Category Archives: Brexit

I am one of the disenfranchised EU migrants

Just married!
Just married!.
I flitted to Scotland in 2002 because I got a job at Collins Dictionaries in Bishopbriggs. Because of the EU, it was almost a simple as getting a job at home — I simply applied for it, went for an interview and signed a contract, without having to apply for a work permit or anything. I had to get a national insurance number, but that was straightforward; the only real difficulty I faced was getting a bank account, which was a real pain.

To this day I’ve never had a work permit or any other piece of paper confirming that I have a right to live here — this is different from all the non-EU migrants who of course have to get such papers as soon as they move here.

I fell in love with one of my colleagues, Phyllis, and we married in 2009 (I was of course wearing a kilt, in the beautiful Buchanan tartan). In the same year, we set up a company together. Our life is here, and yet I’m only allowed to live here because of the EU — our daughters have dual nationality, but I’m still only Danish.

And yes, I could apply for UK citizenship, but until September 2015 it would have meant giving up my status as a Danish citizen because of Danish legislation (and my daughters would also have stopped being Danish at that point). I’m looking into it now, but it’s a complicated process which involves two exams, a lot of forms and a significant amount of money.

Denmark disenfranchises its citizens after two years abroad, so since 2004 I’ve only been able to vote for two parliaments: The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg. Neither the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen nor the UK Parliament in London wants to know what I think. And of course I can’t take part in the Brexit referendum tomorrow, because it uses the Westminster franchise.

If the UK votes in favour of leaving the EU tomorrow, one of the consequences will be that I won’t be able to take part in Scottish Parliament elections any more, and if there is another Scottish independence referendum, I won’t be able to vote in that, either. The mere thought is absolutely heartbreaking, given how much time and effort I invested in the last indyref.

Of course nobody knows what Brexit will entail. It could be that the outcome is a Norwegian solution, in which case the only real consequence for me will be losing my right to vote in Holyrood elections, but if it ends up as an acrimonious divorce, nobody knows what the consequences will be — EU citizens might for instance be charged to use the NHS, or we might lose the right to some benefits.

I really fail to see how Brexit will benefit normal people, and it has the potential to harm millions drastically. Voting Leave is not simply a harmless way to give David Cameron a bloody nose, but a potentially serious blow to the European Union — which, in spite of all its failings, has allowed normal people like me to get a work in another country and to start a family there without having to jump through hundreds of bureaucratic hoops.

Please vote Remain. I can’t, but I would.

Nobody wanted the Norwegian solution in Norway

Four flags
Four flags.
The Leave and the Remain campaigns are united in dismissing the Norwegian solution. The Brexiters want to control immigration, which is incompatible with it, and the pro-EU side rightly argues that it’s a very much inferior solution compared with full membership, because it would require the UK to follow all the rules and pay a lot of money without having any influence.

However, nobody wanted the Norwegian solution in Norway, either, and yet that’s what they ended up with. That’s because that’s what you get when a majority of the population says No the EU while a majority of MPs say Yes. Without a referendum, Norway would simply have joined the EEC together with the UK, Ireland and Denmark back in 1973, and if not then, then together with Sweden and Finland in 1995. Forced to remain outside the EEC, the politicians opted for the second-best solution instead.

Something similar might happen after a Brexit vote: Pro-EU MPs have a huge majority at Westminster (everybody from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, almost all Labour MPs, and at least a quarter of the Tories). This means that any attempt to cut the ties to the EU completely will be voted down, and the most likely outcome is some sort of Norwegian (or perhaps Swiss) solution. The Leavers might complain that people didn’t vote for that, but the Remainers will simply say that the voters were promised the UK would retain full access to the Internal Market, and this is the only way to achieve it.

If the Brexit referendum had taken place a decade ago, I’m almost certain the UK would have been offered a Norwegian solution, perhaps even with some nice little opt-outs.
However, in the current climate I fear many of the other EU countries will want to be tough on the UK. This is not primarily due to anger or a need for revenge, but because they’re afraid of the own Eurosceptics. In particular, the French establishment will want to frighten their voters away from voting for the Front National in next year’s presidential elections — and indeed this party is very keen to follow the UK out of the EU.

It’s still possible the UK will be offered a Norwegian solution, but it will probably be on a basis of take-it-or-leave-it, without any opt-outs. It’s even possible the UK will be forced to join parts of the EU that the British government has so far managed to stay out of, such as Schengen.

The Leavers won’t be very happy if this is the eventual outcome, but I reckon a majority of MPs would sign up to it if they realise it’s the only way to retain full access to the Internal Market. It’s almost certain none of the wild dreams of the Leave campaigners will be realised because they don’t have a parliamentary majority.

So if we’re lucky, a Leave vote will lead to very few changes (but a great loss of influence), and if we’re unlucky, it’ll lead to the UK being excluded from the Internal Market. It’s really a lose/lose situation, so please vote Remain!

