Category Archives: postindependence

EFTA is not a stepping stone to EU membership

Before the UK joined the EU (or rather the EEC as it was called at the time), it was a member of EFTA, and when Norway twice voted No to joining, they remained in EFTA. Because of this, I think many people think that it would be easier for Scotland to join EFTA than the EU after independence. It’s not as simple as that, however.

Let’s define a few terms before we start:

  • EFTA consists of four countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. EFTA was originally a rival to the EEC, but today it basically contains a few countries that never joined the EU for various reasons.
  • The EEA (the European Economic Area) consists of all EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It is the area in which the Agreement on the EEA provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market. All EEA countries adopt most EU legislation concerning the single market, however with notable exclusions including laws regarding agriculture and fisheries.
  • The EU Customs Union (the EUCU) is a customs union which consists of all the member states of the European Union (EU) as well as Turkey (apart from agricultural goods) and a few micro-states. The EFTA countries do not form part of the EUCU.

When people talk about joining EFTA, they probably mean joining the EEA, too (like Norway) – I don’t believe there are many fans of the Swiss solution in Scotland.

It makes sense to think of EFTA + EEA (the Norwegian/Icelandic solution) as being a reduced version of the EU – it basically means being part of the Internal Market, but being in charge of trade agreements, agriculture and fisheries yourself. Also, EFTA/EEA countries don’t take direct part in the EU’s decision-making processes (no members of the European Parliament, no European Commissioner, no EU employees, and so on).

If Scotland were currently a fully independent country, it would make perfect sense to join EFTA/EEA as a stepping stone to full EU membership. It would basically mean joining in two rounds instead of one, which might be easier for people to adjust to.

However, Scotland is not a fully independent country, and neither is the UK. We have been part of the EEC/EU for fully 44 years, and that changes everything.

If Scotland went for a Norwegian/Icelandic solution after independence, we would need to develop policies for agriculture and fisheries from scratch, and we’d need to set up trade deals, customs schedules, WTO membership, and many more things. Many of those things would take a very long time to set up – the standard assumption is that new trade deals take about a decade to negotiate. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why Brexit is likely to become such a disaster — Westminster simply cannot set up these things quickly enough, so without a ten-year-long transitional period in place (which they’re refusing), the UK will fall back on the WTO’s standard terms, which will be disastrous, not least for agriculture.

In other words, if the people of Scotland wanted a proper Norwegian solution, it would probably take about a decade to set up after independence. During that decade, it would be really important for Scotland to remain inside the EU’s Customs Union.

By the way, it might be worth pointing out in this connexion that most Norwegian and Icelandic politicians don’t really like the EFTA/EEA solution. They can live with it, but they’d rather be in the EU. The main reason why Norway never joined the EU is because they’ve decided to spend a lot of their oil money on keeping their villages full of people, which implies subsidising their farmers (and keeping food prices higher) than the EU would allow. Iceland is so dependent on fisheries that it overshadows everything else; however, they’re now talking again about joining.

Anyway, back to Scotland. It’s quite possible that the EU will require us to apply for membership formally after independence, and although this is likely to be the fastest application process ever (because Scotland already ticks all the boxes for membership), it could still take a year or two. If Brexit happens a few months after the Scottish Referendum, we cannot be in limbo for that long. So Scotland should aim to to get membership of the EEA and of the EU Customs Union as a matter of priority after independence (hopefully it can be pre-negotiated informally beforehand).

Membership of the EEA and of the EUCU is not the same as the Norwegian solution, and it doesn’t really require membership of EFTA, either.

Once Scotland is a member of both the EEA and the EUCU, time is not of the essence any longer. We can afford to discuss membership terms with the EU in great detail, including getting a much better deal for the Scottish fishermen than what Westminster got, and if the deal on the table isn’t good, Scotland can look at negotiating its own trade deals and eventually leave the EUCU a decade or more after independence.

I’m perfectly happy for us to aim for EEA + EUCU membership as a stepping stone to EU membership, but we shouldn’t call it EFTA membership or a Norwegian solution, because it wouldn’t be.

Once we’re independent, it will be right and proper for the Scottish Parliament to discuss the pros and cons of EU membership versus mimicking Norway, and perhaps we should even have a referendum to settle the question. However, we need EEA + EUCU membership in the meantime.

Doing the same as Norway might be possible eventually, but it wouldn’t be a quick and easy solution, because we would need to develop policies for trade, agriculture and fisheries first.

