Why Would an Independent Scotland Join the EU?

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“On Wednesday, it is five years since the vote to leave the European Union. I am still stunned it happened.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 21/06/2021

On Wednesday, it is the five-year anniversary of the vote to leave the European Union and, although I voted to leave, I still find myself stunned by its occurrence. I recall popping another beer at 3am as Laura Kuennsberg shared her analysis of what was unravelling – she had no answers. Remain and Leave were exactly neck and neck and at a tally of around 4.7 million votes each. It was not until 4am when Leave stretched into an unassailable lead that the trajectory became vivid.   

Five years on and I still love my European compatriots and Europe for its countries, cultures and coastlines. I simply object to the cession of political and economic sovereignty that could rest with the people of Scotland. When, in January, we officially left, I stated in these pages that “hiring German cars, drinking French wine, eating Italian food, attending Dutch festivals and visiting Spanish cousins will be no less of a feature in my future as it was in my past.”

However, for those of us living in the culturally authoritarian and domestically lukewarm purgatory that is the political lot of one-party Scotland, voting in 2016 for Scots may feel pointless in hindsight. Our First Minister neither accepts the 2016 result nor the democratic mandate of the vote that preceded it in 2014. She intends, therefore, to assimilate an independent Scotland with the European Union, having stated in April an independent Scotland would not hold a referendum the EU.

Instead, Ms Sturgeon intends to publish a “detailed prospectus” ahead of a second independence referendum, which would ultimately weld the concept of EU entry to the notion of independence. Selling Novichok in Häagen-Dazs packaging does not make it ice cream any more than welding oneself to a supranational bureaucracy is independence. However, a vote in the affirmative, if IndyRef2 ever takes place, would enable her to avoid the inevitably irreconcilable questions EU admission throws up.

One issue, raised by the Scottish economist Tony Mackay in a piece for the Sunday Times in May is “a free trade agreement [with the UK] would not be allowed if Scotland joined the EU because of the implications for other member states.” It is a simple but sobering reality when you consider Scottish exports in 2018 totalled £85 billion. £51.2 billion of this trade was with the UK, which accounts for 60%, and only 19% with European Union countries. This would be economically catastrophic.

Additionally, the other thing nationalists – or EU unionists – like to overlook is the fact no other nation with as a high a public sector deficit has ever gained entry to the EU. To get even close to the economic requirements, we would need to eliminate or reduce the public sector deficit as quickly as possible. This would inevitably mean an increase in taxation and cutting public expenditure. We are essentially talking about Austerity 2.0 and, according to Mackay, this could take five to ten years.

Another fly in the ointment, as recently highlighted by Daily Telegraph economist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is how unlikely any incumbent constellation of right-wing parties capable of making a breakthrough in the 2023 Spanish election would be to hold back their veto on Scottish admission. Not to mention growing independence movements in Belgium, France, Hungary, Romania or Slovakia which would be buoyed if the EU representatives of those nations lifted their veto on Scottish access.

The last five years point to a union that is coercive rather than creative, insular as opposed to internationalist and rigid rather than radical. As the UK economy began to recover in May, it was revealed the Eurozone had plunged into a double dip recession and they have already laid down red lines as far as the Euro is concerned.

And for what reason precisely should we return to our vacated chairs at the European table? To posit the same question Anne Enger asked in 1994 when she led the ‘No to EU’ campaign during Norway’s referendum on the EU: “To what problem is the EU a solution?” Will the people of an independent Scotland want back into this deficient union and, if so, why not pledge to ask them?

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