You can’t have a proper argument without disagreement

Scotland is much more pro-EU than England.
Scotland is much more pro-EU than England.
I have the impression that my friends and family in Denmark are surprised that I haven’t been campaigning harder to remain in the EU, and I must admit that I had expected to be more active.

However, I’ve realised it’s really hard to have a good argument about something when everybody in the (physical or virtual) room agrees with you.

The independence referendum campaign was great because there were so many views and a real willingness to discuss them.

This time, on the other hand, most people in Scotland are in favour of continued EU membership, and the only people I know who are thinking about voting Leave are seeing it more as a tactical ploy to ensure we get a new Scottish independence referendum sooner rather than later. (I think this is a rather stupid and dangerous argument, but there you go.)

I can see there are genuine discussions down in England about what to do — for some people it seems to be almost as inspiring as the independence referendum was north of the border — but up here most people are simply watching the Johnson, Gove and Farage show with dread and fear.

I don’t think this blog has many Eurosceptic readers, so writing about Brexit feels like preaching to the converted.

It’s such a shame we lost the independence referendum, because it means we have to spend our time debating the issues that interest the Tories in England, and indeed it’s looking increasingly likely that the Little Englanders will drag Scotland kicking and screaming out of the EU. It’s so frustrating.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, #indyref2 must follow soon afterwards

There are indications that the SNP leadership are trying to talk down the prospects of a quick indyref2 after a Brexit vote. For instance, this is what Humza Yousaf said recently according to The Herald:

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government’s transport minister, has made clear that, personally, he would not like a second referendum on Scotland’s future in such circumstances, noting how it would “make the argument for independence very difficult”.


[He] then added: “I do not want a referendum in those circumstances. It makes the argument for independence very difficult as well. It presents us with some additional difficulties and some additional challenges.”

I agree with Humza that it might be difficult to win a new indyref immediately after a Brexit vote, when voters are aware that a Yes vote will mean that the English-Scottish border will become the external border of the EU. I therefore very much hope that the UK votes to Remain in the EU.

However, if Brexit happens, it’ll only get harder to win a new indyref if we wait a few years, so unless we want to kick Scottish independence into the long grass, we’ll need to act immediately afterwards and hold a new referendum in late 2016 or early 2017, well before the (r)UK leaves the EU in the summer of 2018.

The reason for the urgency is that Scotland’s big chance is to vote to remain in the EU without ever leaving the bloc. If that happens, many companies will choose to relocate here from the rUK. On the other hand, if Scotland leaves the EU together with the rest of the UK, those companies will move to Ireland or another EU member state, and they won’t move to Scotland even if we decide to become independent a few years later. Even if just 5% of the companies currently domiciled in the rUK move to Scotland, it will be a huge boost to the Scottish economy and will lubricate the change from dependence to independence nicely.

It’s also likely many people in the EU will suddenly encourage Scottish membership of the EU so that not all of the UK is lost after Brexit. For instance, in a role-play organised by Open Europe, the “Netherlands predicted an effort to channel investment to Scotland, in an effort to peel it off from the rest of the UK.”

Furthermore, YouGov’s Peter Kellner has pointed out that there normally is a late swing towards the status quo in referendums, which is exactly what we saw in the 2014 independence referendum. However, just after Brexit, there won’t be a status quo — the alternatives will be to remain either in the EU or in the UK, but not both — and this might prevent this late swing from happening again. On the other hand, if we sit on our hands for ten years, a status quo will have re-established itself, which will benefit the pro-UK side.

In other words, a snap indyref2 will appeal to both risk-takers who believe Scotland can poach a lot of English companies as well as to the natural conservatives who are worried about what will happen if we leave the EU. Combined with those who are already convinced about Scottish independence, that might well be a winning combination.

Things won’t get easier over time. So long as England remains outside the EU, a vote for Scottish independence will be much more daunting than it was in 2014 when it was simply a question of turning the English-Scottish border into an internal EU one.

So yes, I’m pessimistic that we can win indyref2 after a Brexit vote, but our only chance of doing so is to have it almost immediately afterwards so that Scotland never leaves the EU and can become the natural new location for companies wanting to remain within both the EU and the old UK. After that, any hope of independence will be kicked at least twenty years into the future.

Of course I’d prefer the UK to remain within the EU, but given recent opinion polls, we have to be prepare to seize the moment after a vote to Leave.

Après le Brexit, la déluge

Brexit / EU Scrabble
Brexit / EU Scrabble.
The EU has made many errors in the past decade. In particular, the way the European Council (consisting of the national heads of state) are in charge of most things at the moment is at best counterproductive. I’d like to see a lot of the power shifting to the Commission and the European Parliament, and I’d like to see a clearer division of powers (so that for instance it’s clear what the Greek government are in charge of, rather than heaping pressure on them repeatedly to pursue those policies that other countries think would be best, rather than their own manifesto).

