Category Archives: Brexit

The benefit of a transitional period

European Union
European Union.
It’s becoming clear that the EU negotiators are expecting the UK to go through three phases of Brexit:

  1. The negotiating period (March 2017—March 2019): During this time, the UK will negotiate the divorce while remaining a full member of the EU.
  2. The transitional period (starting in March 2019, and lasting for two to five years): The UK will not be a member any more, but will remain inside the Internal Market and the Customs Union, and there will still be free movement of people. This time will be spent negotiating trade agreements and all the other bits and pieces that will regulate the future relationship between the rEU and the UK.
  3. Full Brexit: The UK will now be outside the EU, including the Internal Market and the Customs Union, so the relationship will be similar to the one between the EU and Canada.

The Brexiteers had clearly expected to skip the second phase, but the EU is being very insistent that it’s impossible to negotiate the details of the third phase during the first one, so it will be necessary.

It is possible, of course, that the Tory government will crash out of the EU without any deal – transitional or permanent – to avoid all this hassle, and it might indeed be the only way for them to keep their backbenchers and the tabloid press happy, but we’ll ignore this possibility for now.

So what will it mean for Scottish independence if the UK has to go through a transitional period? It’s actually really good news.

Without a transitional period, Scotland’s problem is there hardly will be any time after the second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU, and Scotland will then be forced to choose between leaving the UK in a rush and leaving the EU for a while before joining again, neither of which is great.

However, everything becomes much easier with a transitional period. What’s important is for Scotland to leave the UK and negotiate membership terms with the EU before the rUK enters the third phase, but two to five years should be sufficient for these two tasks. In effect, the three phases will then look as follows:

  1. The UK negotiates Brexit and Scotland votes for independence.
  2. The UK (incl. Scotland) leaves the EU but remains inside the Internal Market and the Customs Union. The rUK negotiates future trade deals while Scotland negotiates membership terms.
  3. The rUK leaves the Internal Market and the Customs Union, and Scotland joins the EU as a full member.

If the UK crashes out without a deal, then this will of course not be possible. In that case, Scotland’s best chance is to vote for independence as soon as possible and then beg the EU for an temporary deal while negotiating membership.

However, I’d like to think that the UK government will see sense and agree to the three phases suggested by the EU.

The O’Brians: The decline of a family

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston
Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston.
This is the story of a man called Ingelbert O’Brian. He has a wife, Alba, and three kids: Wallace and the twins Nora Irene and Sara Irene. Sara Irene left home a while ago, but the others are still there.

Ingelbert’s marriage isn’t doing too well – in fact, Alba threatened to leave him three years ago. He promised her everything she asked for, and in the end she thought to herself: “I’ll be in a heady position because I looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go.” However, as soon as Alba gave in, he reverted to his old ways, and she isn’t happy at all at the moment.

The biggest problem for the O’Brian family is that Ingelbert has decided to quit his job and go freelance. He fondly remembers how he used to have a great career when he was young, selling all sorts of junk to developing countries, and he’s thinking he could do the same again. Perhaps even branching into selling them tea and innovative jam. Lots of people – including Alba – have been telling him the world has changed, that his old customers won’t be overly pleased to see him again, and that he’d be much better off keeping his well-paid job as the finance director of a large company.

However, he just won’t listen. “I’ll make so much more money, and it’ll be really exciting too,” he keeps saying to his family. To show them how great it’ll be, he’s even painted their house red, white and blue to match the merchandise he’s planning to be selling.

Two days ago, Alba had had enough and told Ingelbert that she was again thinking about leaving him, given he’d broken all the promises he made last time. He wasn’t having it, though, repeating over and over that “now is not the time!” Alba asked him what happened to his promises of their marriage being a partnership of equals, and when would be good time to discuss a divorce, but he just stormed out and slammed the door.

The very next day, Ingelbert then handed in his notice to the MD, Mr. Tusk. In the past, he had often threatened to quit and in that way got a lot of special benefits that the other employees didn’t get, but to his surprise, the reaction was rather cool when he handed in the letter. He had expected them to offer him a great freelance contract on the spot, but instead they just told him he owed them a great deal of money, which he’d have to pay soon. They also made some noises about employing Alba instead, and they made it quite clear that his special benefits would be gone if he ever applied to rejoin them and that he’d be an ordinary employee like everybody else.

Nevertheless, he went home and told his dubious family that everything would be great and all he wanted to do was to build a more united family. Alba was not convinced, and even Nora Irene looked like she was thinking about moving in with Sara Irene instead.