I believe full EU membership would be much better for Scotland, but I’m quite happy to postpone this discussion till after #ScotRef. What is important at the moment is not to start aiming for a Norwegian solution already because we think it will be easy. Negotiating trade deals is extremely complex, and we shouldn’t leave the EU Customs Union without a full and frank discussion of the consequences.

What we should do is to aim to remain inside both the EEA and the EU Customs Union from Day 1, and then decide what we want to do. I hope and expect the EU will offer such a good membership deal that the choice will be obvious, even for Scotland’s farmers and fishermen.

The Great Scottish Bake Off

Often you hear independence switherers worrying endlessly about losing their favourite TV programmes, such as the Great British Bake Off, Big Brother or The Apprentice. The reply is often that Ireland has made a deal with the BBC to make their channels available in the Republic, at a lower price than Scotland currently pays through the licence fee, and of course Scotland will be able to do the same.

That's true, of course, but something that's often overlooked is that most successful TV show concepts these days get bought by foreign TV channels. Scotland wouldn't be restricted to watching the Great rUK Bake Off (if it'll still exist by then), but a Scottish TV channel would probably buy the concept and broadcast The Great Scottish Bake Off.

Just to illustrate how accurately the concepts get copied, here are a few foreign Bake Off clones:

Den Store Bagedyst from Denmark:

Das große Backen from Germany:

The Great Australian Bake Off:

Bake Off -- Ale Ciacho form Poland:

The Great Irish Bake Off:

Le Meilleur Pâtissier from France:

You can see a complete list of international version on Wikipedia.

It would have the advantage for Scots that it would be much easier to get onto these shows because they would be recruiting from a population of 5½m instead of 64m, and as far as I can tell, the quality of the cakes isn't any worse in the Danish version (Denmark has roughly the same number of inhabitants as Scotland).

Independence Day

I'm sure I'm not the only one pining for the parallel universe where Scotland voted yes, so I reckon this will be one of many alternate histories published today.

Indy Ref one year on 013
Indy Ref one year on 013.
There were a lot of foreign media in Scotland in the run-up to the indyref -- as a Dane in Scotland, I was interviewed by two radio stations, two TV stations and one newspaper. However, that turned out to be hardly anything compared to the days just after the Yes vote. It felt like every journalist in the world descended on Scotland to report from the early days of a new nation.

And when the journalists had departed, the businesses moved in. A lot of them realised they suddenly needed a Scottish presence now, and I got contacted by a lot of Danish companies who asked for advice on where to place their office. Most of them wanted to be in Edinburgh, of course, so property prices there exploded -- apart from the companies opening up offices there, sixty countries simultaneously started setting up embassies.

Most changes were political, though. David Cameron of course resigned the day after the referendum, and he was unsurprisingly replaced by George Osborne. (There was also a minor scandal when Cameron accidentally revealed that the Queen had been sobbing on the phone when he called her to tell her the result.) One of the first things Osborne did was to make a deal with Labour that postponed the Westminster election by one year -- everybody quickly realised that conducting a general election during the independence negotiations would be mad. At the same time all Scottish MPs were excluded from the UK government, and many of them joined Salmond's independence negotiation team instead.

This negotiation team was a true cross-party effort (albeit dominated by the SNP, of course). Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Kenny MacAskill, Patrick Harvey, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander were put in charge of a subgroup each, reporting directly to Alex Salmond.

It soon became clear that the SNP was starting to fall apart. Now that the pursuit of independence wasn't there any longer to unify the different strands of the party, it simply couldn't hold together, and members started leaving. Labour was the big winner. As soon as they had cut their ties to the UK HQ, they decided to make the best of independence, which was exactly what people wanted to hear, and they soon overtook the SNP in the opinion polls. Of course the elections to Holyrood won't take place till May this year, but everybody is expecting Jim Murphy to become the Prime Minister of Scotland at that point.

The SNP's decline is probably in part due to the falling oil prices. It's not an enormous problem, though, not least because of the influx of new companies from all over the world. There is also a cross-party agreement to change the taxes to tailor them better to the Scottish economy, and this will reduce the deficit significantly. However, in order to achieve healthy finances from day one, it was decided to allow the rUK to keep Trident in Scotland until 2025, but the rent charged is astronomical.

Continued EU membership turned out not to be a problem after all. As soon as it became clear that Westminster were accepting the result of the referendum, all EU governments (including Spain) were happy to cooperate, and the treaties were swiftly amended in time for Independence Day.

