No peaking, but what does the following quote say about the politics of its author?
"I don’t get why others are so hostile to the idea and the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union."In fact it's the words of "Europhile", de facto SNPer and blogger/occasional media pundit Kate Higgins (aka The Burd). But of course the statement could just as easily be a clarion call for membership of the UK Union rather than the European equivalent.
Which in turn underlines the hypocrisy of many supporters of Scottish independence. A desperation to extricate Scotland from the shackles of the economic, social and political Union of the UK while at the same time demonstrating a huge desire to be part of the economic, social and political union of the EU.
Similarly, former SNP spin-doctor Ewan Crawford says:
"Here in Scotland the No campaign for the independence referendum has taken a slightly different tack. The rallying cry for the future is this: “Ask not what you or your country can do, but fear what other people are going to do to you and your country, then keep quiet and hope it won’t be too bad. Now run along.”"Which is essentially a variation on the 'Scotland subjugated by London/UK/Tory toffs'-style of argument. But Mr Crawford then goes on to say:
"In relation to Europe not a day goes by without some obstacle or other, however feeble, being thrown in front of the possibility of Scotland retaining its membership of the EU."So Scots should "fear what other people are going to do to you and your country" as regards London, but "other people" in Brussels aren't a problem, presumably.
This kind of political schizophrenia as regards the UK/EU comparison is indeed everywhere. For example, a former MEP recently wrote in the Herald:
"With a rabidly anti-EU English press owned by foreign owners it is quite likely that there will be an exit vote. So the real threat of separatism to Scotland is being dragged outside the EU by an increasingly reactionary political situation in England. Scotland has historically had close links to Europe and an independent Scotland would be better represented fully inside the EU rather than being misrepresented by a bunch of Eurosceptic Tories or not represented at all."So presumably the author thinks an "anti-EU" stance is bad, but an anti-UK stance good. "Dragged outside the EU" bad, but dragged outside the UK good. Scotland "having close historical links" with Europe is good, but self-evidently even closer historical links with the UK bad.
Indeed, this sort of stuff is all over the place. Extricating the inherent double standard towards unions simply requires the reader to swap the rhetoric round a bit. For example, SNP MSP Christine McKelvie recently said:
"Mr Andor's comments show Scotland is valued by Europe just as we value our relationship with Europe. It is unfortunate this constructive relationship is being clouded by the growing, Tory-led Euroscepticism taking hold of Westminster. With MPs queuing up to demand the UK's immediate withdrawal from the EU, and all Westminster parties determined to outdo each other in their hostility to the EU, it is becoming increasingly clear the real threat to Scotland's membership of the EU comes from Westminster – not from Scotland."And another SNP MSP - Clare Adamson - also said something broadly similar recently:
"Today’s events show the stark contrast between Westminster and the Scottish Government. While Westminster is putting up barriers to the rest of Europe and is becoming increasingly ignored, the Scottish Government is working with our neighbours to bring jobs and investment to Scotland. Moves by the rest of the EU to draw up a budget that excludes the UK are deeply embarrassing to the Westminster government. It is no wonder that David Cameron has today been sharply warned by the CBI over the threat that Westminster isolationism is posing to UK business. Every day that Westminster cuts us further adrift from our neighbours puts Scotland’s prospects of securing further investment in danger. As the threat to jobs posed by Westminster becomes an ever greater danger, it is clearer than ever that we need the power to speak with our own voice in Europe. Only a Yes vote in 2014 will give us that opportunity - and ensure that Scotland is not cast adrift by Westminster’s navel-gazing isolationism. Scots are increasingly realising Scotland would be far better off independent in Europe than isolated in the UK."So anyone with sufficient fortitude to read all those quotes will have gotten the idea by now. Scottish "hostility" to the UK good, presumably, but "hostility" to the EU bad, "navel-gazing isolationism" vis-à-vis the EU bad, "navel-gazing isolationism" vis-à-vis the UK good, by implication. And consider the other rhetoric used by the two MSPs, such as "value our relationship", "working with our neighbours", "constructive relationship", "putting up barriers", "cuts us further adrift", "ever greater danger", "cast adrift", blah, blah.
