Scottish Labour must not panic in the face of Brexit

fraser patersonFraser Paterson says while immediate panic in the face of the Brexit vote was understandable, calm heads should now prevail, and talk of Labour backing a second independence referendum is neither realistic nor sensible.


There is some dispute about what Harold Wilson really meant when he said “A week is a long time in politics”.

But whatever his intention, it has been without doubt the most confusing, concerning and yet exhilarating time in politics, certainly since the Scottish independence referendum of two years ago and, given the seismic Brexit result, perhaps in modern history.

As the reality of the result of the 23rd of June began to sink in many, in their desperation for certainty, began to demand answers to huge constitutional questions from their political leaders and parties. One of those demands was for the Labour Party in Scotland to quickly clarify its position on a second independence referendum.

Whilst this was perfectly understandable given the change in circumstances which now surround the United Kingdom, of which we voted to stay a part in 2014, it seemed to me to be symptomatic of our party’s previous missteps when approaching key policy: immediately pivoting to definitively answering the questions that the SNP wanted us to answer, and hurriedly proposing new federal arrangements. A not insubstantial number of activists started to muse online about supporting independence, an independent Scottish Labour party or “home rule”, possibly not because they necessarily thought it best for Scotland, but because they couldn’t immediately see, through the fog of panic and despair at the outcome of the vote, how the Labour Party could retain and build any kind of meaningful support.

Nicola Sturgeon, whatever you may think of her, is an extremely gifted politician. That has been evident in recent days as she launched a charm offensive at Brussels, expertly saying an awful lot without really doing much at all. However, as the unquestionable reality that Scotland will only be part of the negotiations as part of the UK sets in, there are several reasons why I don’t believe a second independence referendum, and all of last week’s furore and panic, will transpire anytime soon.

Firstly, legal opinion still holds that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership. The SNP continue to have a credibility issue on this point as they simply refuse to believe anything other than Scotland being somehow annexed within its current terms of membership upon an unlikely Yes vote in another referendum. It is this crucial first point which makes the next independence referendum even more difficult to win than the first for the Yes campaign.

Secondly, any new entrant to the EU would have to make huge concessions, both financial and political, to gain membership. This takes the SNP back to its main stumbling block of 2014: the currency. Membership of the Euro would be a prerequisite of Scotland joining the EU. So, presumably, would being part of the Schengen area and free movement of people within member states. We only have to take a look at southern Europe, and particularly at its young people, to see how difficult a sell that would be to the Scottish people. The SNP vision of Scotland as more inclusive, more tolerant and more caring can be quashed with one glance at a social attitudes survey, and it would be incredibly difficult to see the 38% of Scots who voted to Leave the EU having a Damascene conversion around freedom of movement, let alone passportless borders.

Thirdly, Scotland did not and does not meet the European Union’s debt obligations as a member state, and would undergo a significant period of cost cutting to meet these regulations. Indeed, it would be expected that Scotland would be a net contributor to Brussels, to the tune of £1.5bn. In addition to this, the economic shock we have seen from Britain’s vote to exit the EU, its second biggest market, gives any politician worth their salt a very easy “what if” upon Scotland leaving its biggest trading partner – the UK – in another independence referendum.

On quick reflection the economic circumstances that surround an independence vote are even more difficult to defend for any Yes campaign than they were even in 2014, and that’s without going into the detail of whether the SNP would be happy to give away powers to Brussels, for example around agriculture and fishing policy, that it will gain at Holyrood from the Brexit vote.

Yet you could be forgiven for thinking, despite all of these hurdles, that Scottish independence is signed, sealed and delivered and simply a matter of time. That is the narrative of the current government. After the panic has subsided it is a narrative which should be swiftly rebutted by our party. We have been beaten both by an avowedly Nationalist party and a Unionist party in recent years. That shouldn’t tell us that we’ve taken the wrong position on this constitutional question. It should tell us that we haven’t been good enough in putting forward our position.

Kezia Dugdale was right when she said in the aftermath of the Brexit vote that we should “keep the heid”. But once the fog has cleared and our MSPs return to Holyrood after the summer recess, its time for our party to no longer be reticent about standing up for what it believes in.

We are not in this position because we didn’t back a Yes vote in the independence referendum of 2014, nor because we don’t support an independent Labour Party for Scotland or “home rule”, and the current Holyrood opposition is testament to that. It’s time we as a party stopped running away from the constitutional question or, as has been the case more recently, running into it with our eyes tightly closed.

Let’s unashamedly make our case for Scotland staying in the UK, and then move on to articulate why a Scottish Labour Party is integral to Scotland’s future within it.

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17 thoughts on “Scottish Labour must not panic in the face of Brexit

  1. Does the saying see “the writing on the wall” mean nothing to you, and all the same junk SCOTSBAD, SNPBAD, the same “better together” nonsense of 2014.

