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Thoughts about Brexit and Scottish Independence – after the Conservative Party victory in the UK General Election

Introduction

I live in Scotland and I’m strongly pro-EU and pro-UK, but the election result on Thursday and the now inevitability of the UK leaving the EU mean it is time I should re-evaluate my position on Scottish Independence.

In my post from March 2019 I explained why I did not support breaking up the UK or the UK leaving the European Union.  Fundamentally, I believe that Nationalism reinforces differences rather than embracing them and people achieve more when they work together at all levels.  I think we should be working to build stronger links with other nations, not finding ways to make ourselves different. 

So, as you can imagine I had hoped that Brexit would not happen.  Whatever you measure, Brexit is a bad idea for the UK.  It separates us from one of the largest trading blocks in the world, it introduces extra complexity and costs into almost every aspect of our international relationships.  It moves us from being rule makers as a major economy in the EU to being rule takers in order to trade with our former partners.  It reduces our bargaining power in relationships with major economies like the USA or China.  Brexit removes the right for UK citizens to live and work in EU countries and so makes it harder for UK citizens to move to where the best job opportunities are.   It also makes it more difficult for UK business and public sector such as the NHS to recruit and retain the best people from the world to build and sustain our economy, our health care system, our scientific research and education systems.

However, with the election result on Thursday, Brexit will now happen for sure.  We’ll leave the EU at the end of January 2020 and there will follow a difficult time of negotiations about our future relationship with the EU.   As many have said, this is not the end of the process, but just the first step.  The entire business of splitting away from the EU will be costly and those costs will likely be felt greatest by the poorest in society.   This makes me sad.

Scotland after Brexit

As well as providing Boris Johnson with a strong position to push his party policies, the election result has emboldened the SNP in Scotland with the election of 48 MPs to the Westminster Parliament, 13 more than they had in the last parliament.   There are now many questions about whether it will be possible for Scotland to hold another referendum on independence (IndyRef2) in the near future and what the result might be.   I have to decide whether I would support independence in IndyRef2 or not.   Here are some pros and cons as I see them at the moment, but I am happy to listen to reasoned arguments about this position:

Scotland Staying in the UK

Positives

  • We already have our own Government.
  • We have control of the NHS in Scotland.
  • We have control of the education system in Scotland.
  • We have control of the legal system in Scotland.
  • We print our own bank notes.
  • We have strong representation in the UK parliament (59 MPs).
  • We have the economic cushion of the UK economy (which will still be big even after Brexit).
  • We have the protection of the UK armed forces.
  • We do not have to replicate all government services but can take advantage of UK economies of scale.

Negatives

  • We don’t have full control of taxation.
  • We will leave the EU.

 

Scotland leaving the UK

Positives

  • We’ll still have control of everything we already have control of as part of the UK.
  • The Scottish Parliament will have full control to make decisions/borrow money etc.
  • We can apply for EU membership independently of the UK.

Negatives

I spell these out more fully in my March post.

  • We lose the economic cushion of the UK.
  • We still won’t be part of the EU – membership should be possible, but will take time to negotiate and for Scotland to meet economic requirements of membership.
  • If we do join the EU then we will be a much smaller player in that Union than we are currently in the UK.
  • We won’t have automatic access to all the services we currently enjoy as part of the UK.
  • Funding for Science will be uncertain.
  • It will cost a lot to split away from the UK and will take time.  Likewise, if joining the EU is possible, there will be costs and it will take time.  The poorest in society will suffer in the transition.

Summary

I don’t vote on emotional grounds.  For me, how I campaign and vote in a future IndyRef2 rests on clarity of the deal and process for leaving the UK and potentially joining the EU.  

If we get to vote again on independence, then I would want to see clear evidence from those promoting independence that a path to full EU membership had been agreed ahead of the vote.  Without EU membership, it seems likely that Scotland would struggle to balance the books as a nation.  I’d also want to see a clear and detailed agreement with the UK government on what the divorce deal with the UK would be.

Since I work in a University and do scientific research, I’d need to see hard evidence that Scottish institutions that currently rely heavily on UK charities and government funds would still be able to obtain funding from those sources.  There were no such guarantees in the lead up to the last independence referendum.  Indeed, it was not even clear what currency we would have used had the vote been Yes.  There were huge questions around pensions that had not been answered and many, many more issues.

I hope that the SNP and colleagues who promote independence for Scotland will not follow the path of the Brexiteers by peddling untruths in support of their cause.    Rather, I look forward to hearing concrete, well-research data on which I can base my decision.

 

1 Comment

  1. Uwe Dengler

    Very clearly put Geoff. summarizing most of, if not all considerations of the potential scenarios.

    Personally I see a break between Scotland and the UK as extremely difficult, costly and expensive „project“. Even with a swift full EU membership it is a big challenge.

    In essence I agree with your suggestions, what to do next. For Scotland it will be essential to get a full and clear view of the deal between the EU and the UK before taking any definitive decision.

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