The art of the possible
It’s clear that the EU are regarding December’s deal on Brexit’s Phase 1 as an agreement and not just as some sort of cuddly waffle, which seems to have been Westminster’s interpretation. The EU are therefore turning it into a legal agreement that basically says that Northern Ireland will remain in the Internal Market and the Customs Union unless pink unicorns appear out of nowhere.
Nicola Sturgeon has now been suggesting that this means Scotland should be offered the same deal as Northern Ireland. I agree this would be great, but I sadly don’t believe it’ll happen. A special deal is not something Westminster are keen on (and it might yet make the DUP withdraw their support for Theresa May’s government), and it’s only on the table because the EU are protecting Ireland’s interests – and they’re only doing this because Ireland is an EU member state. Scotland is not. There’s also the fact that giving Northern Ireland a different deal from Great Britain is a way to avoid a land border, whereas treating Scotland the same as Northern Ireland would create one (between England and Scotland); I don’t see why Westminster would agree to this unless they have no other options.
Politics is the art of the possible, as Otto von Bismarck once said. At the end of the day, it’s not about what would be the right thing to do, or about what would be sensible, but about what you can get away with.
Catalonia and the Iraqi Kurds had to learn this the hard way. They seemed to think that if only they managed to hold an independence referendum and obtain a Yes vote, then they would automatically get welcomed into the family of independent nations, and their interests and security would be protected by international law. I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s what it looked like from the outside. They forgot that if it wouldn’t be possible for them to assert and protect their independence, and if it would be possible for the country they were breaking away from to use force to prevent it from happening, then that was always likely to happen instead. In the case of Catalonia, they forgot that the EU is primarily a club of member states, many of which have their own “problems” with independence movements, so unless they were presented with a fait accompli, they would opt to preserve the status quo.
It seems to me that Theresa May and her government have concluded that it isn’t possible for Scotland to do anything. That Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP will jump up and down and shout that Scotland won’t allow it, but that nothing will happen. That the Scottish Government won’t dare to call a referendum without Westminster’s approval, and that there aren’t any other options. It is therefore possible for them to treat Scotland with contempt and enact whatever kind of Brexit they like without any approval whatsoever from Holyrood.
I hope they’re wrong, because there are many signs that they will enact a very hard Brexit (perhaps even leaving without a deal), and as we now know, this will be an absolutely calamity for Scotland that will be many times worse than the 2008 recession.
I sometimes wonder whether the SNP’s plan is to wait impatiently until the people of Scotland wake up and realise what Westminster are doing to them, and then ride the wave of popular anger. It’s playing with fire, though. The people might at that point be just as angry with the SNP that didn’t do anything tangible to protect them against a Brexit that they knew all along would damage Scotland deeply.
As an EU citizen and a New Scot, I’m definitely starting to feel quite angry. Nicola Sturgeon basically promised people like me on the morning after the Brexit referendum that she would protect us and keep Scotland in the EU (either by stopping Brexit or by organising a new independence referendum in time to keep Scotland in the Internal Market when the rUK leaves). More and more prominent SNP representatives seem now to be saying that this is impossible and that Scotland will leave the EU with the rest of the UK. Given that immigration hasn’t been devolved to Scotland, this doesn’t protect us EU citizens in the slightest, and I honestly feel that we’ve been let down.
I really hope I’m wrong and that Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP leadership have a great plan up their sleeve that they will enact soon. And I mean a concrete plan – something which is possible and which doesn’t depend on Westminster playing ball. We need to know what Scotland will do if Theresa May keeps repeating that “now is not the time”. (And let’s face it – it worked last time she said it, so why would she ever change her mind?) I know that the vast majority of SNP members are impatient – they want to be out there campaigning for independence. So perhaps the plan is to start the campaign now and try to get the popular support up to a level where Westminster cannot ignore it any longer. Perhaps the plan is something else. But it is high time for Scotland to do whatever is possible to stop Brexit from happening in Scotland. Let us dae or dee.
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