Thus it seems that one form of "economic, social and political union" is inherently bad for Scotland, but another form of economic, social and political union is inherently good. So although Kate Higgins, Ewan Crawford et al effectively posit that different unions are inherently good and bad they don't offer any kind of real rationale for this beyond the rhetoric. It's effectively assumed that the UK is intrinsically bad, but the EU intrinsically good.
Of course, Scotland's choice between the UK and EU isn't a straightforward binary because Scotland is currently an EU member anyway as a constituent part of the UK. So Scotland is effectively a member of both the UK and EU.
But what is the attitude of the SNP where there is a simple choice between the UK and Europe? Perhaps the classic illustration is provided by one of the great macroeconomic levers, namely monetary policy, most commonly expressed in terms of the level of interest rates. So for a considerable period the SNP said that Bank of England interest rates were inappropriate for Scotland, because they were decided mainly on the basis of economic conditions pertaining in the dominant London and south-east of England economy. The SNP solution? Join the eurozone and have interest rates decided by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Which unsurprisingly will take greater cognisance of the dominant economies like Germany, as opposed to minnows like Ireland. Hence if Germany's economy is booming ECB interest rates will be high, but if Ireland's economy is in recession it needs low interest rates but gets the opposite. Therefore Ireland's recent recession was exacerbated by interest rates geared towards more healthy economic conditions elsewhere in the eurozone. But this kind of thing illustrates the folly of the whole single currency project.
Of course, now that even the dogs in the street recognise the economic illiteracy and electoral toxicity of the euro the SNP has turned full circle and the Bank of England is now the best thing since sliced bread. And senior SNP politicians point to the "wildly divergent" European economies to illustrate why euro membership wouldn't be appropriate for Scotland. Which in fact simply echoes the arguments made by opponents of the euro at its inception. Alex Salmond quotes Keynes, saying that when the facts change "I change my mind". But this is merely a euphemism for admitting he got it wrong.
Likewise Mr Salmond's - and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's - approach to the European Convention on Human Rights. Recall last year and the aftermath of the Fraser and Cadder cases decided on the basis of the London Supreme Court's interpretation of ECHR. The SNP Goverment made its displeasure with this clear, and considered that the rights afforded by the convention should be interpreted by judges in Europe. Moreover, Mr Salmond questioned the motives and knowledge of human rights lawyer Tony Kelly and Supreme Court judge Lord Hope. Earlier, Mr MacAskill had attacked what he regarded as Supreme Court interference, and denigrated its judges' knowledge of Scots law as "limited to a visit to the Edinburgh Festival".
Thus since reference to the European Court of Human Rights offers no significant advantages over Supreme Court jurisdiction, the SNP's preference for the former over the latter seems born of a similar rationale to the Nationalists' preference of the European Central Bank over the Bank of England. Therefore the heart ruling rather than the head. And, as per the SNP's volte-face on the currency and monetary policy, messrs Salmond and MacAskill backtracked somewhat on the UKSC/ECHR choice when cooler heads thought about the issues on a more rational rather than emotional basis.
But if the EU is preferred to the UK on a more rational basis more generally, then what precisely is this? Recall that the Burd opined: "I don’t get why others are so hostile to the idea and the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union."
So let's compare the UK and EU on that basis. The UK has lasted 300 years, enjoys fiscal and monetary union and is relatively stable. The EU at its current level of integration has existed for only a decade or so. Its currency union covers only part of the EU and is now in a state of almost perpetual crisis after just ten years of operation. It will require fundamental restructuring to keep it from falling apart. As regards the social union, the UK and EU are leagues apart. Of course the UK has its problems, but as compared to the EU it's surely an object lesson as regards "the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union".
