November 17th saw the latest paper in the Scottish Government’s Building A New Scotland series, entitled An Independent Scotland in the EU. The stated purpose of the document is to set out “the Scottish Government’s vision for an independent Scotland in the EU”. Written in a manner suggesting it is aimed at not only the Scottish public, but also as a sales pitch to those decision makers in Europe, in whose hands Scotland’s future membership prospects lie, there is no consideration as to whether European Union membership has any downsides for the Scottish economy and the wellbeing of the population.
Popular opinion certainly appears to favour this approach, with repeated polls indicating a massive majority of Scots supporting rejoining the EU, reflecting the original will of the Scottish people at the membership referendum in 2016. This paper does not investigate the fact that remaining in the EU as part of the UK is a different prospect to joining the club as an independent state. Nor does it venture to explain the reasons for the failures in the Brexit process.
Brexit Moger (or Muddle for non-Scots speakers)
What it does detail are the areas of increased friction since the Brexit agreement. Trade, travel, education, import price increases, export hindrances and obstacles to research and development in pharmaceuticals, technology and space infrastructure are all real outcomes of the decision by the UK to leave the EU. The authors spell out the fact that with Scottish independence, a future in the EU, where all these issues are resolved, beckons.
The narrative is based on the comparison between the two Unions and an inference that the larger trade bloc, and potentially more influence in parliamentary affairs, would make membership of the EU a better outcome for the new Scottish nation. This is the only comparison explored. There is no examination of the pros and cons of EU membership as opposed to true global Scottish independence.
Is membership of the EU better than membership of the UK?
Under the current economic constraints imposed by the UK on Scotland, the EU economic policy platform could possibly provide the opportunity for an improvement of the living standards for many Scots. However, this is a low bar. The EU and the UK are two cheeks of the same neoliberal bahookie. The fundamental changes to a modern version of the pre-Thatcher social contract, valuing life above gross domestic profit, will be resisted by the EU establishment just as readily as by the power-base in the UK.
If Scots favour changing the constitutional settlement to bring about a wellbeing economy, policies like public-sector local procurement of goods/services and nationalisation of utilities and services will be fundamental. EU membership will be a difficult negotiation with people-based, instead of business-centric, economic policy proposals.
Inclusive or exclusive?
That a seat at the EU table provides the opportunity to trade with the 27 member states and the largest trading bloc in the world is one of the key benefits repeatedly highlighted by the paper. However, membership of this exclusive club creates barriers and restrictions to potential alliances in other continents. As a unitary state outside the EU and the UK, Scotland could trade with almost 200 nation states and could tailor each deal to the optimal benefit of both parties without interference or veto from London or Brussels.
Scotland would be free to partner nations or groups of nations worldwide. Obviously, Scotland has strong ties to the nations in the UK and Europe. However, there are historic and ancestral ties through the diaspora in the former Commonwealth nations, but also geographic links and thus, similar problems to solve as our Nordic and Baltic neighbours. African nations would benefit from the technological guidance in producing expensive foreign pharmaceuticals domestically.
The document mentions the concept of internationalism several times, however, it is used as a relative term to describe the relationships between Scotland and each of the Unions in question. The authors weigh up the unitary basis of the UK against the comparably internationalist form of the EU. This is a poundshop version of Rabbie Burns’s idea of international fraternity, where the spirit inferred is of good-will and reciprocity to the entire global community, Europe included.
The Brexit blame-game
Since the UK referendum resulted in expulsion from the European trading bloc, there has been universal condemnation of the decision. Blame has been laid at the feet of ill-educated voters, populist movements, insubstantial sound-bite debate and many forms of manipulation and deceit.
The fundamental truth is that any country, especially a state with the power and influence of the UK, could have made Brexit work. What the UK is suffering from in this post-Brexit dystopia is failure of government. The utter incompetence of UK ministers and politicians is apparent in the lack of preparation for transition, the failure to inform the public of necessary reforms, or perhaps even a failure of the politicians themselves to recognise the need for this reform in the circumstances.
By leaving the trading bloc, the UK Government was always going to affect international business in Britain. The disruption to supply should have been anticipated and mitigated by building domestic production to replace missing links in the chain. It could have been the triumphal reawakening of the productive industrial heritage that many Leave voters envisaged. Sadly, this Brexit for the common man was not to materialise.
The UK Government doubled-down on the unproductive model, clinging to the ethos of importing essential productivity and relying on a parasitic financial service sector to apply some gloss to UK gross domestic product figures. Instead of appeasing the disaffected, patriotic section of the population, the areas of grievance have been exacerbated. The lack of foresight and long-term planning by political parties, laser-focused on election success, is the primary cause of the current woeful state of the UK nations.
There are choices to be made for Scotland’s future, therefore, it is vital that the population are well-educated in the options available. The vision of potential directions of travel on offer should not be artificially blinkered to focus attention on the desired outcome of the establishment. If Scotland’s future is as a member of the EU, then let it be debated openly and honestly. Scots consistently voted for an alternative to neoliberalism within the UK structure. If Scotland is to accede to EU membership, it should be on Scotland’s terms, not constrained by rules imposed to bleed public funds to corporate giants at the expense of lowered living standards for hard-working Scots.
Perhaps aligning the new Scottish state with sensible EU rules and regulations while building a nation based on sufficient sustainability, universal guaranteed basic services and a reciprocal, open-handed attitude to global research and development would be the best path forward for humanity. Scotland will always be part of Great Britain, Europe and the planet geographically and will gain and provide most benefit by leaving the political door open, with a light on, for all. Through exemplifying such an ethos honestly, by matching rhetoric with action, the door will become obsolete.