It has become increasingly clear Westminster does not want the people of Scotland to know the truth about independence and the opportunities it can bring as it fears that the facts will undermine the No campaign’s “Project Fear” message.
EU is big in Japan
In the news today Japan, in response to the UK governments plans for an in/out referendum on EU membership, has issued the following warning.
Japan has urged the UK to stay in the EU. Not only to stay, but to “to maintain a leading role in the European Union”, saying that “membership is a “key advantage for companies looking to access Europe’s single market”.
Japan’s embassy in the UK went further when it issued the following statement: “the advantage of the UK as a gateway to the European market has attracted Japanese investment. The Government of Japan expects the UK to maintain this favourable role”.
I don’t disagree with this, although in no way do I claim that the EU is perfect (far from it). However, the maintenance of EU membership, particularly the common market element, is economically vital to both Scotland’s and the wider UK’s economic interests and especially for Scottish business. Those interests should not be put at risk in a UK wide vote which will most likely be decided by the South-East of the UK because of the nature of our electoral system and the population concentration in that part of the country.
Cameron will return to power in 2015
The reason the Japanese Government issued this statement is because they were encouraged to do so by the UK Government. David Cameron has become increasingly worried by the rising influence of UKIP and the European Union membership question in British politics ahead of the 2015 Westminster election. Particularly when it comes to his core vote in London and the South East of the UK, hence why he has agreed to an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU shortly after the 2015 General Election. Setting this referendum has contributed to a turn around in the polls for the Conservatives, so much so that it is looking much more likely David Cameron will be returned to power in 2015 partly on a manifesto commitment which gives Britain the option of leaving Europe.
We have a situation where at least some elements of the UK Government want the public to vote for staying in the EU in 2016 but recognise there is a substantial risk to the country’s ongoing membership. They have begun to pull out all the stops including seeking opinions from foreign governments to better educate, inform and influence British voters.
However, the same UK Government refuses to answer vital questions about the proposition for Scotland with a No vote in next year’s Scotland referendum, including the potential for Scotland leaving the UK if it votes No in the independence referendum next September. Presumably this is because they know that better informed voters will not vote in the way they want?
In a related development, the Sunday papers reported on internal Yes Scotland research showing that the more informed a Scottish voter is the more likely they are to vote Yes next September. Perhaps that’s why the Scottish Government and Yes Scotland are producing more and more information every day to the extent that most reasonable questions on the Yes proposition can now be met with substantial answers. Any gaps which remain will be covered in November’s Scottish Parliament white paper, almost a year ahead of the independence referendum.
For democracy to work properly, all votes require the people to make educated and informed decisions. Even unionist members of the House of Lords have attacked the Scottish Secretary for refusing to ask the European Union’s governing body for advice on Scotland’s future if it becomes independent as the Westminster committees investigate the possible scenarios for Scotland following a Yes or No vote.
In fact, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee accused Scottish Secretary Michael Moore of leaving Scotland with “a blind vote” and adopting a “puzzling”, “unsustainable” and “totally irresponsible” position. The problem for the Scottish Government is that only member-states such as the UK can expect a proper response from Brussels on subjects like the terms of an independent Scotland’s or the remaining UK’s (rUK’s) membership (the principle is not in any real question but the terms are up for negotiation during a set transition period in which Scotland will still be part of the Westminster system for circa 18 months). The European Commission has made it clear that whilst it is sympathetic to the need for discussions it can only act when approached by the UK Government.
Even arch unionist Lord Forsyth of Polltax (that might not be his real title) said “I find it a bit puzzling how you can reconcile saying ‘we’re not prepared to talk to the Commission as a Government to ask what the consequences would be’, with saying at the same time that we want to have ‘a fully informed debate’.
It is plain for all to see that when the UK Government expects or knows it can get the answer it wants, it is willing to engage internationally or produce scaremongering reports. In contrast, when it is worried about its ability to influence the answer, the default position is to avoid asking the question and reduce information which undermines the public’s right to a well informed debate.
In my view, this is nothing less than an affront to democracy. The people of Scotland are being denied their democratic right to have an informed and educated debate solely because it is politically expedient for the No Campaign to maintain some level of fictional uncertainty. All of this despite the fact that the UK government and the Secretary of State for Scotland are paid to act in our best interests as much as any other part of the UK. It is clearly in the best interests of the people of Scotland to have clarification on matters like the terms of and process for EU membership and the UK Government should ask the EU to off advice on these matters as soon as possible.
The Scottish Government’s long held position that EU membership for a newly independent Scotland would be automatic (in other words its only the terms not the principle that are in question) is compelling and heavily backed by legal opinion. Voting Yes in 2014 is not a vote to leave the EU but rather a vote to guarantee Scotland’s continued membership without the risk of exit driven by the different values and outlook of London and the South-East. It also strikes me that renegotiating the terms of our membership will be straightforward as will be maintaining the opt-outs on Shengen and the Euro etc. It is not the size of the country that matters in negotiations with the EU but rather the leverage and potential contribution of that country. Given our long-standing history in Europe and of course Scotland’s energy, renewables, fishing and broader industrial assets, we should expect favourable terms of membership.
Fortunately, not everyone wants to keep Scottish voters in the dark. Recently, several sources within the Danish Government made it clear that continued EU membership for a newly independent Scotland would be a formality.
Polls consistently show that Scotland would vote to stay in the EU but that the rest of the UK would probably vote to leave. Given our relative population sizes this raises the prospect that Scotland (should we vote to remain politically dependent on Westminster) could be taken out of the EU against our wishes by the larger English population’s vote. This point is driven home by the recent polling of Panelbase suggesting that if it looks like the UK is going to leave the EU then the projected voting intentions for the 2014 Scottish referendum move to a dead heat at 44% Yes and 44% No.
In simple terms, the only way to guarantee continued EU membership and to get a fully empowered government that works in the interests of Scotland is to vote Yes in 2014.
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