Normal politics has now been on hold for a while, so both in Scotland and in the rUK (or rather, the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as it will be known officially from today) people are now looking forward to doing independence instead of talking about it. People in the UKEWNI are perhaps more anxious, and they seem to be blaming the Tories for the whole thing, so the latest opinion polls indicate that Labour will win the election and the Liberal Democrats will become the official opposition south of the border in May. This also means, of course, that Brexit is off the agenda for good, which is probably a good thing for Scotland, too.

I'm so happy that Scotland voted Yes, and according to opinion polls, 64% of Scots now agree with me.

Letter from a Yes future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted Yes -- not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a No future.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland by Berit Watkin, on Flickr.
Today, twenty years after Scotland voted Yes to independence, it can be hard to understand that many Scots genuinely believed the scaremongering from the No side.

Of course the financial markets panicked for a few days after the result was known, but they quickly calmed down once the negotiation teams started their work and it became clear that everybody was being constructive. Of course David Cameron had to stand down, but nobody seemed to think that was a big loss.

About a year after the Yes vote, the Scottish job boom started. Lots of companies suddenly realised they needed to have a presence in the new country, and the number of new jobs outweighed the ones being lost to the rUK by 4 to 1. Within a short amount of time all the No voters realised they had worried needlessly and it became really difficult to find anybody who admitted to having voted No.

A couple of years after Scottish independence day, Northern Ireland called a referendum on reunification. It became clear that a lots of Unionists there just couldn't relate to being in a Union without Scotland, and the reunification referendum resulted in a huge victory to Yes.

Once Northern Ireland had left, Wales decided to become independent, too, inspired by the Scottish economic and intellectual renaissance that was now very evident.

Inspired by all these events, the Labour party reinvented itself in England, merging with the Green party in the process, and started implementing an English version of the Scotland's successful Common Weal programme.

Amongst other things, this programme had caused the Scottish Government to encourage the creation of new companies all over Scotland, and the former industrial wastelands created by Thatcher were now starting to thrive again. Also, the Highland clearances had effectively started to be reversed, due to improved infrastructure, land reforms and new towns being created all over Scotland.

Of course not everything has been smooth sailing. Trident remained in Scotland a wee bit longer than we had hoped for, and we did go through a small recession in 2026. However, there is now full agreement in Scotland that independence was the right thing to do.

Dinna fash yersel — Scotland will dae juist fine!

Provning Svenska Eldvatten
Provning Svenska Eldvatten by Svenska Mässan, on Flickr.
Pick a random person from somewhere on this planet. Ask them to name an alcoholic drink from Scotland, and it's very likely they'll reply "Whisky". Ask them to name one from Denmark, and they'll probably be tongue-tied. (They could answer "Gammel Dansk" or "Akvavit", but they're just not nearly as famous as whisky.)

Now repeat the exercise, but ask about a food item. Again, it's likely they'll have heard of haggis but that they'll be struggling to name anything from Denmark.

Now try a musical instrument. Bagpipes and ... sorry, cannot think of a Danish one.

A sport? Scotland has golf, of course. Denmark can perhaps claim ownership of handball, but it's not associated with Denmark in the way that golf makes everybody think of Scotland.

A piece of clothing? Everybody knows the kilt, but I'd be very surprised if anybody can name one from Denmark.

A monster? Everybody knows what's lurking in Loch Ness, but is there anything scary in Denmark?

The only category where Denmark perhaps wins is toys, where Lego surely is more famous than anything from Scotland (but many people don't know Lego is from Denmark).

Denmark is also well-known for butter and bacon, of course, but these aren't Danish in origin or strongly associated with Denmark in people's minds.

Several famous writers and philosophers were Danish (e.g., Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard), but Scotland can arguably list more names of the same calibre, and the Scottish ones wrote in English, which makes them much more accessible to the outside world.

Scottish universities are also ranked better than the Danish ones in recent World rankings.

Finally, Scotland has lots of oil and wind, water and waves. Denmark has some, but not nearly as much, and most other countries have less than Denmark.

Because of all of this, I don't worry about the details when it comes to Scottish independence. If Denmark can be one of the richest countries on the planet, of course Scotland can be one too.

Yes, there might be a few tough years while the rUK are in a huff and before everything has been sorted out. And of course there will be occasional crises in the future, like in any other country.

