Danish fishermen and Brexit

thyborøn photo
Photo by kmardahl
I’ve seen some people on Twitter suggest that what the EU are doing when they insist on keeping access to UK waters is that the UK is trading banking for fishing, but that’s really not the case – it’s not about banking at all.

What happened was that Barnier recently met up with Danish fishermen – who catch almost 50% of their fish in UK waters – and he promised them the British fishing industry would lose access to the European market if EU fishermen lost access to UK fishing waters. According to The Guardian, he said the two things “are clearly linked: Our access to British waters and the British access to our market.”

Because so many of the fish caught in Scotland are sold in Europe, it’s clearly not in anybody’s interest to be able to catch more fish but not be allowed to sell them to their usual customers.

I reckon this would also be case after Scottish independence: If Scotland opted for EFTA in order to stay out of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFA), it’s quite likely the EU then wouldn’t make it easy to sell Scottish fish in the EU.

The best option for Scottish fishermen is for Scotland to become an independent country inside the EU – in that case, the Scottish Government would be included when the quotas get allocated, and I’m sure they’d do a much better job than the UK ministers (who very often never focused on this at all).

Scottish fishermen should perhaps also recognise how the EU are now doing a great job protecting their counterparts in Denmark – perhaps being outside the CFA suddenly doesn’t feel so attractive after all.

Does independence come to those who wait?

gasmask photo
Photo by Père Ubu
Peter Arnott has an article in Bella Caledonia today, suggesting that it’s likely a pro-independence consensus will emerge by 2028:

My guess, for what it’s worth, about the next few years, is that there is no avoiding the realities of Brexit, despite the concerted efforts of Corbyn on one side and May on the other to clamp their hands over their eyes as they walk us off the cliff. My second guess is that we will have another UK General Election which will elect one more UK government to try to “make a go of it” no matter what “it” turns out to be. And that meaningful constitutional change, a decisive transfer of sovereignty from London to Edinburgh, which may or may not be called “Independence” will happen as part of the recovery from this catastrophe, and not, as we hoped, as Nicola Sturgeon hoped, in its anticipation.


In short, that all this will come, if it does, will not come as part of the UK’s exit from the EU in 2021, but as part of the process of getting back in somewhere around 2028. And it will seem as natural as did the referendum to establish the Parliament in in Edinburgh in 1997 that the UK will be reconfigured. As natural as rain.

This might indeed happen. Sometimes history does repeat itself, and this sounds similar to what happened in Scotland between 1979 and 1997: The pro-devolution referendum was lost, then the Scots had to endure more than a decade of Tory rule they never voted for, but during those years a consensus was formed that independence was needed, so when Labour got into power in 1997 and called a new referendum, nearly 75% voted in favour of the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

However, it’s only one of many possible futures. Here are three other possibilities:

  1. The Tories enact a hard Brexit, but only after a transition period lasting longer than originally envisaged, from March 2019 until December 2024. Because very little changes during transition, they manage to get reelected in May 2024. However, shortly after the election, lots of businesses realise transition is ending, and they leave the UK. The next couple of years are horrendous, but then a number of Tory MPs defect to Labour (led by Chuka Umunna since the election), and they trigger a new general election. Umunna’s Labour wins a huge majority on a manifesto that promises to take the UK back into the EU. Scots now flock to Labour again because it offers the best hope for getting back into Europe, and independence is not on the agenda at all by 2028.
  2. Brexit becomes very hard, and many aspects of devolution get sacrificed to give the UK a lot of leeway to sign trade deals. As a consequence, the deal with the US includes health services and agricultural products, as well as the abolition of protected geographical names such as Scotch Whisky. Most Scots aren’t happy, but apathy has set in, and nobody is prepared to call a referendum on independence when it’s clear it will mean a very hard border with England, as well as destroying those new companies that have sprung up to benefit from the new trade agreements. In 2028, there’s a lot of people wishing they had had the courage to call an independence referendum ten years earlier.
  3. During 2018, it becomes clear that Brexit will become an utter disaster, and in January 2019, 350 MPs from all parties win a vote in the Commons to reverse Brexit. The letter is sent to the EU the following week, and the EU accepts it. Brexit is now cancelled, and the UK remains. However, many companies have already relocated to the continent because the change of heart happened so late in the day, so the finances are tight, and austerity continues for a number of years. In Scotland, these economic measures of course get implemented by the SNP, and this causes a lot of anger, so in the 2021 Holyrood they lose power and get replaced by a Tory–Labour coalition. In 2028, the SNP have still not managed to get back into power, and a new independence referendum is at least five years into the future.