Thus on any objective and rational basis there's surely little to commend the preference of Kate Higgins, Ewan Crawford et al for the European Union as opposed to the UK one. A newly independent Scotland in Europe could surely be characterised as jumping out of the UK frying pan into the EU fire.
So if the case for a "close economic, social and political union" per se stacks up in favour of the UK rather than the EU, what other factors could rationalise preferring the latter to the former?
Of course, the elephant in the room is the politics and ideology rather than the concept of political union per se. The current Tory-led Westminster coalition justifies a more social democratic-preferring Scotland leaning towards Europe rather than the UK. And of course the whole European project always had a kind of pacifistic, communitarian, collectivist rationale to it, as even the single currency project did to an extent. (This debate has recently been cast in terms of Scotland preferring a 'utilitarian' rather than the more traditional 'existential' approach to nationalism, autonomy and self-determination.)
On the other hand, in terms of substantive policy and ideology Europe has always been a bit of a mixed bag as regards its appeal to a left-leaning Scotland. For example, the EU per se has introduced progressive measures as regards labour market regulation, while of course the human rights agenda is largely associated with the (technically separate) ECHR mechanism. But in other respects the EU takes a rather laissez-faire attitude to the economy. And if the left doesn't like the Tories' domestic austerity agenda, what about the EU austerity measures imposed on eurozone countries requiring ECB/IMF bail-outs?
Of course, there are other benefits posited for an independent Scotland as regards the UK/EU choice. One obvious one - which indeed represents Yes Scotland's basic argument - is that we'd be making decisions for ourselves, we could decide whether or not to join the EU, NATO etc, and we'd "have a seat at the top table". (Hence more the 'existential' rather than 'utilitarian' rationale.)
Which at first glance stacks up, but on closer examination does not seem so attractive. For example, imagine that Scotland had gained its independence at the time when the European project was more of a customs union and common market rather than a "close economic, social and political union", blah, blah.
So Mr Salmond got his way and Scotland joined the euro, and the economy boomed à la the Irish Celtic tiger, but then collapsed in the wake of the banking crisis, exacerbated by high interest rates set in Frankfurt. Scotland is bailed out by the ECB and IMF, and international bankers are effectively running the economy. And unelected EU commissars are sent to Edinburgh to make sure Scotland does what it's telt. So much for independence!
Thus it shouldn't be too hard to imagine a Scottish movement advocating withdrawal from the EU, a bit like a tartan UKIP or the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory party. Which would probably entail consulting the Scottish people in a referendum (unless Alex and Nicola considered that they could make such a decision themselves), and the "separatists" would chunter on about "forging our own destiny", blah, blah.
A referendum, forging our own destiny, making decisions for ourselves. Sounds familiar? So to that extent the EU would simply be replicating the UK as far as Scotland was concerned, and we'd simply be substituting UK subjugation/oppression for EU subjugation/oppression.
But of course we could choose to leave the EU whenever we wanted as an independent nation, they say. But we can choose to leave the UK whenever we want at present, or at least in a manner not dissimilar to that that would be required to leave the UK, ie a political movement, endless debate, a referendum, protracted secession negotiations etc.
So to the extent that Scotland could be "independent in Europe", Scotland is currently "independent in the UK", surely? And recall that UKIP stands for United Kingdom Independence Party.
And of course it wouldn't require economic calamity and subsequent rule by the EU/ECB/IMF to scunner Scots of the EU, as the current strength of UKIP and Tory Euroscepticism demonstrates south of the border. Moreover, those who think that Scotland is significantly less Eurosceptic than England should perhaps consider the opinion poll evidence, which suggests that the difference is marginal rather than significant.
Indeed, if a referendum on withdrawing from the UK is deemed necessary by the SNP, then surely Scots should be afforded a similar option regarding withdrawal from Europe? After all, opinion polls seem to demonstrate more support for the latter than the former.
Another existentialist-style argument often employed against the UK is that it's an 'unequal' union, and politicians like SNP MSP and Alex Salmond confidante Joan McAlpine make this point. Quite what this means is anyone's guess, because, for example, Scotland is represented in the House of Commons by around 10% of MPs, whereas in the European Parliament Scotland would probably have around 2% of MEPs. So much for any representative inequality, then.
