THE EU referendum campaign has started to stutter into life and with the UK wide polls sitting at 50-50 and the last two showing Leave taking a lead we just don’t know who will win. In the last few weeks I have criss-crossed Scotland and debated with Brexiters, almost all of whom were prominent Better Together campaigners in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Dundee. The lack of understanding of the specific economic impact on Scotland of a Brexit within the Leave campaign has been astounding.
The trouble is that the UK media present the financial and economic implications of a Brexit as if it would have the exact same impact on all regions of the UK – but my research has shown that a Brexit would very definitely impact more negatively on Scotland.
As my research shows, Scotland pays an 8.4 % population share of the UK’s EU membership fee but we get back 17.4 % of all the EU spending in the UK. The EU plays a vital role in redistributing the overly concentrated investment and therefore hoarded wealth of London and the south east back to Scotland. Scotland’s net fee for EU membership is only £97 million per year or, if you like, £18 per person – that’s enough for two cinema tickets, but only if you don’t buy a drink and popcorn and don’t even look at the pick ‘n’ mix.
Coincidently, £97m is the amount it costs every year when people who call the HMRC are put on hold, the UK National Audit Office announced yesterday. So if you want to save £97m, just get a better telephone system for the tax man.
Then we need to consider that free trade with the EU is worth £7bn to Scotland’s economy and the resultant additional £2.2bn in tax revenue generated in Scotland. So for every £1 Scotland gives to the EU we get at least £20 back. Deal or no deal?
The Brexit spokespeople will go to great lengths to avoid answering the “how will we trade with the EU?” question following a Brexit. Some say we will join the EEA like Norway, but forget that Norway pays a trading levy of 95 per cent of the UK membership fee per head, still gets a tariff on food exports, gets no EU grants, still follows all the regulations and still has to allow freedom of movement for EU immigrants. In fact Norway is the 10th largest contributor to the EU budget and with no elected MEPs, Commissioners or even a seat at the European Council. It still has to pay but it gets no say. Norway’s relationship with the EU is a credible option but its not the panacea the Brexiters claim.
One Brexiter claimed: “The UK is a big nation and will do a deal with the EU that stops immigration, has no budget contribution and gives the UK full access to the common market.” That’s pure unbridled fantasy. If you can get all the benefits of the EU without joining then France, Germany, Spain, Italy would all ask what’s the point of being a member?
“The Isle of Man isn’t a member of the EU and it gets by OK,” claimed a Ukip member, and “Norway, Singapore, New Zealand all work well as independent nations,” claimed a newly elected Tory MSP. “Why don’t we want to be in charge of the full sovereignty of our own nation?” he asked. They believe in independence for London, New Zealand and the rest but just not for the Scottish people. Such cognitive dissonance is astounding. I campaigned for independence on a prospectus that shared much regulation, a currency and tax collection systems, maintained open borders and was essentially an EU-style relationship with the rest of the UK post-independence, so my argument is consistent.
“Ah, but its undemocratic,” they claim. Although it would benefit from further reforms, the EU remains one of the most democratic multinational organisations in the world. Across Europe we elect 751 MEPs through a very democratic proportional system that ironically gave us Ukip’s David Coburn. Those MEPs elect a president with TV debates broadcast across Europe. The democratically elected prime ministers of the member states put forward ambassadors who represent us as commissioners and there is now a red card system allowing 50 per cent of EU members, regardless of size, to block any moves to ever closer union.
On the European Council of all the elected heads of state, a 41 per cent vote can block any legislation. So together the UK, Germany and France can block anything. Following a Brexit it will only take 33 per cent, meaning France and Germany can form a blocking majority. If we have a Norway-style deal then we will have to follow the regulations with France and Germany deciding what they are. How does leaving give us more say?
How democratic are other transnational bodies? I don’t remember electing anyone in the OECD, the World Bank, The UN (where nations we don’t even consider to be democratic have a veto), or the IMF, who decide if nations get bail-outs. Look at Nato. If one member is attacked we are all at war – sovereignty over going to war is a pretty big deal but we don’t elect anyone to Nato.
Whilst we are at it, do those Tory British nationalists think we should elect the Governor of the Bank of England? Maybe they don’t want their 820 unelected seats in the Lords after all. And did they complain when the UK sent an unelected lord to represent Scotland’s fishing industry in EU talks? How about an elected head of state for the UK? No? Let’s just stick with the Royal Family then – their hypocrisy on democracy is breathtaking.
The Brexiters say that getting rid of EU legislation would make the UK economy more productive and competitive. This could only involve undoing EU legislation that protects workers’ rights such as holiday pay entitlement, maternity pay, the working time directive, health and safety rules, age, gender and race discrimination at work, and overall human rights linked to EU membership.
Maybe a few London-based CBI members will agree with that, but every Business for Scotland member I have spoken to – including several major employers – believe that removing workers’ rights at time when wages are squeezed and job security remains low could create employee morale issues, union opposition and actually lead to significantly lower productivity and competitiveness.
The thing that really stumps me though is the amount of left wingers who supported Scottish independence but are now siding with the most rabid 2014 No campaigners to Vote Leave and hand over all of those workers rights to a Westminster Tory government.