However, unless you subscribe to the school that Denmark and other small countries like Norway and Switzerland are complete failures because they don't have nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the UN's Security Council, there's simply no reason to assume Scotland won't do exceptionally well as an independent country in the longer term.

So I'm not worried. Of course there are many details to sort out, but at the end of the day everything will be fine. Scotland will be a hugely successful independent country. Dinna fash yersel!

Winning the argument forever

escher by matt smith, on Flickr.
I'm confident the outcome of the referendum will be a clear Yes, but if it ends up a No, it clearly won't be because Better Together won the argument.

If they win, it'll be because many voters got trapped in the quagmire of worries and vague promises of the No campaign, e.g.: "I'm a bit worried about the plans for X after independence", "I'm worried my job might be at risk if we vote Yes", "Perhaps the English will get angry at us after a Yes vote" or "Those new powers the talked about sounded quite nice, let's try them out first". Very few people -- and certainly no more than before the referendum campaign started -- will feel that the UK is working well for Scotland.

This is why a No vote won't be the end of the story. Of course the Yes side will respect the result -- nobody would even dream of declaring independence after a No vote without holding a new referendum -- but the Yes activists will still believe in independence. Nobody will have been convinced of the impossibility of independence like this: "I liked the idea of independence, but they clearly demonstrated that a country the size of Norway or Denmark isn't viable", "It's a shame Scotland would get invaded by Russia as soon as we declared independence" or "I used to think Scotland could go it alone, but we're clearly too wee, too poor and too stupid".

The No side keeps talking about avoiding a 'neverendum', but the only way to achieve that is by winning the argument. So long as a large part of the population still believes that independence is best for Scotland, of course the issue won't go away.

A Yes victory will be forever. Independent nations don't ever want to give up on their independence again. (Independent countries that aren't nations -- such as East Germany -- might, but that's a completely different story.) Once you're independent, you'll get used to it, and you'll never want to give it up again. Did the banking crash cause Ireland to beg for reunification with the UK? Or Iceland to ask Denmark to be readmitted into the Danish Realm? Of course not!

A Yes vote will bring an end to the current discussions about devolution and independence and make us focus on building the best Scotland possible. That in its own right is an important reason to vote Yes.

Voting No because of Salmond is counterproductive

David Cameron in Battle with Alex Salmond over Scottish Referendum
David Cameron in Battle with Alex Salmond over Scottish Referendum by Surian Soosay, on Flickr.
I think Alex Salmond does a very good job as First Minister, but I fully respect that he's not everybody's favourite politician. However, apparently this dislike is making many people vote No:

In the Survation poll of 1003 Scots, 36 per cent said the thought of Salmond running an independent Scotland is pushing them towards a No vote in September’s referendum.


Only 12 per cent of voters say Salmond has made them more likely to vote Yes, while 46 per cent say their view of him won’t change the way they vote and six per cent are unsure how it will impact on their decision.

This is barking mad! It would be like being against the Act of Union in 1707 solely because of a personal dislike of the Earl of Seafield (one of Scotland's most prominent politicians at the time).

Also, Alex Salmond is 59 years old, so he's unlikely to continue to dominate Scottish politics for many years. In twenty years' time, when he's been a pensioner for a good number of years, how will it feel to have voted note just because of a personal antipathy?

However, even if getting rid of Salmond seems like the most important goal in politics (which is absurd given the very real problems this country is facing), voting Yes is the best way to achieve this.

After a Yes vote, the Scottish political landscape will change dramatically, and one of the main victims of this process is likely to be the SNP.

The SNP is a very broad church, and the glue that holds the party together is the quest for independence. Once that has been achieved, it will need to redefine itself in different terms, for instance as Scotland's Social-Democratic Party, and while that might keep a majority of the party's current supporters happy, many activists and voters will be lost to other parties. Even if Salmond wanted to, it's by no means obvious he'd survive this change as leader.

On the other hand, if it's a No vote in September, I expect activists will flock to the SNP in even greater numbers. The two-year referendum campaign has convinced so many people that independence is the right way forward for Scotland, and a No vote will just be seen as a temporary hiccough (unless No wins by a landslide, and that's clearly not going to happen). It might even force Salmond to remain as leader for longer than he had anticipated, because his experience will be invaluable in the struggle to prevent Westminster from running roughshod over Scotland in the aftermath of a No vote.

The conclusion is clear. If you hate Salmond and the SNP, and you just wish Scotland had a "normal" political landscape rather than one defined primarily by the independence question, you should vote Yes to independence.