LAST WEEK to the surprise and despair (including many in her own party) Nicola Sturgeon finally threw down the veil and announced that she would be seeking a second referendum on Scottish independence before the Brexit negotiations are formally concluded.
It’s been oh-so clear that since her grandstanding speech in the hall of Bute House on the morning of June 24th that this was the route she would eventually take.
The SNP argument for preference of the EU union over the UK one simply doesn’t stack up. Aside from the small fact that Scotland would be leaving its largest market to protect access to its smallest (which in itself is a bizarre position to take) several problems are arising for the SNP’s plans which gang aft agley; not least the key point that the relationship an independent Scotland has with the EU will be vastly different to the one the UK currently has.
If we look closely at the arithmetic of Sturgeon’s plan it sheds some light on the faults in her rationale.
Let’s take the timeframe outlined for a referendum by the First Minister: between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019.
During her recent conference speech Nicola Sturgeon said that she wants to give Scotland a choice “before it is too late to take a different path”.
Let’s suppose for a moment that she wins a theoretical independence referendum in early autumn 2018; under SNP arguments, Scotland would then need to de-couple itself from a 300-year-old union in a matter of months. If you thought Brexit seemed complex, imagine how mind bogglingly difficult it would be to separate as a fully integrated component of an existing country whilst trying to negotiate entry to a 27-member state Union that had just lost its second-largest member?
Putting aside the fact that Scotland might fail to meet to 3% deficit criteria required for membership (ours is currently 9.5%) it would still take Scotland years to negotiate its way into the EU as full member state.
As an independent country, we would have to reapply for EU membership, under existing due protocol, which could open the possibility of interim arrangements on trade until an agreement with Europe was agreed. SNP obsession with home rule could lead to the worst possible economic model imaginable for a trading nation.
Let’s also examine the issue of currency, something that the SNP regularly deflects as a non-issue and brushes under the carpet. Would Scotland use the pound or the euro?
Consider that by re-joining the EU Scotland would no longer benefit from the opt-outs secured by John Major in the 1990s. EU accession is governed by criteria set out in an agreement made between the EU heads of government in 1992 in the Danish Capital known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”.
It explicitly sets out that “to take on the obligations of membership, including the capacity to effectively implement the rules, standards and policies that make up the body of EU law (the 'acquis'), and adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”
On Sunday the First Minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that the pound was just as much Scotland’s as it was the UK’s. Unfortunately for Nicola Sturgeon sentimental value doesn’t override international treaties.
The SNP already knows this: an independent Scotland inside the EU would have to eventually adopt the Eurozone rules. Not to mention the free movement of people, goods and services. 38% of Scots voted to leave the EU. 45% of Scots voted to leave the UK. The SNP top table faces a conundrum. Using Brexit as an excuse for indyref2, whilst knowing that there is not absolute support for the European project.
It is worth mentioning that a substantial number of SNP voters are anti-EU too. There is such conflicting logic in the notion that sovereignty will be regained for Scotland by taking powers back from Westminster, which have just been repatriated from Brussels, to give them to Holyrood, only to hand them over to Brussels again! This is going to keep constitutional legislative lawyers and Bill drafters in work for a very long time.
One can imagine the headache this is causing Sturgeon, Salmond and Robertson - at the helm of the SNP, given that the Euro has been in “crisis” for more than half of its life and is unlikely to win new champions in its cause.
Putting aside all the difficulties that the Euro would bring to Scotland (incorrect interest rates for a high deficit country, lack of competitive exchange rate, low consumer confidence and general volatility) few people have touched on what it means to have your national debt in a foreign currency.
Should Scotland ever become independent it must accept its share of the debt from the UK, which will naturally be in pound sterling. Repayments must therefore be made in that currency. If the pound rises in value (which it can as its typically been a strong currency) then Scotland’s national debt will increase as a percentage of GDP as it would be trading in a weaker currency. That makes it extraordinary difficult to pay off the already accumulated debt when its value is fluctuating – how could a Finance Secretary even begin to plan a budget for that? Derek MacKay’s magic sofa will have long been flushed out by then.
These are serious and very real questions that the SNP needs to stop dancing around.
But the issue of our EU membership raises another problem, without our current EU opt-outs and rebates and with the current mood in Brussels for further political integration, Scotland could find itself less independent than it ever wished for. The notion that Brussels is wholly fair democratic institution whilst Westminster is not is a laughable one.
Scotland could face giving more powers to the EU than it currently shares with Westminster and with only a projected 2.1% voting power in the EU institutions it will have little say over those matters again.
Surely Scotland would be less independent than it is now? In the House of Commons 59 Scottish MPs sit, 9% of the total parliamentary intake. In the European Parliament, we currently have 6 MEPs, that’s less than 1% of the 751.
So where does all this leave us?
Nicola Sturgeon talks of hard Brexit whilst advocating hard-EU membership where we hand over powers to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, significantly reduce our parliamentary representatives and throw down our border controls all in the name of independence.
If a referendum does come around it’ll be a choice between bringing more powers to Holyrood or handing more over to Brussels. A strange twist of fate where the leaders of Yes Scotland will be effectively arguing for less independence for Scotland than it currently wields.
This isn’t a Brexit problem, this is a European problem. One that the First Minister of Scotland has no clear strategy on and is stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Jamie Greene is a Scottish Conservative MSP for West Scotland and party spokesman for technology, connectivity, the digital economy and broadcasting.