I’m not saying the scenario outlined in Peter Arnott’s article is impossible, just that it’s only one of many possible futures, so betting the house on it seems very dangerous to me. We must act while we still can, rather than leaning back and dreaming about tomorrow.

Francis Fukuyama’s children

The historian Robert Saunders tweeted a great thread yesterday about the world view of the Tory Brexiteers. Here it is:

One of the stranger assumptions of the Brexit debate was that we live in an age of permanently low tariffs, guaranteed by a liberal world trading order. It’s indicative of a wider problem in UK politics: the near-total absence of historical & prudential considerations.

When Britain joined the EEC, in 1973, the world looked very different. A liberal trading order based on the Bretton Woods System had collapsed. The world seemed to be breaking up into hostile trading blocs, which, like OPEC, could use their power to devastating effect.

There was serious anxiety in government about food shortages: British shops ran out of sugar in 1974 and there were queues outside bakeries in London. Newspapers debated a return to the ration book.

Europe seemed dangerously exposed to Russian power, with the United States retreating into introspection after the horrors of Vietnam and the internal convulsions over Watergate. Harold Wilson told the Cabinet in 1974 that “American leadership had gone”.

Joining the EEC was a response to all three. It bound Britain into a trade bloc that could stand its ground against the superpowers. It gave Britain preferential access to European food supplies & encouraged domestic production. It provided an economic foundation for NATO.

By the 90s, when modern Euroscepticism was incubating, the world had changed. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the lowering of tariff barriers & abundant food supplies weakened the case for membership as it had been made in the 1970s – and pro-Europeans failed to respond.

But what if those conditions returned? What if trade wars became the new norm? What if cheap food became harder to access, for political, economic or climatic reasons? What if a resurgent Russia threatened Europe’s security? That world seems less alien now than 2 years ago.

History only really teaches one lesson: that the world we live in is contingent, not fixed; that things we take for granted in the present have been different in the past – and will be different again in the future.

States have to balance the needs of the present against future contingencies. The armed forces maintain in times of peace weapons that would only be necessary in the most apocalyptic of wars. We are less good at building contingency into our political and economic thought.

This role used to be played by “conservatism”, injecting the political system with a scepticism of precipitate change to institutions inherited from the past. Yet one of the strangest features of modern British politics is the “strange death of conservatism” on the Right.

The Conservative Party today is not in any meaningful sense “conservative”: its thinking is almost entirely ahistorical, grounded in a universalist creed of marketization that must be applied to all institutions, relationships and organs of civil society.

Ironically, that means it struggles to adapt to “change”, because a contingent world of liberal markets & global trading rules is assumed to be the universal state of humanity. These are not Thatcher’s children; they’re Francis Fukuyama’s. We may all be poorer as a result.

The last bit of course refers to Fukuyama’s book “The End of History and the Last Man”, in which he argues that the advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government.

I think this is a really insightful thread. I’ve been trying to figure out for a while what on Earth the attraction of Brexit really is to most Tories. The multimillionaires may be disaster capitalists who are planning to buy up the NHS and other bits of the public sector once it becomes unaffordable after a cliff-edge Brexit, but I’ve been struggling to understand the attraction for the rest of them. I think this explains it.

berlin wall photo
Photo by gavinandrewstewart
When Communism collapsed, they saw that borders and trade barriers were coming down, that freedom and prosperity was spreading all over the world, and they thought that the EU had simply become superfluous, or perhaps even had become a hindrance.

However, history doesn’t seem to have ended at all, and it’s looking like the EU is needed more than ever. I wish the Conservatives would try to conserve the relationship with the EU, instead of trying to prepare for an end of history which isn’t happening.