Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brexit: the consequences for Scotland

It's now quite clear that the British prime minister is now determined to push on with a hard Brexit, entirely regardless of the lack of a mandate to do so, and equally heedless of the protestations of the Scottish government, which rules a constituent nation that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. 

The extent of the contempt in which Scotland is held in Whitehall, and the speed with which the lie that we are a valued, equal partner in the Union unraveled is breathtaking. It's almost as breathtaking as the brazen-ness of Kezia Dugdale's u-turn on the importance of Scotland's place in Europe. Two years ago, Dugdale was touring the country, earnestly telling anyone who'd listen that Scotland's place in the EU was too important to be put at risk by leaving the United Kingdom. Today, her position is that Scotland's place in the EU is of little importance, and that Scots don't in any case have the right to decide whether or not we remain. 

The British regime's policy shift from "leaving the EU" to "hard Brexit" has gone almost unremarked. But here's what it means. It means that the guaranteed right of Europeans to live and work in the United Kingdom will vanish. It will be replaced with a policy by the present British regime which extends to them the permission to live and work in the UK, but which can be ended at the stroke of a pen by a subsequent British regime. It is not hard to imagine - not too far in the future - a British general election campaign in which parties try to out-racist each other, with immigration restrictions being the inevitable outcome. 

This will not go unreciprocated by the remaining member states of the EU. Any and all restrictions on the rights of EU citizens to settle, study and work in the UK will be mirrored in restrictions on the rights of Scots. 

In 2014, Scottish Labour stole our right to live and to work; to love and to learn in the rest of Europe. They stole those rights from Scots, and sold them for the opportunity to be ruled by Theresa May. 

May's decision to trigger Article 50 in March means that the French presidential (April) and parliamentary (June) elections, the German federal election (likely September), and parliamentary elections in Czechia (before October) and the Netherlands (March) will become contests between the parties offering the most punitive sanctions against the British (and therefore Scotland), with anti-British governments likely to be in position in Paris, Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam. 

Romania goes to the polls in Parliamentary elections in December this year, and it may be considered unlikely that a party offering to accept a ban on Romanian immigration to the UK whilst simultaneously offering the UK a sweetheart deal would be tremendously successful. 

And remember - any single member state has the right to veto a "good Brexit" for the UK if it feels its own interests are not properly served. 

My own view is that the British have far too high an opinion of their own importance and far too complacent a view of their position. The British ministries responsible for Brexit are full of bellicose rhetoric. They talk of withdrawing from the single market with no concomitant sanctions. 

The British see themselves as a global power, and the powerhouse of Europe. They are not. They are a third-rate power which can't even fire their weapons without the say-so of the United States (it is noteworthy that the hard-Right campaigners which led the campaign to leave the EU don't similarly wish to "take back control" from NATO). They are a country with few natural resources other than oil and gas from Scotland. Their financial services industry - the backbone of their entire economy - is entirely dependent on the goodwill of European financial houses and regulators. A euro-free UK financial services industry was tolerated. An EU-free one will not be. Hands will be being rubbed with gleeful anticipation in Dublin and Valletta - euro-using EU states with highly-educated, English-speaking populations.

Their export industry, such as it is, is utterly reliant on major non-British manufacturers (for there are no major British manufacturers any longer) taking advantage of the country's tariff-free regime, coupled with its absurdly low wages. If the EU slaps tariffs on British car, say, exports, Nissan and BMW will simply up sticks and go to Poland or Slovakia. Assembling a vehicle is no more difficult in Siauliai or Szeged than it is in Sunderland. 

The British simply have zero bargaining position other than the position of EU nationals coming to live and work in the UK. And a country with more of its citizens resident in other EU states than any other member state does not exactly have its opponents over a barrel in that regard. 

So what will happen with a hard Brexit is that it will be an acrimonious Brexit. From Bucharest and Warsaw to Riga and Budapest, governments and peoples will feel insulted and slighted that their presence is not welcome in the UK, and will seek to react accordingly. In Bonn and in Paris, and in Brussels and in Vienna, men and women will meet in chancelleries to do their damndest to ensure that the British experience of abandoning the EU is so miserable that no other country will contemplate experiencing it for themselves. 

