Is membership of the EU in Scotland’s best interests?

by Peter Kearney

On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union. It was the right result and will, in the long term be in the best interests of Scotland and Scottish independence. In the course of the last 15 years, the EU has become a frighteningly engulfing and anti-democratic monster, a voracious super state, demonstrably willing to devour its own young in a ravenous expansion of its powers and privileges. Greece, Portugal and Spain have been thrown to the financial wolves so that Brussels and Berlin can keep “The Project” on track.

Festering tensions in Europe have not been higher since the 1930’s the institution which burnished its image as peacemaker and antidote to belligerence has become the cause of more distrust and hatred than would ever have seemed imaginable to its founders.

In the past year the brutal austerity imposed by the ECB/IMF/EU on Greece has seen 500 Greek men commit suicide and anti-German sentiment explode. In Spain unemployment among under 25’s is 45%, in Greece the comparable figure is 51%. In Austria the far right is on the rise and came within a hair’s breadth of winning the Presidency, in France the Front National is growing stronger. The grand design of a homogenous, standardised, sanitized Europe turned out to be as totalitarian and toxic as every other ill-fated attempt from Napoleon to Stalin, to crush and erase Europe’s multitude of conflicting and energizing identities.

Yet at every stage it was proposed and pursued by a disconnected globalised elite convinced they knew best. In the course of the past century the domestic politics of European nations have been pretty putrid. From National Socialism in Germany, to Fascism in Italy and Spain, chronic corruption, venality and stupidity have featured prominently. Elites in all these countries, realizing the hopelessness of reforming their own states decided that rather than even trying they would assemble a new pan European creation which could be used to indulge their every bureaucratic impulse, unfettered by the realities of electorates and the inconvenience of accountability which comes with democracy. It was always doomed to fail.

In the UK there was a ready supply of elitists willing to jump on the bandwagon and they were screaming in unison during the referendum campaign; Ashdown, Blair, Brown, Major, Cameron – the discredited and dislikeable detritus of Britain’s rotten political system lining up to frighten the masses with tales of Armageddon if they threaten their project. Interestingly, many of them were the same superannuated political has-beens who lined up to threaten Scotland with the promise of political and economic apocalypse, were Scots to have voted against another political union in 2014. Sadly, Scots voters took fright and listened to their doom mongering then. English voters were more courageous in 2016, refusing to let the commentariat scare or intimidate them.

Whilst the chatterati and the inhabitants of the metropolitan echo chamber were ceaseless during the referendum campaign, any expectation that they might fall silent on losing, turned out to be false. Being narcissists they couldn’t stop pontificating. An early tweet from the comedian James Corden summed them up, he said: “I can't get my head around what's happening in Britain. I'm so sorry to the youth of Britain. I fear you've been let down today” His faux dismay was punctured by a response a few minutes later from someone saying simply; “Tweeting from his house in LA!”

In fact, the vote was the best possible outcome for the “youth of Britain” when the UK joined the (then EEC) 40 years ago, Europe accounted for 35% of global GDP, today Europe represents 16% of world trade – it is dying on its feet, a demographic wasteland, where self-satisfied, Generation-Xers and Millennials don’t want to have kids but don’t want migrants to flood in to do the jobs that can’t be filled because there simply isn’t a next generation of Europeans to do them. Global growth and the prospects for young people in this country will, sadly, not be found in Europe.

Amazingly, given their raison d’etre, what the SNP high command failed to realise, was that incorporating political unions are a bad idea. If the SNP, of all parties, don’t grasp that reality, their arguments, that the incorporating political union to which Scotland currently belongs (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is not in Scotland’s best interests, is seriously and fundamentally undermined.

A nation, of course, is; it’s people, it’s history. It’s culture, it’s ethos, it’s landscape, even its weather. Nations form slowly and once formed can hold their identity against many attacks and challenges. The nation is the appropriate unit of global interaction and exchange, customs, currency, fiscal and monetary policy should all be matters for each nation. Forcing diverse and distinct nations into one-size-fits-all political moulds will always fail. If the incorporating union of the EU was bad for the UK (and it was) then the incorporating union of the UK is bad for Scotland, this is the message the SNP should have promoted and should be articulating – it offers the best template yet for our Independence Day.

Instead, a narrow political agenda has been followed. Like thrawn Scots who’ll support any team as long as it’s not England, the SNP position seems to be “if England supports it, it must be wrong” a more mature approach would have been to ask “is membership of the EU in Scotland’s best interests?” to date at least, the SNP have not offered a shred of empirical evidence to suggest that it is.

