DIVORCING THE EQUAL PARTNER? (With a nod to Margaret).
If at times the UK seems excessively “English” to some Scots, it’s simply due to England’s greater population. From time to time some Scots (being from an historic nation with a proud past), will inevitably resent some expressions of this immutable fact. Is it equitable that 8.3% of the UK’s population (Scotland) has any stronger voice than any other 8.3% of the UK’s population? Of course not, the Scots voice is heard, more loudly than say a Cumbrian or Northumbrian voice, neither of whom have the twin representation of Westminster and a devolved parliament.
UK citizens (from all corners of the UK) are “Equal” partners, not by way of an unequal “25% share” of political power dictated by “constituent countries”, but by the very heartbeat of our democracy blessed with free speech, one person, one vote. Political parties wax and wane and come and go over time, with governments renewing every five years. It is only 23 years since Scotland returned more Tory MP’s the SNP ones, that trend could reverse in the be real 23 years. Our UK is an historic representative democracy, the mother of all parliaments. It is through this amazing partnership of citizens and constituent countries that people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (and some significant parts of northern England), benefit from extensive pooling and sharing of resources, enabling the nationwide provision of essential and modern welfare and services from Land’s end to John O’Groat’s, ensuring those in remote and rural areas can enjoy the benefits of an advanced society.
There are nationalist tendencies and separatist movements in all constituent countries, we should be forever mindful that these people are naturally blind to the greater good and the notion of shared citizenship. Not all Scots are nationalists, not all English people espouse nationalism and are grudging of UK wide support – we need to ensure nationalists notion of “independence” does not harm that greater good facilitated by the UK.
As a nation (though not a state), Scotland has an undoubted right to national self-determination. So far, it has exercised that right twice. Firstly joining and remaining in the Union for over 300 years, then secondly In 2014., under a democratic one person one vote (massive turnout) referendum, Scotland chose to stay as the UK.
Should Scots in future (as a properly mandated majority) determine on independence, no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much the rest of the UK might be saddened by and regret their departure.
What the Scots cannot do however, is to insist upon their own terms for remaining in the Union, regardless of the views of others. Nor could they alone determine the inevitably debilitating terms of a future divorce or avoid any share of national responsibility.
The advent of Brexit has focused the UK once again on constitutional matters, with some Scots erroneously classing the voting pattern in Scotland as a Scottish vote. It wasn’t, it was a UK wide vote, as democratic, as important and as binding as the Scottish independence referendum. It is worth remembering that the Remain vote in Scotland had a low comparative turnout to the rest of the UK, over one million Scots voted leave and turnout was well down on the rest of the UK.
No matter your personal views on Brexit, it is clear that it will happen, and with that clarity, it is highly likely Scotland separated from a non EU UK, would face an even tougher (and unnecessary) future outside.
It is clear Scotland would have to apply to join the EU under current accession rules, The Acquis, adopt the “Stability & Growth Pact”, the “Excessive Deficit Procedure” plus move, at some stage, towards the Euro. It will also need to abide by the “Schengen Agreement” while leaving its largest market (UK) using the Brexit outcome trade resolution, without the benefit of current UK EU opt outs.
Considering Scottish deficits of recent years (9% of GDP) and the failure of oil prices to get anywhere near the unrealistic SNP forecasted $113, would iScot expect to pay in or take support (Barnett style) from the EU? At what level? If it expects to pay in or be neutral, how? What significant tax & spend choices would it make to balance the books. Note accession criteria required deficit levels at 3% of GDP and Borrowing (debt) at less than 60% GDP – current Scottish levels are 9% and 100% respectively.
Contemplate the reductions in spending and increases in taxation to close those considerable gaps.
The EU situation is of course, without considering the considerable post separation issues of set up costs (£10 Billion conservatively), debt share (Yes, we would be responsible for 8.3% of UK debt) future debt interest charges, possible UK capital flight plus any UK trade reductions due to Brexit outcomes with the EU.
To consider leaving the UK when it has yet to resolve it’s Brexit negotiations seems folly, incredibly risky with totally uncertain outcomes, will the EU member states vote unanimously to admit Scotland? There is no safety net and no turning back if we separate.