    You haven’t just been beaten by nationalist and unionist parties just recently, you were absolutely slaughtered. labour in Scotland are now the “third party” behind the Tories, how much worse do you think it will get?

    Scotland already see’s the only Scottish labour MP and a heap of labour MSP’s backstabbing your UK leader at a time when the controlling tory government in Westminster is in complete disarray, What do labour do ? it joins in the disarray party. (you could not make it up)

    And on top of that you appear to have conveniently forgotten that Scotland voted 62% to remain in the EU, please explain how you are to sell that little problem to Scotland without having your labour vote reduced to libdem levels.

    Does the lack of MP’s and MSP’s not get through to you, do you not think maybe Scotland is giving the Scottish labour party a hint ? like a massive explosions, fireworks and a laser show type HINT. You haven’t just taken a wrong position on the constitutional question, you missed the page it was on.

    Keep telling yersels yer deeing fine, then look at your party in Scotland in April 2007 – look at yersels now, and that’s in less than 10 years. Please keep going the same way, and its bye bye.

  2. So tell us Fraser what is the attraction of staying in the UK from Scotlands perspective? Is it the illegal warmongering? the unnecessary ideologically imposed austerity? the drive towards full privatisation of needy public services? the political deceit? the whitewashing of political criminal activity? the unaccountability of the Westminster Parliament? the undemocratic nature of the Westminster Parliament? perpetual Tory Government? the dismantling of the welfare state? the North South divide? the unbalanced wealth distribution? the media distortion? the House of Lords? the sanctioned paedophilia? the profits from illegal arms deals? the ideological obsession to transfer funding from the public sector to the private sector?

    Yes by all means please show us what this case is for remain and spare us the “Project Fear” pish. The too wee too poor and too stupid mantra is a dead parrot.

  3. You have been making the case for staying in the UK since before the independence referendum, how is that working out for labour?

  4. With the UK working its way out of the EU, Scotland may be able to get an answer to the EU question before the next Scottish Independence referendum. Last time the UK government, naturally, refused to seek answers on iScotland’s membership of the UK and the EU wouldn’t talk to Scotland as part of the UK. But after Article 50 gets invoked things will be different and the Scottish government could likely get answers. Imagine an electorate that actually knew what it was voting for – which I believe would likely be a fast track re-entrance into the EU.

    Project Fear worked perfectly in 2014, but less so in the EURef. But still those wanting Independence won’t allow uncertainty to weaken their argument.

    A shared currency with rUK would have been the most convenient, but as they’re not interested then iScotland will need it’s own currency until the Euro can be adopted.

    The borders question will be settled first in Northern Ireland. One in one out of the EU. When it’s real world and not hypothetical usually a sensible position is settled on and the same would then happen between Scotland and rUK.

    Scottish Labour can “keep the heid” all it wants, but it’s very clear that the promises of Better Together have been shattered. We’re ruled by a government Scotland doesn’t want, yet again, and with England and Wales shattering the dreams of Scotland in the EURef, the desire for Independence has never been stronger, even though it’ll be a bumpy road.

  5. Oh, for…

    Okay, lots of poo-poohing of the EU there, some lies about joining the Euro(Look the European Exchange Rate Mechanism up!), total blind ignorance that the UK’s economy is in troubled waters, a disingenuous analysis of how much power Brussels would take(they already have what they have, but with an UK minister representing Scottish fishing interests etc.), more ignorance of how UK is desperate to retain free market access despite Brexit.

    Are you trying to imitate the Leave campaign?

    What *is* your position, for that matter? I can’t work it out from your last paragraphs. You appear to oppose the following:
    -Yes vote
    -Independent Labour Party for Scotland
    -“home rule” (repeatedly in quote marks too)
    -Staying with the EU

    In other words, you support UK unionism, pretty much as the Scottish Conservatives do? What’s different?

    You’ve done a poor job of putting your position across. I still have barely any idea what Scottish Labour stands for.

    1. Fraser,
      I think Alan has a point, what is your position? You say “It’s time we as a party stopped running away from the constitutional question or, as has been the case more recently, running into it with our eyes tightly closed.” So what are you saying? That labour should just stand still, say nothing about Scotland’s constitutional future and just see what happens?
      Are you for remaining with England, Wales, and the last remaining outposts of Empire Gibralter and the Falklands or do you believe that Scotland belongs in Europe? You need to tell us. Like Scottish Labour I suspect you have’nt even worked it out yourself.

  6. Fraser Perhaps its the 5.5 Trillion debt we are forced to share when we as a Country are unable to borrow and therefore add significantly to?

    Or can it be the under-representation within the Parliament itself?

    Surely its not the honour of keeping safe the Trident missile fleet right next to our most densest population centres?