On the other hand, all apart from the most delusional are aware of the democratic shortcomings of the 'Mother of Parliaments' at Westminster, so perhaps people like Ms McAlpine are alluding to something grander than merely a crude numerical comparison. But of course the European Parliament is largely a toothless talking shop anyway, and the all-powerful Commission is not directly elected. Representatives on the Council of Ministers are not directly elected in that capacity. And indeed even with a 'seat at the top European table' Scotland would be only one of around thirty member states, votes can be weighted on basis of size, and in any case in the world of realpolitik the larger nations tend to hold the whip hand.
Thus without getting into a detailed comparative study of EU/UK institutions and democracy, the former could hardly be said to represent a more democratic alternative to the latter. In fact probably quite the reverse. So to posit Scotland as suffering under an 'unequal' UK doesn't really hold up under comparison with the EU, in any way, shape or form. Indeed, it's surely plausible and compelling to take the opposite view.
Of course, there are other more general arguments made to rationalise the whole European project, one of which was underlined recently by the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to the EU, for "its role in uniting the continent after two world wars":
"[European Council President Herman] Van Rompuy paid tribute to the post-war leaders of France and Germany who had forged the EU by uniting their economic interests. He praised "the EU's secret weapon - an unrivalled way of binding our interests so tightly that war becomes impossible. It is better to fight around the table than on a battlefield," he said, quoting Jean Monnet, one of the EU's founders."The naysayers find all this faintly ludicrous, of course. So an article on the Think Scotland website, for example, employs an ostensibly elaborate analogy of a boiler requiring regular maintenance to prevent it from breaking down. However, this is surely a tad, um, deterministic. Of course a boiler will break down eventually if left unserviced, because its parts have a finite life and will inevitably wear out or break down at some point. But surely the geopolitical dynamic is a bit more complex than that. For example, perhaps the nuclear deterrent has helped maintain the peace in post-war Europe, at least as regards the nations encompassed by the political project culminating in the current EU.
Anyway, that's all getting a bit away from the UK/EU comparison. But the point here is surely that if the EU has helped maintain peace and stability then dissolving the UK could take us back to the days of Longshanks v Robert the Bruce.
Maybe not, but if the EU can plausibly be seen to alleviate tensions between states then surely the domestic corollary is that splitting the UK could create conflict. Or perhaps the EU is causing tensions between member states - as critics of the Nobel prize award claim - particularly since the virtual collapse of the eurozone. Thus similar economic tensions in the UK context provide the kind of underlying rationale for Scottish independence.
Whatever, but of course whichever argument is employed the SNP's double standard regarding the UK/EU comparison is obvious. If EU membership ipso facto promotes peace and harmony then surely the UK entity does as well, while if intra-UK economic tensions are exacerbating disharmony between its constituent nations then surely that problem is also self-evident in the EU context.
But which is ironically perhaps linked to why the Commission President recently underlined to the SNP that Scotland won't seamlessly become an EU member on terms effectively dictated to Brussels. Brussels wants a more homogeneous EU to hold the whole thing together, whereas the SNP doesn't want to swap the UK with a United States of Europe.
On the other hand, when a year ago David Cameron alone stood fast against greater EU integration Alex Salmond claimed that he wanted Scotland to be "at the heart of Europe". Which again underlines the SNP's UK/EU double standard, and also demonstrates a contradiction between this and Alex Salmond's new found reluctance to join the euro and Schengen.
