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The Scottish case for Brexit will grow and grow


WHILE LAST WEEK’S political focus in Scotland was split between the arguments on whether or not to raise taxes and what might replace the Barnett Formula, there can be no mistaking that the bigger game was being played out in capitals across Europe over the Prime Minister’s negotiation on European Union reform.

Back in June, Downing Street’s strategy of being able to hold an in or out referendum after securing reforms had everything going for it. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, his desperately weak approach to negotiating that sold the pass from the beginning, together with crises on Greek debt, mass migration and security, has resulted in the public being less than impressed by what has been achieved thus far.

Polling evidence suggests the public does not believe what is being claimed as reform is significant enough to make any difference. In those circumstances the floating voters will be less disposed to backing an EU leadership that appears grudging towards considering change and unable to foresee the crises of their own making – or then deal with them adequately when they arise. This is all the more annoying to a public that is familiar with the difficulties a common currency and freedom of movement to all EU citizens have faced over the last twenty years.

While at this point in the Scottish Parliament election the EU referendum does not look relevant, it could yet have a salience for that campaign, and must become important to the question of a second indyref taking place.

With the leadership of all five of the parties currently represented at Holyrood backing continued EU membership, there is nowhere for EU-sceptic voters to go. It is shameful in a democracy that a third of the public cannot find a voice amongst their elected representatives..

If Brexit becomes the swing issue for any electors in May then only UKIP in Scotland offers a democratic choice. The elevation of the EU referendum in the public’s consciousness could then begin to make a second vote for UKIP attractive and make the attainment of the party’s first MSP a possibility.

While it is undoubtedly a long shot, the same was said about Nigel Farage’s party during the European Parliament elections, but my constant remonstrations during that campaign that UKIP could win a Scottish seat as European issues became more dominant ultimately came true.

Recently there have been a number of developments that will conspire to strengthen EU-scepticism in Scotland. In January we have seen both an intervention by the SNP sage Jim Sillars in calling for a separate nationalist campaign against EU membership and then the launch of Scottish Left Leave under the guidance of retired MP but lively campaigner Nigel Griffiths.

Possibly because he is no longer interested in public office Jim Sillars has an admirable ability to deconstruct SNP hubris and inconsistency by seeing through the platitudinous chaff and identifying the core issue of what powers a Scottish Parliament could benefit from were Scotland not in the EU (be it in the UK or not).

Sillars has a deservedly large personal following for the simple reason that he recognises the political landscape changes and what might once have been attractive can through time begin to appear a disadvantage.

Since the eighties we have seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, China embracing economic reform and the rise of globalisation under the rules of the emerging World Trade Organisation. The certainties of an EEC trade bloc that has mutated into a centralising political union must give real concerns for nationalists that are looking to restore local control. Why gain independence from Westminster only to hand it over to the unelected EU Commission?

Sillars has had the good grace to review his past advocacy of EU engagement and now recognises how EU membership would neutralise any gains that leaving the UK could win.

Likewise, the once attractive prospect for international socialists of the EU securing protection for workers sounds like a very bad joke when it is the EU that ensures public service procurement must be competitively tendered – weakening workers’ pay and conditions. Concerns about an EU trade agreement with the US or Canada opening up competition in the NHS is a red herring, the EU will in time undoubtedly travel down this road anyhow, like it has already for our railways, ferries and postal services. TTIP is not a prerequisite for privatisation – it is simply a process – and the EU Commission has other processes it can introduce by itself with nothing a Scottish Parliament can do to stop it.

The activity of Labour Leave in Scotland will give new focus to the left-of-centre arguments about escaping the neo-liberal and undemocratic European Union and in its arguments will meld with those being made by Sillars. This can only contribute to a growing level of Scottish support for rejecting the European Union that David Cameron and George Osborne are so keen to champion.

The growing Scottish trend towards rejecting the EU, while small, is undoubtedly there and once supportive arguments are articulated with greater purpose and by voices like Sillars and Griffiths can be expected to grow further. Polling by TNS put support for Brexit at only 19 per cent last May, rising to 21 per cent in September and 24 per cent in January. Excluding don’t knows puts Scottish support for a UK Brexit at 32 per cent – before anyone has put the Scottish case for Brexit. YouGov polls show a similar trend.

Once that Scottish case is constructed there is no reason it cannot go beyond 40 per cent – at which point Scotland’s divergence with the rest of the UK over EU membership becomes less significant and certainly not enough to justify holding a second referendum.

And a Scottish case does exist. How can any Scottish politician at Holyrood reject the prospect of gaining full control over fishing policy? The same goes for delivering agricultural management and support – or devising economic support for steel mills hit by Chinese dumping. With a net saving of £12 billion to be disbursed around the UK, what Scottish politician could not conceive of more useful public spending that would at a stroke eliminate the need for austerity politics?

All of these competences or policies would be possible under both devolution or independence. Unionists and nationalists can therefore unite behind a Scottish case for Brexit and then carry on their own debate about the best course for Scotland.

All the more strange then that SNP leaders arguing for more powers for Holyrood have not recognised that the mechanism most likely to deliver a beneficial outcome for the young institution is to defeat the UK political establishment – the BBC, the British civil service, the big bankers, the House of Lords and the grandees of Westminster – who are on the side of the EU project.

In its eagerness to attack the rise of UKIP and what it portrays as narrow English Nationalism the SNP has ended up siding with the very establishment it proclaims to abhor. Thank goodness for the insight of Jim Sillars and Nigel Griffiths. More power to their elbow – but where are the Tories that feel the same and why have they lost their voice?

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Scotsman on 8th February 2016


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Article from Wednesday 10, February, 2016