However, we shouldn’t forget that the EU has been an astounding success in spite of its failings. No wars on its territory, the right to travel freely and to apply for a job wherever you want, and many, many more things. If the EU didn’t exist, we should create it.

There is therefore not any doubt in my mind that I want the EU to exist. I just want it to be better — more democratic, better at providing prosperity for normal people, and more open to radical ideas like Scottish and Catalan independence within the EU.

How do we obtain such a better EU? Do we make the current one collapse and hope that a new and better one instantly rises from the ashes, or do we stay on the inside and try to reform it together with like-minded people from all the member states? The answer is, of course, the latter. If the EU falls apart, the individual countries will instantly reinforce border controls, enact trade wars and in general do many things that will make it hard and laborious to recreate a European union.

And of course the bloody Tories have chosen the worst possible time to hold an In/Out referendum! Before 2008 or so, the EU was quite stable and would have been able to deal with the consequences quite easily. At the moment it appears very fragile, however: (1) The Greek drama of 2015 seriously endangered the monetary union and has made people question whether the EU has any answers to the financial crisis; (2) the current refugee crisis is close to breaking Schengen (the open borders part of the EU); and (3) the authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland are undermining the EU’s status as a club of liberal democracies (because the rules for suspending a country’s voting rights assume that there’ll only ever be one “bad” country at any one time).

History is a great example of chaos theory. There are stable periods when practically nothing important happens — of course small events take place, but they don’t rock the boat — and there are chaotic periods when one small event can have massive consequences.

It feels very strongly like we’re living through a chaotic time like the 1930s (which is of course why Scottish independence nearly happened — I doubt the indyref would have been half as successful if it had taken place ten years earlier). Of course the EU might survive Brexit, but there is a real danger it’ll be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If the UK votes to leave, the best hope for the EU is probably that it’ll be a complete disaster so that no other member state gets tempted to leave, but that won’t be any fun for ordinary people here (although that might definitely lead to Scottish independence in short order).

If Brexit is just moderately successful seen from the outside (i.e., it could be a complete disaster for most of the UK so long as London is booming so much that the country-wide statistics look OK), it could easily encourage anti-EU parties in other countries. Le Pen could win the French presidential election next year and start to implement a Frexit. And Denmark has already been quite focused on following London, so a Dexit could follow soon afterwards, too. And suddenly the whole house of cards might come tumbling down.

People who are against an organisation such as the EU existing at all should of course vote to Leave. I get really annoyed, however, when I see people advocating a Leave vote in order to achieve a better EU. It’s simply not going to happen. We need to protect the EU while working hard to reform it from the inside, and to do that, we need to vote to Stay.

Dragging Scotland out of the EU

Independence can transform Scotland
Independence can transform Scotland by Scottish Government, on Flickr.
Nicola Sturgeon has proposed to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a veto over the UK’s exit from the EU. According to the BBC, she said:

If you look at states like Australia and Canada there are some circumstances where changes to their constitution requires not just a majority across the country but in each of the provinces as well.

The UK is not a unitary state it is a family of nations, it is made up of the four home nations.

We were told during the referendum that each of these nations had equal status, that our voices mattered.

If that is the case I think it is right that something that would have such significant consequences for jobs, for the economy, for our standing in the world, it should require the consent of not just the UK as a whole but that family of nations.

It’s quite an attractive proposition. The Unionists clearly talked up federalism during the referendum campaign, and this is an obvious consequence.

If the Unionist parties don’t agree, it’s just another sign that they didn’t themselves believe the very arguments they used to win the referendum. If the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU but Scotland votes to stay, it will therefore be prudent to hold a second independence referendum to allow the people of Scotland to chose which of the two unions they want to remain in, the British one or the European one.

While we’re on this topic, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweeted something rather party-political today:

A political union is best described as a club. It’s always the case that members have the right to leave if they so desire — it can never require the consent of all members. This was why the Scottish independence referendum took place only in Scotland and not in the entire UK, and this is why the Brexit will be decided in the UK and not by a referendum in the entire EU.

However, clubs and political unions can decide on their own rules for what they do collectively. They can decide that new members can’t vote, they can decide who gets to join, and they can require unanimity for accepting new members or for joining other associations.

In most political unions the membership rules are described in the constitution or at least a political treaty, but because of the UK’s unwritten constitution many of those rules are based on precedent and political statements. It therefore makes good sense for Nicola Sturgeon to point out that the Unionists’ frequent talk about the family of nations has constitutional implications.

If Laura Kuenssberg wants to compare this proposal to the independence referendum, it would have been the equivalent of Shetland asking for a veto. However, nobody has ever described Scotland as a family of nations comprising Shetland and mainland Scotland, which is why nobody seriously considered doing this.