The idea behind Brexit was to take back control, but the UK Government’s inevitable capitulation on the £50 billion Brexit bill followed by Ireland’s ability to move the UK’s border exposes it as the single largest voluntary reversal of global influence by a nation in history. Not only has the lie on the side of the Brexit bus been exposed beyond all doubt by the Brexit bill, but the Irish Government showed it can exercise more influence and, indeed, sovereignty as part of the EU by effectively bullying Theresa May on the Irish border question. Then the the DUP used their whip hand to bully the PM into begging the EU for more time.
At the heart of our hapless PM’s troubles is that the £50bn Brexit bill demonstrates how desperate she is to do a trade deal and the veto’s flying in from Ireland prove that its a problem without an answer. Let’s ignore for a moment that UK voters were promised £350 million a week for the NHS, not a £50bn bill for a worse trade relationship, an end to grants, border controls between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland which the DUP cant possibly agree to, a weakening pound and soaring inflation. Let’s also gloss over that Scotland’s population percentage share of the £50bn is £4.25bn which will be removed from Scotland’s budget over roughly 10 years, and that the 2014 No campaign told us we couldn’t afford independence because Scotland’s transition to independence costs would range from £600m to £1.5bn over a decade. Its official, independence is roughly £3bn cheaper for Scotland than leaving the EU.
Often referred to as a divorce bill, it’s more like the UK refusing to settle it’s bar bill whilst leaving a party early in a strop because no-one would dance with it. The settlement is essentially a share of the EU’s loans, pensions, other liabilities and spending commitments the UK agreed to whilst an EU member.
It is a negotiation. The UK can offer a smaller amount or refuse to pay. But the consequences would be that the EU could deny the UK access to its markets without EU standard external tariffs which could add four times the settlement amount to the cost of UK exports, effectively gutting the UK economy and forcing the UK’s balance of payments into free fall.
Some sources have the UK’s liabilities at €100bn, but you have to deduct a share of the EU’s assets, and any grants the UK would have received as well. Essentially as long as the UK is willing to accept a commitment of around £50bn then a trade deal is possible.
I want the UK to do a trade deal, however they will do a hard Brexit if they need to, and any trade deal that leaves access to the single market / customs union for the whole UK would mean an independent Scotland in the EU/EFTA would have it’s trade relationship with the rest of the UK set in stone pre-referendum, and could also offer a better trade relationship with the EU than post-Brexit UK – the best of both worlds.
So a no-deal Brexit with hard borders now looks less likely but would ironically damage both sides in the independence debate as a Scotland-England hard border would be a difficult sell. But equally with hard borders and EU tariffs the UK could fall into a recession of a depth and length unmatched in modern economic history. The pound would sink below the dollar and euro, and Scotland’s trade with the depressed English economy would sink like a stone, meaning Scottish firms would need to diversify their customer base by exporting more to the EU, thus making independence in EFTA more economically attractive.
Brexiteers don’t understand that modern independence in an interconnected and interdependent global economy has changed dramatically from when Britannia ruled the waves. Modern independence doesn’t involve separation or isolation. Such old fashioned views on sovereignty are now a practical impossibility. There was a clue during the Scottish independence referendum when British Unionist No campaigners kept saying: “You want to keep the borders open, maintain trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK and EU and share some resources, even the currency – that’s not real independence.”
Yes it is. Ask the Germans or the Belgians or the Swedes if they stopped being independent when they joined the single market? The Danes and the Swedes also refused the euro, demonstrating that the EU is not sovereign. Therefore, leaving it is not becoming independent, it is simply exiting a highly effective single market, customs union and powerful political power base. Ireland has just shown that nations can exercise more national sovereignty and international influence inside the EU than outside, as the EU is more powerful than any one nation and you benefit from greater shared influence. The very fact that the UK chose leave demonstrates that the UK remained completely sovereign within the EU.
A precedent has been set, a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament on the back of an explicit manifesto promise means that the Scottish Government can hold an independence referendum.
However, only Westminster can make that referendum legally binding. Westminster does not accept that Scotland is sovereign.
Self-determination for Scotland would also involve negotiation of assets and liabilities, but as the UK’s assets are similar to its debts it’s a zero-sum game. The Brexit settlement, however, relates to the UK-EU deal and if Scotland leaves a post-Brexit UK then our only financial commitment to the EU would be that agreed as part of our EFTA trade agreement.
Modern/next generation/progressive nationalism understands the more flexible nature of sovereignty and the benefits of sharing some regulations to facilitate trade and harmonious relations. In a recent interview I pointed out that Scottish nationalism was civic and inclusive, internationally focused and not based on identity, that Scotland didn’t have a significant problem with immigration as we view people coming to Scotland less as immigrants, more as new Scots.
One of the YouTube commenters made me laugh writing: “This guy is basically saying his nationalism is better than my nationalism.” YES that’s exactly what I am saying. Not because the people of Scotland are better than anyone else, but because as a new nation we can rewrite the rules. With an almost blank sheet of paper we can redefine and reinforce our nation’s values and goals, refresh its policies and ambitions, we can remake our institutions and design a nation to thrive in this century rather than the last.
The opportunity of independence means it’s a mathematical certainty that Scotland will do better than other nations weighed down by the baggage of the failed economic and social experiments of past generations. We need to design the future for Scotland, not be dragged backwards to a misty-eyed vision of a Britain that hasn’t really existed since, well, since Ireland was part of the UK.