All posts by thomas

The leaked paper: What will Scotland do?

immigration photo
Photo by markhillary
The Home Office’s leaked paper on EU citizens was sadly rather predictable. They clearly want to deal with EU citizens in the same way as all other foreigners – and as Pavel Iosad has repeatedly reminded us on Twitter, nobody has ever seemed to mind that much.

However, it will have huge repercussions for the UK. Most EU citizens have ID cards only (no passports), and if that’s not good enough any longer, a large number of tourists and business people will go elsewhere.

Also, whereas people from outwith the EU will expect to jump through various immigration hoops if they want to work anywhere other than in their home country, EU citizens will still have nearly 30 hassle-free destinations to choose from. For instance, when I accepted a job offer in Bishopbriggs back in 2002, I was weighing it up against another opportunity in Norway. If the Scottish job had required a time-limited visa, I don’t think I would have been interested in it (or at the very least, they would have had to offer a much higher salary to make me consider it).

Although it’s possible the new rules will only apply to new arrivals from the EU after Brexit, nothing is certain at this stage, and practically all EU citizens are watching developments with fear and dread. Lots of people have already left, and many more are frantically searching for a job on the continent (or two jobs, if their partner expects to work, too) to allow them to leave, too.

A year ago, Nicola Sturgeon’s reassuring words made a lot of EU citizens in Scotland relax – it felt like she was standing up for us, and that she wouldn’t allow Scotland do be dragged out of the Internal Market.

However, after June’s general election, things feel different. Although we still feel welcome on a personal level (which is very different from the stories EU citizens in non-metropolitan England are reporting), it now feels like the Scottish Government has lost its ScotRef mojo, that their plan now is to exit the EU with the rUK, trying to gain some powers over fisheries and agriculture in the process (something which I couldn’t care less about), and hope that the Brexit clusterfuck will make the people of Scotland rise up and demand independence within a few years. But if that’s the plan, I’m most likely to leave, together with a great many other EU citizens.

I might of course be wrong, and something might be happening behind the scenes. The Scottish Government might for instance have been told confidentially that the UK government will stay in the Internal Market (including free movement of people) forever more (but that doesn’t tally with the Home Office paper), or that Scotland will get full powers over immigration after Brexit. It might even be the case that Nicola is planning to declare independence without a referendum if need be, but that’d surprise me.

The main thing is that the EU citizens in Scotland increasingly feel like we’ve been forgotten. That we’ve been marched up to the top of the hill, and then abandoned.

If the Scottish Government has a great plan for how to protect us, they’d better start saying it out loud, or we’ll start leaving in great numbers. And the only two things that will really reassure us are either that the UK decides to remain within the Internal Market (either by ditching Brexit or by going for a Norwegian-style solution), or that Scotland declares independence before Brexit happens.

Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem

scotland roman photo
Photo by LightSweep
Everybody seems to be delighted by the Scottish Government’s legislative programme, which Nicola Sturgeon announced today. I’m not happy, though.

It’s not that I’m against much in the programme itself. It’s actually full of great ideas, such as setting up a Scottish investment bank and conducting basic income trials.

My problem is that it seem to be either either ignoring or accepting Brexit, and that’s not going to end well. It seems to be ignoring Brexit in the sense that many of the proposals are going to cost money, and if the economy collapses, that’s simply not going to be possible. And it seems to be accepting Brexit because it talks about repatriating powers coming back from Brussels, and that clearly doesn’t make any sense if Scotland isn’t leaving.

Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman, kept insisting that Carthage was still a danger to the Republic after two wars and needed to be destroyed in a third one. Most famously, he was known to add as a closing remark to any speech he made, whatever the topic, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” (i.e., “furthermore, I am of the opinion that Carthage should be destroyed”).

Scottish independence is more important than ever, given the epic disaster that Brexit is shaping up to become, and yet it feels like the SNP has almost stopped talking about it in public, probably because they felt they got their fingers burnt in June’s general election.

I’m not suggesting that we should be discussing the timing of the next independence referendum all the time, but it is important to point out why we need independence in order to pursue the future we want, perhaps to the point of ending every speech with “Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem”.

In particular, Nicola should have spent a good part of her speech saying that it was dependent on Brexit getting cancelled or turning into a soft Brexit, remaining within both the Internal Market and the Customs Union (in which case, by the way, there won’t be any significant powers to repatriate). She should have said in no uncertain terms that a hard Brexit (or even worse, a cliff-edge one) would cause the whole programme to get cancelled and replaced by an emergency programme, including a new independence referendum.

