Scotland can leave the United Kingdom, but being a part of the European Union will bring its own set of unique problems.
The Scottish referendum debate continues to draw heat, but for all the wrong reasons. Mainly, because its outcome is so opaque, the debate is based on a number of flawed assumptions, and can never be resolved by anyone. Scotland wants change, but literally has no idea about how to go about it and what shape or form it might take.
But the idea of the union, for sure, is already an anachronism which we all need to get used to, even if Scotland doesn’t get to the finish line of a project in the making. But does that mean we have to scrap it altogether? What about a new United Kingdom with Scotland as a partner, but an independent country?
The problem is not whether Scotland wants independence. It’s clear it does. But the calibre of politicians driving the debate are so poor that even they can’t speak on behalf of a shiny new nation, which would almost certainly be an EU member state.
Most Scots, if there were a referendum today, would tell you they want independence and being a new EU member state is part of that plan (considerable amounts of hard cash in the form of agricultural grants and subsidies to its poor regions were lost to Brexit). But therein lies the real crux of the problem. If Scotland takes the path to EU membership, then a whole plethora of possible problems emerge way before it even gets to the finishing line of becoming the 28th member of the European Union.
Scotland doesn’t need one referendum. Or even two. It probably needs three, as most will want to become an EU member state but what type will determine the country’s identity for generations to come.
After years of listening to Scottish National Party MEPs in Brussels whine about Scotland modelling itself on an EU version of Norway, I’m not personally convinced that a referendum is the answer at all. It would be beneficial to many Scots to sit tight and wait and see how the UK fairs as an economy, which some experts are saying will hit 8 percent growth post covid.
It’s far too early to pour scorn on the UK and its teething problems with the bloc. Many Scots, like the Irish, will be shocked by the EU’s churlish attitude with the UK and how it made a dog’s breakfast out of the Covid-19 crisis.
Quite apart from Scotland’s own political elite and their in-fighting which might hold back a process of a referendum, there is the awkward issue of Boris Johnson blocking a new one being signed off. Many might argue that he won’t be around to complete a second term in office and a new Labour leader in Downing Street will support such an important poll. If Labour gets in. In Scotland itself, the Labour party is in such shambles, it doesn’t even have a leader at present.
But even if a referendum were to be agreed by Downing Street (possibly a future Labour government) the Scots themselves are going to have to decide early on who it is they cosy up to as their Big Brother: The EU, the UK or even Ireland.
If this isn’t decided before Scots go to the polls, a “yes” will only mean more indecision and more referenda to follow.
For example, the collosal borders problem we have seen with the UK and Northern Ireland will be replicated with the Scottish - English border and could make the Brexit one look almost like the Times Junior crossword in comparison.
Then there’s Scotland’s economy which has a budget deficit of 10 percent which the EU would not accept as it stands. The SNP party, if still in power, would be forced to close schools and hospitals to get public spending down to fall into line with ‘accession’ rules. This is hardly part of the EU dream for most Scots. Is there a way of getting independence and not having to take such measures?
And how will Scotland manage its border with the UK if it were to become a fully signed up member of the EU? Will the EU police it and harass the Brits who cross, confiscating sandwiches which don’t comply with EU rules? And who will carry out those rules? And then there’s the prickly subject of EU passports. Of course the Scots will have them, but what about the 800,000 Scots who live in England?
It’s a nightmare and makes what the Brits went through with Michel Barnier look almost endearing. And talking of tiresome French politicians, who some predict might take on Macron for the presidency, will he come back and haunt the English as a new negotiator for Scotland? This is possible, certainly but what is certain is that the negotiations themselves will be part of a political jostle between Westminster and the EU. If the latter keeps up its skulduggery over Britain’s exporters and their red tape – which is forcing many of them to start up subsidiaries offices in the bloc – then Scotland’s bid to become an EU member state might be delayed, or thwarted altogether.
Scotland having the EU as a partner for its own negotiations with Westminster is a bad idea as England will be its chief trading partner and it would be critical that relations were at least cordial with Westminster.
Brexit in many ways has made Scotland’s road to becoming independent faster, but to becoming an EU member state even harder. Independence might be a state of mind for many north of the border as the real deal might take years to come if it comes at all. Many Scots will come to realise in time that it’s their political elite which is the critical factor.
Some might argue that this model of being a completely independent state and a strong partner of the UK – or England – is the smartest offer on the table, given that the EU is heading towards a record low turnout at elections in 2024 and almost certainly a tipping point of far right groups reaching a majority in the European parliament. The EU might also not have Italy still in its eurozone or even be bereft of one or two other member states who will wet their lips at Britain’s record growth and foreign direct investment.
It would pay Scotland enormously to ease back on independence and take stock of how the EU and Britain fare as partners in the coming years. They have time, after all. Time is on their side.
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