Within days of the referendum result, Nicola Sturgeon travelled to Brussels, ostensibly to meet the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. In the event, Tusk said it was not appropriate at that time, she presumably also hoped to meet EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, but didn't. Instead she met European Parliament President Martin Shulz. A bit like travelling to London to meet the Prime Minster and being fobbed off with the Speaker of the House of Commons. Scotland’s First minister had a chat with a powerless bureaucrat while the powerful decision makers ignored her. It was embarrassing and unless the trip was designed to highlight Scotland's international impotence, which is unlikely, it was also pointless.

Equally embarrassing was the gaffe by the recently appointed Scottish “Brexit Minister” Mike Russell. Having hinted that he had been in contact with Madrid about his plans for a separate Scottish deal on Brexit, he told a journalist: “I am not going to reveal everybody’s conversations, but I think you can take it that as intelligent people we would not be talking in these terms unless we were having conversations.”

The Spanish foreign office later confirmed that there had been no talks about Scottish derogations. While Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, has said that Madrid would oppose any separate deal for Scotland over Brexit as it would encourage separatists in Catalonia and the Basque Country to seek a similar deal if they ever split from Spain.

Yet the Scottish Government’s mantra of doing everything "to keep Scotland's place in Europe" continues to be repeated at every opportunity. It is a meaningless formulation. Our country happens to be within the continent known as Europe, that isn't going to change, it also happens to have voted to remain part of the U.K. Which has just voted to leave the EU, that isn't going to change either.

So, why the desperate, almost irrational, desire to stay within the trading block known as the EU? Well, it's not for economic reasons, that's for sure. Scotland exports around £76bn of goods and services every year. Around £48.5bn (64%) go to the rest of the U.K. ,£15.2bn (20%)to the rest of the world and £11.6bn (15%) to the EU. Importantly, the 15% EU figure is an overestimate, since huge amounts of Scottish exports travel to European ports for onward transmission around the world. As the Scottish Government put it in their exports briefing; "The Netherlands and Belgium are consistently reported in Scotland’s top trading partners, however as these countries contain key ports many of these goods are for onward supply to other countries."

This is known as The Rotterdam Effect which is the phenomenon of some exports being classified based on the port from which they are shipped rather than their final destination.

It is likely that Scottish exports to EU countries could be closer to 10% than 15% of total exports. This begs a question, which no one in the Scottish media seems to be asking; "If over 85% of our exports and perhaps as much as 90%, don't go to the EU, why are we so desperately trying to remain within the EU's single market?

There's another consideration which needs to be factored into this equation, for the last 12 years our exports to the EU have been declining. This is because the EU is stagnating and contracting at an alarming rate while the rest of the world is growing and developing.

Remaining in the Single Market under an EFTA style deal would allow the trade to continue, although Scottish companies would have to comply with all EU law and directives. Since they already do, that wouldn't be in any way onerous.

Scotland's biggest single international destination for exports is the USA (£4bn) the prospects for growth in trade with the USA and central and South American countries are high, especially with Brazil, the prospects for growing our trade with EU countries are dismal. Strangely, no Scottish Government minister is heading for Brasilia or Washington or Delhi or Bejing. Most likely, because the current debate is not about Scotland's long term economic future or prosperity, it is not about grown up politics or seizing a global advantage for this country, it is about grabbing headlines and trying to gain short term political advantage.

Depressingly, despite the fact that it has the poorest prospects for economic growth of any continent on earth (apart perhaps from Antarctica) our political class are thirlled to the utterly outdated idea that our future lies within the European Union. This conceit isn't just an irritating failing on the part of the chattering middle classes in the worlds of politics, academia and the media. It is a catastrophic and brutal betrayal of a generation of Scottish children who won't be concerned about weekends in Paris, Pinot Grigio from Lombardy, pate from Ardennes or Erasmus scholarships to continental universities, they'll be concerned about jobs and stable, sustainable employment which have the potential to lift them from poverty and give them dignity.

It is in the great European tradition to let the peasants "eat cake" or offer them "bread and circuses" and in that tradition, the Eurocentric navel gazing of the Scottish Government is failing them utterly. If our economy and their prospects are stunted as a result, we will all reap a whirlwind of social upheaval, xenophobia and bitter revenge.