Another point relates to the oft-heard SNP rationale for why the EU would welcome an independent Scotland with open arms. Thus it's our oil, fish, natural resources, renewables potential, blah blah. Which means what, precisely? In turn this perhaps relates to the SNP's argument that an independent Scotland would be one of the wealthiest nations in the known universe. And the EU wants to move towards further economic integration to hold the euro together, thus in effect the wealthy nations subsidising the less wealthy ones. A Sunday Express article earlier this year claimed:
"European leaders are secretly hoping to seize control of North Sea oil and gas if Scotland votes for independence, the Sunday Express can reveal. Experts have warned that if the country has to reapply to join the EU, the £9billion a year industry would be up for grabs as a "common resource" - meaning that tax profits would flow to Brussels."Sounds slightly far-fetched, perhaps, but surely consistent with the concept of a wealth-sharing political and economic union which could then rightly be characterised as an EU superstate? That Alex Salmond wants to be "at the heart of"? Which would in turn replicate the kind of arguments rationalising Scottish independence in the UK context - McCrone, London's 'theft' of North Sea oil etc - thus again out of the UK frying pan and into the EU fire.
Indeed, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon recently said:
"Why on Earth would they not, given the huge resources and advantages that Scotland brings to the European table? Our greatest asset as a nation always has been and always will be our people and their ingenuity, but Scotland also has enormous natural resources. And it is stretching credibility beyond breaking point to attempt to suggest, as some do, that Scotland – already an integral part of the club for four decades – would be excluded when we have such vast assets. Scotland has around 90% of the EU's oil reserves and a huge share of the Continent's renewable energy, as well as some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe. Would Brussels really want to lose such assets at a time when energy security is one of the dominating political and economic issues of the early 21st century? Would Spanish, French and Portuguese fishermen want to be blocked from fishing the lucrative waters in Scotland's sectors of the North Sea and West Atlantic?"So why would Brussels want our oil? Isn't its price determined on world oil markets and governed by the laws of supply and demand (the OPEC cartel excepted) rather than any EU dimension? So if oil starts to run out in the global context then Scotland would benefit if it still had significant reserves, but how precisely would this benefit the rest of the EU? Or are Salmond and Sturgeon et al alluding to something else when they talk of bringing such riches to the EU table or, as a corollary, Brussels "losing such assets" if Scotland was excluded?
So perhaps there's evidence of a double standard as regards the perception of the UK's squandering of Scotland's oil riches with the more caring and sharing attitude that would be adopted with the EU? By the same token, my impression as regards fishing rights has always been that the Nationalists have been critical of the UK insofar as that they've accused Westminster of allowing the likes of Spain to plunder our fisheries. Yet according to Salmond and Sturgeon (even the names are a bit fishy!) such countries would be welcoming an independent Scotland with open arms into the EU because they could access such largesse. Share and share alike, presumably, except of course when it comes to England!
All of which also underlines another Nationalist double standard. The (UK) Unionists are dangling the prospect of more powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots reject 'independence' in 2014. But the Nationalist argument is that this 'jam tomorrow' is uncertain in scope and probably wouldn't be delivered. But if there's uncertainty about Scotland's constitutional position in an ongoing UK, surely that pales into insignificance compared to how the EU will develop in the next few years. It's like betting £10 on an old nag called the UK compared with betting the farm on a donkey called the EU.
Another argument recently aired repeatedly in favour of Scottish EU continuity relates to the point that Scots have been EU citizens for several decades now, therefore it would effectively be impossible to deprive them of this, and indeed would amount to wrongdoing of great heinousness to boot. Of course, supporters of independence seem to have no trouble with the idea of depriving Scots of UK citizenship, and likewise don't seem to regard the practicalities and mechanics of this as problematic. It'll simply just happen if Scotland votes Yes, presumably.
A related argument regarding seamless Scottish membership of the European project states that it would be nigh near impossible to extricate Scotland from the EU. For example, a contributor to the comments section of a Better Nation post said:
"At heart this is actually a practical rather than a legal matter. Practically speaking it would be incredibly difficult for Scotland to leave the EU. The practical difficulties of leaving the EU explain, I think, why the Tories when they get into government always back down on their eurosceptic threats because it would be a nightmare to actually have to do it."Er, so if the UK and/or Scotland couldn't realistically actually leave the EU, then, a fortiori, Scotland presumably can't leave the UK? Of course not. Either would clearly mean upheaval and uncertainty, would be difficult and protracted, but self-evidently neither would actually be impossible. But once again Nationalists are blind to fundamentally similar arguments purely because one involves the UK while the other relates to the EU.
