I mentioned Alex Neil’s article (“How my party leader Nicola Sturgeon could get ‘neo-independence’ from Brexit – without another referendum”) in my post about the Yellow Tribe of Scotland. However, his article seems to be attracting some support and I thought it’d be useful to look at it in more detail, so here’s a fisk of the main parts:
Three months on from the EU referendum it is blatantly obvious the UK Government hasn’t got a clue about how or when to proceed with Brexit. […] The Scottish Government has therefore got a golden opportunity, which it should not let slip, to fill the void by putting Scotland’s Brexit demands at the top of the UK/EU negotiations agenda and doing so now. Rather than wait until Theresa May eventually gets her act together, the Scottish Government should immediately publish its “List of Scottish Demands” for the Brexit negotiations. […]
Yes, fair enough, but it can easily seem like an acceptance of Brexit if the demands don’t go far enough, and it can easily undermine any effort to call a new independence referendum. It also means accepting Westminster’s view that it’s irrelevant that a large majority of Scots voted against Brexit, instead of insisting that the Scottish people is sovereign and voted to Remain.
Top of the list of Scottish demands should be the transfer of the powers being repatriated from Brussels, as they relate to Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament; not Westminster. All the powers relating to existing devolved matters, such as farming and fishing, should automatically transfer to Edinburgh. Brexit also provides the ideal opportunity to devolve all the other powers currently controlled by Brussels to the Scottish Parliament.
The problem with this is that it’s completely contrary to making Scotland an independent country within the EU. Basically, if Westminster is currently in charge of A, B and C, and the EU is in charge of D, E and F, an independent Scotland within the EU would take over A, B and C rather than D, E and F, so if we follow Alex Neil’s proposal, once we leave the UK and join the EU, we’ll have to swap A, B and C for D, E and F instead of simply taking over A, B and C. That doesn’t seem very sensible, especially not if Scottish independence is expected to happen within a decade or so. I can only interpret this as a way to sabotage any subsequent move to rejoin the European Union.
This would include powers currently exercised by the EU covering employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, public health matters, and certain aspects of justice and home affairs policies as well as external affairs.
So basically Scotland would take over legislation that was already harmonised with the EU and then start changing it to make it different? Or would we try to keep it in sync with EU legislation? I rather suspect Mr. Neil has the former in mind.
Finally a range of other powers which haven’t been devolved to Scotland because of EU rules should also be transferred to Edinburgh. The most important of these would be giving the Scottish Parliament full control over Value Added Tax (VAT).
This actually would be OK, because the EU does allow the various member states to set their own rates. The reason Scotland hasn’t been able to do that is because the EU requires one set of rates per member state. So rejoining the EU while having different VAT rates from the rUK wouldn’t be a problem.
The UK Leave Campaign’s promise during the referendum that if the UK voted for Brexit then Scotland would get control over immigration policy must also be honoured and included in Scotland’s List of Demands.
I believe this has already been shot down by Westminster, but it was probably always going to be a non-starter so long as the UK doesn’t issue residence permits that are only valid for specific places – otherwise everybody wanting to move to England would simple go via Scotland if that was easier. From an EU perspective, this shouldn’t be a problem so long as Scotland maintains a less restrictive policy than the rUK.
The second item on Scotland’s List of Demands should be the transfer of all the funding associated with these new powers mentioned above, including Scotland’s share of the UK annual contributions to the EU budget, itself estimated by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to be worth around £800 million a year net of all the funding Scotland currently gets from the EU. With this money, post-Brexit the Scottish Government could continue to finance all the projects currently supported by the EU in Scotland to the same level of funding as at present and still have another £800 million per annum or so left over to invest as we choose.
To be honest, this reminds me of the Leave campaign’s infamous promise of £350m to fund the NHS (which was later disowned). Given that the UK is likely to lose an enormous amount of money due to Brexit, the reality is more likely to be a cut to the block grant going to Scotland.
In other words, the Scottish farmers would be expecting replacement subsidies from the Scottish Government, which unfortunately wouldn’t have any money to pay them. That doesn’t sound very attractive to me.
Don’t get me wrong – if the Scottish Government could convince Westminster to add all of the above to the block grant, it’d be great, but I don’t think there’s a snowflake’s chance in Hell of that happening.
The accumulation of all these new powers and finances would bring about “neo-Independence” for Scotland, creating the ideal platform for advancing to full sovereignty for the Scottish people in the early 2020’s.
As far as I can tell, these proposals would make it significantly harder for Scotland to join the EU, compared to remaining inside it when the rUK leaves, and this would worry all those voters who think that Scotland needs to be in the EU in order to be successful as an independent country. Furthermore, if the block grant to Scotland goes up, Scotland will get even more dependent on the UK and that would make it even harder to convince people that we can pay our own way after independence.
So far from creating a platform for advancing to independence, I fear Mr. Neil’s proposals would push Scotland even further into UK dependency.
The third key item on Scotland’s List of Demands must be continuing access to the benefits of the European Single Market. Eleven per cent of all goods and services sold furth of Scotland every year go to the EU. These exports support many thousands of jobs in Scotland that we can’t afford to lose; so retaining both free access to this market along with the other benefits of the single market, such as “passporting” for our financial sector, is essential.
Good – the only kind of Brexit I could live with is a soft Brexit, which basically means being an EU member without any influence (like Norway).
However, I’m not entirely sure how this tallies with repatriating “employment laws and workers’ rights, environmental protection, social policy, consumer protection, certain aspects of transport policy, some aspects of energy policy, [and] public health matters”. Some of them, perhaps, but many of these areas are covered by normal EU rules and would have to be adhered to. For instance, this is what Wikipedia writes about the EEA: “The non EU members of the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have agreed to enact legislation similar to that passed in the EU in the areas of social policy, consumer protection, environment, company law and statistics. ”
Scotland should continue to benefit from the free movement of people between Europe and Scotland. The crucial role played by people from Europe and elsewhere in the world in staffing some of our key industries such as tourism, agriculture and horticulture has to be protected. There is no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be able to implement its own immigration policy which would allow free movement to continue.
So basically we’d continue to have free movement of EU citizens, as well as freer immigration from the rest of the World. That’s fine, but as I wrote above, I simply cannot see how Westminster will put up with it, given that the main demand of the Leave campaign was for the UK to control its borders. It would entail having completely different immigration policies north and south of the border, which would be fine if Scotland and the rUK were independent countries, but it’s a complete non-starter at the moment.
I’m afraid that much of Alex Neil’s article to me sounds quite delusional and would seriously undermine any effort to achieve Scottish independence in Europe within my lifetime (I’m 44).
Don’t get me wrong – if Scotland could stay within the Internal Market in some sort of Norwegian set-up while the rUK pursued its wild hard Brexit dreams, that’d wouldn’t be too dire, but it would be almost impossible to implement and would depend on Westminster being willing to jump through hoops to make it happen, so I believe it’s a complete non-starter. But very importantly, it’s also completely incompatible with his vision of ‘neo-independence’ within the UK, which makes me suspect that the paragraphs about remaining in the Internal Market have been added to make pro-EU SNP members go along with his proposal.
It’s very clear that the only way we can build a coalition for independence is by focusing on the majority of Scots who want to continue to be part of the EU. Alex Neil’s proposal will only really appeal to the Yellow Tribe, and they only represent 11% of the electorate, so if we go down this road, independence will not happen for another 50 years.