As an EU citizen, I need certainty that Scotland won’t get dragged out of the Internal Market, and that was what Nicola promised the day after the Brexit referendum. I didn’t sense any urgency today, no attempt at explaining why Brexit has the potential to be such a disaster for Scotland.

Ceterum censeo Caledoniam esse independentem.

The road to EU membership

eu flag photo
Photo by European Parliament
How do countries join the EU? I’ve noticed a lot of confusion about this. In particular, there seems to be an assumption that you either remain within the EU and somehow alter the treaties, or that you leave and copy the accession route followed by other countries in the past (a process that can go on for many years).

Joining is all about closing chapters of the so-called acquis, which basically means that you need to show that you’ve implemented EU legislation in all the various areas. If you’re already an EU member, almost all the chapters can be closed immediately, because full convergence has already happened. All that remains is to negotiate things such as voting rights and fisheries quotas, and that shouldn’t take very long.

Leaving the EU together with the rUK would mean diverging from EU legislation, which would mean that Scotland would then spend years realigning itself with the acquis afterwards. It makes no sense, because it would involve years when it was aligned with neither the rUK nor the EU.

I still think my old timeline still seems reasonable, although it potentially conflicts with Nicola’s new position of not holding a referendum until it’s clear what Brexit means:

30 August 2018 Second independence referendum
28 February 2019 Scottish independence day
4 March 2019 Scotland sends a membership application to the EU and asks to remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union in the interim.
4 March 2019 Scotland sends a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations expressing the intent to remain a party to all treaties signed and ratified by the United Kingdom.
14 March 2019 The European Commission and the European Council agree that Scotland can remain within the Internal Market and the Customs Union without voting rights while the membership application is processed.
31 March 2019 Brexit takes place – the rUK leaves the EU. Scotland is not yet a member state but remains within the Internal Market and the Customs Union.
26 September 2019 Formal EU membership negotiations begin.
28 February 2021 The new Scottish currency is launched, linked to a basket of Euro and Pound Sterling.
9 May 2021 (Europe Day) A majority of MEPs, all EU member states and Scotland ratify the treaty of ascension and the country joins the EU. 13 Scots get elected to the European Parliament (not 6 as before independence, but the same as Denmark).
28 February 2024 The rUK leaves Faslane, taking their nuclear weapons with them.
28 February 2034 The last of many independence treaties between Scotland and the rUK is signed (this one finalising the maritime border).

This timeline is assuming the UK will leave the Internal Market and the Customs Union immediately. If Westminster and Brussels agree on a transitional period, it would give Scotland more time. On the other hand, if the UK government walks out and slams the door (something that the Tories might be planning to do, as I wrote yesterday), there could be even less time available.

It’s important that Scotland is ready for all eventualities. It’s finally starting to dawn on most people that Brexit will be an enormous disaster, so this is a good time to talk up independence as a solution.

Entering the Brexit endgame

endgame photo
Photo by Roberto Condado
Rational people (including most Remainers) have been assuming that the UK and the EU of course would negotiate a reasonable agreement, including a longish transitional deal and a comprehensive trade deal – that all the talk about no deal being better than a bad deal was just negotiation tactics.

However, there have been rumours for a long time that the Tories have always been planning to walk out from the Brexit negotiations later this year.

For instance, here is a tweet by J. J. Patrick from the beginning of March:

I had hoped this wouldn’t happen, but the UK are definitely not trying to win the EU over, which clearly increases the risk that the negotiations will break down. Just watch the following video clip, in which Barnier says (hattip: Steve Bullock): “The UK explained that their obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before departure. […] After this week it is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to honour its obligations after departure.”

The EU negotiators are clearly getting very frustrated, which means they won’t recommend that the trade negotiations should start soon, which again means the UK will have less of an incentive to negotiate constructively. It could definitely end quite soon with a walk-out.

It is also worrying that according to Jo Maugham, the Tories are planning to use the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to allow a government minister to set the exit day:

Yep, that’s right. The government is proposing that a Minister gets to decide when our membership of the EU ends. And to make that decision without any Parliamentary control at all. None, zip, nada.

Perhaps I’m just being a bit paranoid here, but it seems quite possible that the UK Government are planning to walk out of the negotiations before Christmas – blaming the EU’s inflexibility and stubbornness, of course – and then leave the EU sooner than March 2019.