Are we ready for significant changes to a myriad of small but important aspects of daily life by choosing (if they want us) the EU over the UK? Take VAT, the list below is our current zero rated items under UK EU special conditions;
Social housing; printed books (excluding e-books); journals and other printed materials; renovations to private housing; collections of domestic refuse; household water supplies; basic foodstuffs (excluding highly processed or pre-cooked food); some take away food; cut flowers and plants for food production; prescribed pharmaceutical products; certain medical supplies; domestic passenger transport; children’s clothing and footwear; live animals destined for human consumption; seed supplies; construction of residential buildings; some supplies for the construction of new buildings; sewerage services; motor cycle and bicycle helmets; intra-community and international passenger transport; some gold ingots, bars and coins.
Here is what a new EU entrant gets;
Intra-community and international transport (excluding road transport). In other words, nothing escapes VAT and only two “items” can be between 5% & 15%, which is the minimum.
“Zero rate derogation
Some goods and services are “zero-rated”. The zero rate is treated like a positive rate of tax calculated at 0%. Supplies subject to the zero rate are still “taxable supplies”, that is, they count as having VAT charged on them. In the UK, examples include most food, books, medications, and certain kinds of transport. The zero rate is not featured in the EU Sixth Directive as it was intended that the minimum VAT rate throughout Europe would be 5%. However, zero-rating remains in some member states, most notably the UK and Ireland, as a legacy of pre-EU legislation. These member states have been granted a derogation to continue existing zero-rating but cannot add new goods or services. An EU Member State may uplift their domestic zero rate to a higher rate, for example to 5% or 20%, however, EU VAT rules do not allow a reversal back to the Zero rate once it has been given up. Interestingly, Member States may institute a reduced rate on a previously zero rated item even where EU law does not provide for a reduced rate, however if a Member State makes an increase from a zero rate to the prevalent standard rate, they may not then decrease down to a reduced rate unless specifically provided for in EU VAT Law (Annexe III of EU Dir 2006/112 list sets out where a reduced rate is permissible).”
INDYREFX? NO THANKSX
There is no doubt Scotland could “go it alone”, survive, with or without the UK or the EU. Given decades it might even prosper – but at what intervening cost and misery, with what certainty other than hope? The real question is why should it? Because we voted differently to our fellow citizens? Don’t family members vote differently from time to time? How would it manage and develop in the next 40 years, grow its economy and protect its people given its current setup and western macro economics? – the cost in human terms would be substantial, our youth’s opportunities curtailed and their futures cast into doubt. I worry that many nationalists are in love with the idea of false freedom, a false dream that blinds them to the magnitude of problems and complexities that separation would incur.
Some Scots opine about the perceived democratic deficit, their point is confusing, obtuse even, not only did we elect 59 MP’s to Westminster but we have our own devolved parliament with it’s enhanced powers and MSP’s. Some Scots say Scotland’s voice is not heard, they are incorrect, they need to ensure that what they say is relevant for the UK, not just a small section of it. Giving up the UK family and swapping 59 MP’s in the UK for just 6 MEP’s in the EU seems a very retrograde step, inflicting the worst possible democratic defect on ourselves.
Polling since the Scottish independence referendum has seen no significant uplift in sentiment for separation, the SNP, who insisted the independence referendum was a one off opportunity, have indicated a required level of 60% support in the polls for a twelve month period. This hasn’t happened, seems highly unlikely to happen – especially considering the SNP lost its majority in HR16.
Long may the successful partnership of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland prosper.
Ps. This post was inspired by this quotation;
Thatcher on Scottish independence.
“If [the Tory Party] sometimes seems English to some Scots that is because the Union is inevitably dominated by England by reason of its greater population. The Scots, being an historic nation with a proud past, will inevitably resent some expressions of this fact from time to time. As a nation, they have an undoubted right to national self-determination; thus far they have exercised that right by joining and remaining in the Union. Should they determine on independence no English party or politician would stand in their way, however much we might regret their departure. What the Scots (not indeed the English) cannot do, however, is to insist upon their own terms for remaining in the Union, regardless of the views of the others.”