What happens now? Will Alba and Nora Irene leave Ingelbert? If they do, will Wallace then want to leave, too (given that he’s always been close to his dad but also has benefited from the protection of his mum and his big sister)? Will Ingelbert manage to make a success of his freelance career, or will he end up under-employed, living in a bedsit, and trying to find the courage to go back to his old employer and beg them to get his old job back? Will Alba become the new finance director, and will Nora Irene and Sara Irene move in together? Watch this space!

Repopulating the Highlands will be necessary after Brexit and ScotRef

In her speech to the SNP’s spring conference yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said:

Scotland isn’t full up. If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster government is taking, come and join us.

Come here to live, work, invest or study. Come to Scotland and be part of building a modern, progressive, outward-looking, compassionate country.

I think this was a wonderful thing to say. Firstly, it’s true, and secondly, it shows the world that Scottish nationalism (or sovereigntism or independentism as I prefer to call it) isn’t racist in the slightest, but progressive and open to the world.

If the rUK continues moving towards a hard Brexit, and Scotland as a consequence votes for independence within Nicola’s window of late 2018 to early 2019 to escape the madhouse, I find it quite likely that many people from the rUK (both natives and EU citizens desperate to remain within the Internal Market), will take up the offer to join us in Scotland. They’ll be joined by many companies that need to remain within the EU and reckon the move to Scotland is easier than moving to a place outside the old UK.

As a consequence, Scotland’s population might grow rapidly soon, perhaps by 10% in less than a decade.

That’s great in a lot of ways, but where do we house them? The Central Belt is already busy and congested, and although I’m sure there’ll be space for a few more, I think a more radical solution will be needed.

At the same time, the Highland Clearances were a horrible and dark part of Scottish history, and it would be nice to right the wrong by reversing them in some way.

So I’m thinking we should start planning for a few new towns and cities in the Highlands. In some cases, existing towns can be expanded a bit, but sometimes it’d be good to think big.

For instance, I was looking at a map, and I thought Durness would be a nice candidate for expansion: It’s a beautiful place, there isn’t any large town in the vicinity, and from a historical point of view, it was the location of the Durness Riots of 1846 (when the women of Ceann na Beinne area defied the Sheriff’s Officer sent to deliver the summons of eviction as part of the Clearances).

If we built a new town there the size of Milton Keynes (population 230k), the Highland council area would double in size, practically overnight (the current population of the whole area is 230k, too).

A new town could be built in a modern way, incorporating the area’s stunning nature as green areas, and building modern infrastructure such as trams at the same time as everything else. The houses should be built to environmentally friendly standards, and of course every house should have ultra-fast Internet as standard. The city should also be designed to be carbon-neutral from day one.

There has been a lot of talk about English universities setting up campuses abroad to maintain a presence within the EU, and Durness could become the best location for them, because their campuses could be designed and built at the same time as the rest of the city.

Given that Durness is almost as close to Reykjavík as it is to London (1050km vs 900km as the crow flies), it could also easily become a very attractive location for American companies needed a foothold in the EU if it had its own airport.

Some people would perhaps say that Durness would be a ridiculously northern location, but of course it’s further south than both Oslo and Stockholm.

If done right, the City of Durness could become one of the most attractive places to live in Scotland, and a real magnet for people moving to Scotland after independence.

Independence changes everything. We need to think big.

This time it’s personal

Selfie with weans.
I was a keen and eager participant in the first independence referendum campaign, and I was as devastated as everybody else on Friday the 19th when we realised we had lost.

Campaigning was about creating a fairer Scotland that would be a great place for my weans to grow up in, but I didn’t really expect the result to have massive implications for my family and myself in the short to medium term.

This time it’s different, however: My family depends on this country remaining in the EU (or at least in the EEA) because we are a truly European family. I am a Danish citizen, my wife has a UK passport, the kids we have together are Danish/UK and the kids from my wife’s previous marriage are French/UK (however, for the under-18s getting a French passport might depend on cooperation from her ex, and this might not be forthcoming).

Brexit means that I could lose my right to live here (or at least lose some rights, such as access to the NHS and getting a pension), but at the same time my wife could lose the right to live in the EU. There could also potentially be problems moving my stepkids to the continent if their father doesn’t cooperate. Furthermore, my parents would lose the right to come and a live with us in Scotland when they get frail, and the same would happen to my mother-in-law if we move abroad. Furthermore, permanent residence gets nullified after more than six months abroad, so I would also lose my right to work abroad temporarily, or to spend more than six months with my parents if their health requires it (they’re staying in a tiny village in the mountains of Italy). It could also make it financially impossible for the kids to study abroad if they so desire. Retiring abroad together would probably also become an impossibility for us.