It will of course be an enormous shock to the economy, but that might be exactly what they want. As I wrote last November:

[A] hard and chaotic Brexit will be a huge opportunity for the Tories to completely abolish the welfare state. They’ll be able to get rid of the NHS, free education, unemployment benefits and whatever else they don’t like. They’ll be able to do this while looking immensely sad, saying that it’s all the EU’s fault for denying them the package they wanted (but quietly always knew wouldn’t be acceptable to the other EU member states). They’ll blame everybody else for the economic collapse, but use it to create a neoliberal wonderland where only the strong survive. Eventually people will realise what has happened, but by then it’ll be too late to reverse.

I very much hope the Scottish Government are getting ready to launch the independence lifeboat sooner than they had expected!

No more referendums?

referendum scottish photo
Photo by duncan
I believe Brexit is going to such an epic disaster that stopping it is much more urgent than achieving Scottish independence (I’d prefer both, of course), but time seems to be running out.

One of the main problems is that none of the main parties in England seem to be able to do much about it. I’ve discussed before why I think that a new anti-Brexit party is needed down south. For a long time, nothing seemed to be happening, but James Chapman’s new party seems to be ticking the boxes (even though I don’t think the Democrats is nearly as good a name as the Whigs).

Most of the policies he has suggested for The Democrats are good and sound (in particular I’m delighted that they would enfranchise EU citizens like me). From a Scottish perspective, however, one of his ideas would be quite revolutionary:

At the moment, practically everybody in Scotland agrees that the best way to achieve independence is through a referendum. However, if The Democrats get into power and ban future referendums, how can Scotland achieve independence? As far as I can see, there will only be three ways:

  1. A pro-independence majority at Holyrood will be able to trigger independence.
  2. A pro-independence majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster can declare independence.
  3. A majority of all MPs at Westminster (not just the Scottish ones) will need to vote in favour for Scotland to become independent legally.

It’s unlikely that all three options would remain on the table. The Supreme Court would probably decide on one of them if somebody asked them. If they go for the last option, I have my doubts that such a vote could ever be won, which could effectively place Scotland in the same situation as Catalonia, which at the moment seem to be going down the line of an illegal referendum (seen from a Spanish point of view) and a subsequent UDI.

Although I agree that there are many democratic problems with referendums – especially the fact that the losers might have to implement the result while the winners are criticising them from the sidelines – I still believe it’s the best way to make huge decisions such as whether Scotland should be an independent country.

It is, however, just about possible that The Democrats will get into power in the UK within the next five years, so we need to start thinking about how to deal with them. Will their antipathy towards referendums make them unelectable in Scotland, or will it be extremely popular amongst unionist voters? Will they be able to work closely together with the SNP, given that they both agree on Brexit, or will they become sworn enemies?

Perhaps the new party will never get off the ground, but politics is certainly very volatile at the moment, so we should be prepared.

The UK cannot move for embarrassment

shame photo
Photo by frankieleon
Rafael Behr had a rather interesting wee article in The Guardian recently, but I fear many might have ignored it because it appeared to be mainly about the new Dunkirk film. However, if you ignore those bits, it’s actually about how the UK collectively feels its was embarrassing to join the EEC (as the EU was called back then), and how all outcomes of Brexit are likely to feel humiliating, too:

Embarrassment is underrated as an engine of history, maybe because it is embarrassing to admit it as an individual motive. […] Humiliation corrodes the soul of nations. […]

[It] was at a moment of underachievement that Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. The empire was lost. West German industry had been rebuilt to a higher spec than its British rivals. Ungrateful France did not repay its liberators with humility. De Gaulle had vetoed British entry a decade earlier. The doors to the club were opened not on demand but after supplication. The seeds of Brexit were thus sown with the foundations of EU membership. It was, at some level, embarrassing to be joining through dread of decline. […]

And in psychoanalytic terms, shame is a kind of violent impulse directed inwards. Brexit, in this conception, is not a rational expression of cost-benefit equations based on considerations of trade. It is self-harm, born of a neurotic urge to expiate an imaginary guilt: the sin of having been obliged to join the enterprise in the first place. I fear we are about to rehearse the cycle of shame and resentment all over again. There are two routes ahead, neither free of humiliation. The enactment of Brexit will complete an economic, diplomatic and strategic devaluation that is prefigured already in sterling’s post-referendum slide. Britain will be measurably smaller on the world stage. The reversal of Brexit, or its dilution into some pale simulation of the status quo, requires a plea in Brussels for more time and a fresh start. That will be hard to distinguish from a grovel. Either way, there is disappointment in store for many leave voters who anticipate a national renaissance. If they don’t get Brexit, their democratic will is denied; if they do, and it makes them poorer, their faith is betrayed. Each path risks incubating more bitterness.