To keep the European Union intact, it is necessary pour encourager les autres that the United Kingdom and her people do not experience an upturn in their fortunes after abandoning the Common Market. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained for the EU27 in offering a soft landing for the British. They do not, regardless of what myopic, 1950s-nostalgic Conservatives, "need us more than we need them". 

Scotland now has two options and one timeframe. 

The timeframe is this: By April Fools' Day 2019 the United Kingdom will have left the European Union. It may have done so on punitive World Trade Organisation terms. Its students will no longer be being accepted to EU universities. Its pensioners in Spain (now no longer entitled to public medical care) will be returning, putting increasing pressure on its creaking public services. Its banks and financial services industries will likely have fled in anticipation of the fiscal holocaust to come. The value of the Pound Sterling will have fallen through the floor (and the traditional upside of a stronger export industry will not materialise as foreign manufacturers will have closed their businesses and fled, putting tens of thousands on the dole) and capital controls will likely have to be imposed. 

And the options are these: Scotland - which voted to stay in the EU - can sit back, wrap ourselves in the Union Jack and be collateral damage in the financial blitz which is about to be unleashed on our neighbours.

Or we could use the two years to achieve independence (whether from a referendum, or a new government being elected on a manifesto commitment of independence). There is no doubt whatsoever that the Yes side would win a second referendum. Only five points from victory last time before the Unionists and the British betrayed and reneged on every single commitment they made to Scotland during the campaign, a majority of Scots voted Yes. The No vote was swung by two main groups: EU nationals concerned that an independent Scotland would not remain in the EU and would, therefore, be an existential threat to their right to live and work there, and British people who had moved to Scotland and wished for their country to continue to possess it. 

There is little that can be done about the second group (although it is to be hoped that some will move from No to Yes, if only on the basis that people who move to other countries tend by definition to be more outward-looking), but in terms of the first group, not only has the reason for their block vote for No disappeared, it has actually become the opposite: without an independent Scotland, EU nationals will definitely have their rights to live and work here stripped from them. 

We were right to extend the franchise in the first referendum to those EU nationals. Those who choose to live and work amongst us deserve their chance to shape the future of the country every bit as much as someone who happens to have been born there. And although it militated against us, it was the right thing to do. It is also the right thing to do in the new referendum, and we must strongly oppose what will be the inevitable attempts by the Unionists to prevent our friends, colleagues and neighbours from the franchise. 

The constitutional crisis which gives us our excuse to strike will come when the British attempt to railroad their Great Repeal Bill through, legislating for Scotland without the consent of our devolved institutions (it could, ironically, give Scottish Labour a tiny shred of hope of one day recovering if they stand against attempts to legislate for Scotland against our will. Of course, they will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives against Scotland, and diminish just a little further) and our government. Immediately this occurs, the Government must immediately bring a Referendum Bill before Parliament. And if the British regime attempts to veto it, so much the better: the Government will be able to say with complete justification that they have attempted to work within the devolved framework, been rejected by the British, collapse the Holyrood Parliament, and seek a mandate at the subsequent general election to begin negotiations for independence in Europe. 

The fact that the Unionists' "concern" for our EU place has - as with so many other things - now been exposed as a tactic rather than a principle, will certainly help our chances of winning any referendum too. 

It's coming yet, for a' that.

1 comment:

  1. I'm waiting with bated breath to hear what our FM says soon. The idea of an election here with Independence on the ticket is an interesting one. If NS went that road it could really be one in the eye for all other parties. It could, of course, backfire but I doubt it. Part of me hopes she goes for that and she's returned on an even stronger footing. Indyref2 just stamping approval. Another part of me wants her just to hang fire while WM burns its boats. Either way, I trust her which is something I haven't done with politicians since - well, ever, really.
    Well reasoned article, btw. And, you're right, it's coming yet, for a' that. Jist no' soon enough!