (until this week, when James Kelly mentioned it on talkradio.co.uk and Gordon Macintyre-Kemp mentioned it rather lightly in The National) is English independence.
Simply put, the UK could remain in the EU, with no changes to its various opt-outs and so on, and this would satisfy Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of whom had quite a decent Remain result. England, on the other hand, could exit the UK. We know that Scotland, Wales and NI wouldn’t try to block that, don’t we? Certainly if they did, there would be no way they could block it, since ultimately it would fall to the courts to decide, and it seems incredible that the UK court system would block a move from Westminster to declare English independence, doesn’t it?
Wales, of course, is legally part of the Kingdom of England, though in this day and age it is often talked about as a member state of the UK, like England, Scotland and NI. Either way, Wales did have a Leave majority, so it could just stay affiliated with England, as it has done for centuries, or if there was some sort of Welsh movement to declare independence from England and stay in the new UK (and thereby stay in the EU) while England exits the UK, and the EU, well, that’s a matter for England and Wales internally.
Either way the result would be two states coming out of the former UK, a Kingdom of England, with Wales in it or otherwise, and a new United Kingdom, essentially the continuing state from the current UK, containing any parts of the current UK that wished to remain in the EU.
It’s difficult to see why this solution wouldn’t appeal to those who voted to leave the EU, certainly the 17 million or so who live in England. Effectively, they would get exactly what they want, and they would also get back Engish sovereignty, in a way even they probably hadn’t dared to hope for.
From an EU perspective, the UK wouldn;t enact Article 50, and wouldn’t leave the EU. None of the conditions would change, except for a bit of working out about how much money goes in each direction and how many MEPs we get to elect and so on. I honestly can’t see any reason why this wouldn’t be the solution which suits the most people.
You could even say that those in England who want to remain in the EU would be free to relocate to the new UK, and those in Scotland, NI etc who wanted to leave the EU could move to England (though considering the anti-immigrant narrative attached to the Leave campaign, that’s a bit more of a grey area).
SO WHAT ABOUT INDYREF2?
Well, the argument that Scotland shouldn’t be allowed to vote again on independence, if it wants to, is ridiculous, and of course undemocratic. The sticking point is that a majority of Scots don’t want to vote again, and support for independence is still lower than, or hovering around, 50% despite all that’s happened over the past two years or so, according to recent polling data. That’s probably why voters in Scotland want another indyref, because many on the Yes side don’t believe they can confidently win it, while many on the No side fear that the Yes side actually will win it this time round.
This is why i believe we need to include the “not real independence” narrative in the next campaign. If there is another referendum it will not be on the subject of whether Scotland should be independent, it will be on the subject of whether Scotland should be in the EU or should stay in the UK as is post-Brexit.
Now bear in mind that for this i am assuming the issue of English independence is not a factor, so basically the choice Scots might be faced with is: stay in union with England, Wales and NI outside of the EU, or else stay in the EU, but as a separate member state.
Neither of those choices is “independence”, as discussed above, but the latter may satisfy what the majority of 2014 Yes voters wanted. Basically this will help those who have emotional connections to Yes or No, held over from the 2014 vote, to realise that things really have moved on, and that they really can choose again based on the issues facing Scotland in the here and now. Perhaps support for “Scotland in the EU” would be much higher than the 47% support for Scottish independence that was reported this week, after all support in Scotland for the UK staying in the EU was 62% just four months ago, presumably support for “Scotland in the EU” would fall somewhere between 47% and 62%?
In any case, those are my thoughts: English independence as an inexpensive and easy solution which suits as many people as possible, and the abandonment of “independence” as a central narrative when it comes to the indyref2 campaign, in favour of a more honest debate about the merits of “Scotland in the EU” vs “Scotland in union with England (and possibly its partners)”.