Of course, that's not to say that if Scotland was to stay in the EU then it wouldn't be better to continue as a member as seamlessly as possible following independence. But that's a different argument to claiming that Scotland couldn't under any circumstances be taken out of or effectively expelled from the EU, since clearly pulling Scotland out of the UK isn't regarded by the SNP as more than a minor inconvenience on the road to political nirvana.
And coming back to the idea of citizenship per se, the Nationalist argument seems to assume that Scots value EU citizenship more highly than UK citizenship, which seems a dubious proposition, and indeed perhaps demonstrates why support for independence in the polls is a distinct and stagnant minority.
Moreover, what does the concept of EU citizenship actually mean? Well I wouldn't claim to possess even more than the vaguest of knowledge in that regard. But could it mean, for example, that if rUK left the EU and Scotland became independent inside it then I could go and work as a taxi driver in Warsaw, but not as an accountant in London? Marvellous! Perhaps it doesn't mean that kind of thing at all, but perhaps it's time we were provided with the hard facts rather than proffered little more than typically predictable feelgood rhetoric about citizenship and the like.
Thus for the numerous reasons outlined above a dominant strand of support for Scottish independence seems to demonstrate an essentially schizophrenic and indeed hypocritical approach to London/Westminster/the UK as compared to Brussels/the EU. Of course, it should go without saying that the fundamentally oxymoronic nature of the SNP's "independence in Europe" (former) mantra is obvious to many Scottish nationalists like former party leader Gordon Wilson, not to mention ex-deputes Jim Sillars and Jim Fairlie. Thus the former two recently claimed that Scottish EU membership would amount to a "transfer of sovereignty" to Brussels, and warned of the danger of signing up to a "United States of Europe" [wot, no EUSSR?].
So how can this double standard be explained? The Burd laments the "little Islander" approach, which seems to represent a UK-wide extension of the "little Englander" criticism aimed at the likes of UKIP and a significant section of the Tory party. Of course, the label 'Eurosceptic' is often employed in this regard, and the slightly more pejorative 'Europhobe' tag veers towards the term 'xenophobia'. Indeed, an even more extreme characterisation of this view regards opposition to the EU as racist, as this letter writer (third letter) to the Scotsman seems to allude.
But in the context of Scottish nationalist opposition to London rule, let's not go there. But as an equivalent to 'Eurosceptic' it's surely fair to say that mainstream nationalist thinking demonstrates 'Angloscepticism'. Thus since the term 'Europhobe' seems to be quite widespread in describing those in the UK desiring to withdraw from the EU, then surely many Scottish nationalists can be appropriately characterised as 'little Scotlanders' and 'Anglophobic'? After all, there's demonstrably little else to rationalise their differing approaches to the UK and the EU.
Indeed, prominent commentator Lesley Riddoch said in last weekend's Sunday Post that in an EU referendum the "Europhobic English could vote en masse to leave". Leaving aside the fact that this would make Scots only slightly less Europhobic than the English, the corollary of Lesley Riddoch's claim is surely that supporters of Scottish independence are Anglophobic? And, indeed, as far as I can tell, Lesley Riddoch herself?
The contemporary SNP has been keen to rid itself of the ethnic/'blood and soil' strand of nationalism in favour of the more inclusive and progressive civic approach, and to construct a narrative regarding the continuation of the 'social union' with the UK. However, prominent Nationalist MSPs like Joan McAlpine accuse Unionists of being "anti-Scottish" and some from the wider pro-independence movement put further flies in the civic nationalist ointment by talking in terms of "settlers" and "colonists" to describe English people working in Scotland. And perhaps mainstream nationalist attitudes to the UK and EU more generally are symptomatic of the same 'existential' problem, to put it as charitably as possible!