This might explain why most Scots don’t suffer from the same negative feelings towards the EU as many people south of the border – you would need to identify strongly with Britain to feel the humiliation, rather than seeing the UK as a marriage of convenience.

It also provides us with a novel reason for breaking up the UK and letting the nations of these isles regain their independence: If British history has become so painful to deal with that the country needs to lie on the national equivalent of a psychologist’s couch for several decades, perhaps it would be much easier to start with an almost blank slate?

England would probably – just like Scotland and Wales – find it much easier to deal with other countries (including the EU) in a rational and constructive manner if the blame for some of the most painful memories of the past could be blamed on an imperialist UK that had been confined to the history books.

Even Brexit itself could be dismissed as one of the last idiotic acts of the UK, and England, Scotland and Wales could then join the EU as full members without needing all the opt-outs that past humiliations made necessary for the UK (and Ireland could finally reunify peacefully because there would be no Union for the Unionists to cling to).

Winning over the No–Remain voters

Yes–Leave voters in 2015 and 2017.
The British Election Study team has produced some really interesting graphs showing how the four main groups of Scottish voters voted in the 2015 and 2017 elections (the Yes–Leave graph is shown on the right). Here is a brief summary:

  • The Yes–Remain voters (what I’ve called the Blue Tribe in the past) have mainly remained loyal to the SNP, although a few have moved to Labour.
  • The Yes–Leave voters (my Yellow Tribe) used to vote SNP in huge numbers, but almost half of them are now voting for either Labour (probably left-wingers who like Corbyn’s Lexit stance) or the Tories.
  • The No–Remain voters (my Green Tribe) used to vote mainly Labour, but a large number of them switched to the Tories in the last election, probably because they liked Ruth Davidson’s stance on a second independence referendum. Interestingly the SNP lost votes in this group, too.
  • The No–Leave voters (my Red Tribe) used to vote 1/3 Tory, 1/3 Labour and 1/3 others (including the SNP), but most of them now vote Conservative.

Some people (for instance, Autonomy Scotland) have suggested that these graphs show that the SNP need to stop talking about joining the EU after independence to win back the Yes–Leave voters.

I disagree. We didn’t win in 2014, so to win next time we need to appeal to former No voters, not just to keep the old crowd together. Besides, at least some of the Yes–Leave voters are probably so happy with their new political home that we cannot win them back simply by aiming for a Norwegian solution rather than a Danish or Irish one. This means that appealing only to former Yes voters would probably lead to a horrible defeat next time.

The key to winning the next referendum is to convince many of the No–Remain voters that their interests are better served by an independent Scotland inside the EU than by a chaotic UK that keeps arguing with itself whether to be a European Singapore, the 51st state of America, or part of the EU again.

That won’t be easy, however. Many of them feel very British (which is why the Tories won many of them over in the last election), but surely many of them must be looking aghast at the incompetency of the current UK government and wondering whether Scotland would do better on its own.

We also shouldn’t conflate the electoral fortunes of the SNP with the chance of winning the next independence referendum. The Yes vote has generally been holding up well in the opinion polls, which clearly shows that people can remain Yessers while drifting away from the SNP.

Furthermore, it’s unlikely Leave would have won the Brexit referendum if they had had only one campaign. The two main campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.EU) successfully appealed to different groups of voters, and this is probably something we should learn from.

I simply cannot see how one campaign can appeal to former Yes–Leave voters at the same time as to the ones who voted No–Remain.

It would make sense for the official campaign to take the same stance as the Scottish Government (i.e., Scotland in Europe), but I don’t see why the Yes–Leave crowd couldn’t set up an unofficial Yes campaign organisation to campaign for their standpoint. The alternative is to make the Yes campaign so agnostic on Europe that it doesn’t appeal to anybody post-Brexit.

For better or worse, voters in Scotland feel strongly about both independence and Brexit, and we cannot simply try to pretend that the Brexit referendum didn’t happen. Labour have spent the past three years trying to turn the clock back to before the independence referendum, and that clearly hasn’t worked.

The main Yes campaign should take a strong stance on Brexit and on the EU, one which is in sync with the position of the Scottish Government, and the Yes–Leave people should set up their own campaign. That will allow us to win next time.