My wife and I have thus been feeling utterly distraught because of Brexit (and not least because of the UK government’s decision to use me and others in my situation as bargaining chips), and if it hadn’t been for Nicola Sturgeon’s wonderful speech the morning after Brexit, we might have left for the continent already.

I therefore felt absolutely delighted that Nicola yesterday announced that the new Scottish referendum will be held before the UK leaves the EU. Finally somebody is offering us a solution to our worries.

This might be our last and only chance to keep our family together, so it’s hard to describe in words how important it is for us to win this. All I can say is that if we lose, the consequences are too horrible to contemplate.

So it’s no game. We have to win it. Scotland in Europe has to happen before the Tories wreck our family.

This time it’s personal.

Delaying the new independence referendum will help the Unionists

Delayed Departure
Delayed Departure.
There are two groups of people who want to postpone a new Scottish independence referendum till after Brexit: Yes–Leave voters and Unionists.

Many Yes–Leave voters (the Yellow Tribe, as I’ve described them in the past), such as Jim Sillars, want to postpone it because they hate the EU at least as much as the UK, and they hope Scottish EU membership can be averted by waiting till Scotland has fully left the EU together with the rest of the UK.

They might sing a siren song about needing more time to prepare a Yes majority, but when you dig a bit deeper, their main focus is clearly to prevent Scottish membership of the EU, and they dismiss any concerns that Independence Outwith Europe will attract much fewer voters than Independence In Europe

I’m finding it curious why they had no problems voting Yes last time, given that there clearly was an expectation that Scotland would apply for continued EU membership immediately. I guess they might have been hoping Project Fear were right that Spain would veto it.

It’s clear this group will do everything they can to delay the next independence referendum. What is less clear is whether they’ll actually vote No or abstain if it does happen sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, the Unionists clearly want to postpone the referendum because they think they will lose if there’s any prospect of uninterrupted EU membership for Scotland, but that their chances of keeping Scotland on board are much better once Brexit has happened. I tend to agree with them. It’ll be much easier to organise Project Fear II if Scotland has to spend years after independence re-harmonising its laws with the EU before membership becomes an option. Let’s face it – if Theresa May wants Indyref2 after Brexit, it’s not because she wants to help us

What is clear is that the two groups can’t both be right. Either holding Indyref2 after Brexit will increase the chances of a Yes, or it’ll do the opposite. My money would be on the Unionists here; after all, they just want to prevent Scotland from leaving, whereas the Yes–Leave crowd have two conflicting priorities: Obtaining independence and staying out of the EU.

We therefore have to dismiss the Leave–Yes plea for postponing next new independence referendum. Our best chance is to hold it before Brexit becomes a reality, for instance in the autumn of 2018.

UK vs EU

People who voted Yes and then Leave (the Yellow Tribe, as I’ve described them in the past) often talk of the UK and the EU as if they were almost the same, and they’re thus often keen to postpone Indyref2 till Brexit is done and dusted. “Why leave one union just to join another?” as they like to say.

However, is this fair? To what extent are the two unions alike? I thought it’d be useful to compare them topic by topic:

The Houses of Parliament consist of two chambers. In the House of Commons, 59 out of 650 MPs are representing Scotland (9%). It’s hard to calculate the equivalent for the House of Lords because they don’t represent constituencies, but the Scotsman put the number at 61 out of 760 (8%) in 2015. This should be seen against the fact that Scotland makes up slightly more than 8% of the population of the UK. The European Parliament consists of 571 members. As an independent country, Scotland would probably have 13 MEPs (like Denmark), rather than the current 6, because small countries are over-represented. That would mean that Scotland would have 1.7% of MEPs on a population share of 1%. In the European Council, Scotland would have equal representation with all other member states (1 out of 28), so the same as Malta, Denmark and Germany.
There isn’t a specific number of Scottish ministers in the UK government. At the moment there is only one (David Mundell), but even that isn’t guaranteed (for instance, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland isn’t Irish). The European Commission consists of one commissioner from each member state, so Scotland would always have one.
Westminster is sovereign, so if they want to change Holyrood’s powers, they can do so without consulting Scotland, although in the past they have done so. For instance, abolishing Holyrood altogether would be entirely within their powers if they thought that would be a good idea. The powers of the EU are described in the Treaty of Lisbon, and it requires unanimity to change it. This means that Scotland as a member state would have to agree before handing over any more powers to Brussels. There is absolutely no way that the EU could get rid of Holyrood.
Using the Pound Sterling is obligatory. In theory, Scotland would be required to adopt the Euro, but in practice it would be easy not to fulfil the criteria and thus stay out indefinitely, like Poland and Sweden.
It would be politically difficult for Westminster to refuse a new Scottish independence referendum, but they would be entitled to do so. The EU allows any member state to leave using Article 50. As we’re finding out at the moment, this is not easy, but at least it’s a guaranteed right.
The UK has one single foreign policy, and Scotland is not allowed to have its own. EU member states have their own foreign policy, but they have lots of meetings to coordinate their efforts. The EU has a nascent foreign policy, too, but this is in addition to the member states’ own policies, not instead of them.
The UK hasn’t negotiated its own trade agreements for many years and will have to do this from scratch after Brexit. The EU has great trade agreements with most of the world, and these apply automatically to all member states.
Westminster raises most taxes in the UK and then sends block grants to the devolved administrations. Each member state raises its own taxes and pays a membership fee to the EU.
The military is a British institution, and it’s completely controlled by Westminster. NATO membership is very important to the UK. As an EU member state, Scotland would be responsible for its own military forces. EU countries cooperate a bit. NATO membership is not obligatory.
The Tories are talking about walking away from the European Declaration of Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the ECHR. EU countries have to sign up to the ECHR, and the European Declaration of Human Rights forms part of the EU treaties.
The UK has over the centuries invaded most countries of the World. The EU hasn’t invaded any countries at all.
The UK used to do its best to get rid of Welsh, Gaelic, Scots and the other indigenous languages of the British Isles. It seems to have been mainly European influence that has led to improved support for minority languages. Linguistic diversity is in the EU’s DNA. As a full member state, Scotland will be able to designate either Scots or Gaelic as a full working language of the EU with translation of all texts and interpretation of all speeches in the European Parliament.
All oil revenues go straight to Westminster. EU member states keep their own energy revenues, and the EU might help member states build energy infrastructure, such as pipelines between member states.
British citizenship completely replaced Scottish citizenship in 1707. EU citizenship is additional to citizenship of a member state.
Anthem: God Save the Queen. Anthem: Ode to Joy.

If I’ve forgotten anything, please leave a comment underneath, and I’ll add it.

Scottish independence can still happen before Brexit

Scottish euro coin
Scottish euro coin.

During the first independence referendum campaign, the Scottish Government announced that Scotland would become independent 553 days after the referendum (on 24th March 2016). This was widely criticised at the time for leaving too little time for all the negotiations.

Most people seem to assume that would be the case this time as well. For instance, in an article by STV News about fast-tracking Scotland’s EU membership application, they suggested the following possible EU membership timeline:

  • Autumn 2018 – Scotland votes Yes to independence
  • March 2019 – Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, leaves the European Union
  • 2020 – Scotland becomes an independent nation
  • 2020 – Scotland applies to join the EU
  • 2021 – The European Commission and the Council give the green light and negotiations begin
  • 2023 or 2024 – Majority of MEPs, all EU member states and Scotland ratify the treaty of ascension and the country joins the EU

And yet, if we look at other countries that have gained their independence recently, they have invariably become independent much more rapidly. As Alister Rutherford has pointed out, “Slovenia held a referendum on 23rd December 1990 and declared independence on 25th June 1991. Montenegro needed even less time. The referendum was held on 21st May 2006 and independence was declared on 3rd June of the same year. Some countries moved to independence without a referendum. Slovakia for example passed an act of independence in their parliament on 17th July 1992. There followed five months of negotiations which ended with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 31st December 1992. Slovakia then became formally independent on 1st January 1993.” The longest delay I’ve found so far was the 260 days it took Georgia to gain independence from the Soviet Union.

Of course it’s impossible to sort out very much during such a small amount of time. Lots of questions would remain unresolved for a while and would get settled later. The time before independence would be spent putting in place sensible transitional arrangements. For instance, Scotland and the rUK might decide that Scotland will continue to use the Pound Sterling for two years after independence day, and the EU might agree that we’ll remain within the EU’s Customs Union until EU membership has been agreed on (or rejected).

It actually makes sense if you think about it. Why should Scotland be dragged out of the EU for a year only to join immediately afterwards? Potentially this would involve setting up a new customs regime only to revert to the previous on as soon as it’s been implemented. It’s much more straightforward to become independent sooner rather than later and then sort out the details afterwards. It’s just like a divorce: People normally separate first and then sort out the details of the divorce afterwards, rather than staying together until they’ve divorced.

I therefore imagine a more sensible and realistic timescale would be as follows:

31 March 2017 Theresa May triggers Article 50
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. Alex Salmond becomes Scotland’s first ever EU Commissioner, and 13 Scots are 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).