    It would be nice to actually see what you see to understand what you understand so we too can get a glimpse of this Changrli La only Labour drones are able to perceive.

    Can you articulate the so called Union benefits? Can you be the very first ever to actually make a positive case for union?

    I think there are 2 very distinct and clear cut chances for you Fat Fucking chance and Nae Fucking chance.

  7. I saw (on line/in the Herald?) a spoof about ——-“Labour needs a Leader, Farage needs a Party to lead”.
    At least I thought it was a spoof until I read this UKIP-lite article.
    We must surmise from this that Scottish Labour opposes freedom of movement of Labour, open borders, Home Rule (at a time when Kezia is looking at federalism), a European community of 500 million people.
    Instead Frazer favours Narrow British Nationalism, European Separatism etc. He appears to think Scotland will gain control of fishing and farming. Will that include a budget? Will these industries not be used as “make weights” in any negotiations—-as they were before, by Ted Heath.
    He poo-poos the Euro. Perhaps he didn’t notice the pound has fallen 10% against both the dollar AND the Euro.
    Perhaps he knows little of economics, and didn’t know that Scotland lost much of its industry in the early 20th century because we were stuck in a situation where we had become uncompetitive but could not devalue our currency(based on the gold standard). Scotland lost a huge number of people who voted with their feet. Shades of Greece, but in the UK.

  8. Please keep up the Ostrich approach to Scottish politics it’s doing wonders for the SNP. There is none so blind as those that do not see. If I was anyone in the Labour Party just now I would be quoting Clive Dunn often but changing it slightly to Do Panic. Labour is totally unelectable. and is tearing it’s self apart meanwhile Kezia repeats SNP bad Snp bad. Pathetic really.

  9. Sorry Fraser – It can’t just be business as usual.
    Heads in the sand wasn’t working even before this Brexit vote.

    Every option has to be open at this point.

    Kezia is exploring a federal solution where Scotland could retain access to the single market. In my view, that seems unlikely to be accepted. Especially because it looks tied in with London remaining also. Too messy a solution and it looks like Europe only wants membership on the level of nation states, not devolved or federal areas.

    But I read on another forum, a suggestion that Labour could propose a new UK comprised of a CONFEDERATION of nation states. Perhaps with that we could have a solution that is best for Scotland, as well as appealing to many English voters who want England to be England.

    If ever there was a recipe for Labour regaining power it would be this.

  10. You list various arguments from 2014 which no longer apply. The choice in 2014 was between a risky, uncertain future as an independent country, or a safe, stable, comfortable one as part of the UK and the EU.

    A future referendum is a very different choice, between a risky uncertain independent Scotland and an equally if not more risky, uncertain UK outside the EU.

    Worse than that, it’s a UK sliding further right and becoming even less recognisable to a Scottish electorate. In 2014 the Yes campaign had to work hard and had limited success in portraying David Cameron as unsympathetic to Scotland; a future Yes campaign will have no problems doing so with a PM May or Leadsom.

    You suggest Scottish voters will warm to Brexit as powers over agriculture and fishing come to Holyrood, but there is no clarity about what these powers might be. Any hint that fishing might be used as a bargaining chip in UK negotiations with the EU, or uncertainty on what will replace CAP payments will do the exact opposite to what you hope for.

    Independence in these circumstances will be tough, much more so than if both we and the rUK were in the EU. It’s not the future I’d choose if it were up to me. But it is by far the strongest chance of winning an independence referendum.

    Kezia’s Dugdale’s post-Brexit approach is exactly right. If you wish the Union to be maintained then a way has to be found which will allow Scotland to retain its relationship with the EU whilst also being part of the UK. If that option doesn’t exist then independence is nigh-on inevitable.

    1. So would you advocate suspending democracy in order to get to a place where Scotland could remain in both the EU and the UK?

      Would you ignore the EU ref result?

      You do know that when article 50 is invoked it applies directly to Scotland as much as the rUK and its irreversible.

      If Scotland is to remain in the EU it has to negotiate a separate remain clause from the rUK within the 2 year exit period.
      What legal and legitimate factors could possibly allow Scotland to do that while it remains part of the UK and the UK Government is negotiating for the whole of the UK for the best exit strategy?
      Where would you even start to look for them?

      Why would a UK Tory Government go out of its way to negotiate to allow a Scotland within the UK to remain within the EU?

      Its pure fantasy and everybody knows it including Kez Dugdale and your good self.

      The choice is now stark and clear Scotland remains with the EU or the UK it cant stay in both unless the UK Government does the unthinkable in terms of democracy and ignores the EU ref result. Then that opens the can of worms regarding any legitimacy the Scottish Indy ref result has.

      All of this because people voted No when they should have had the sense and foresight to vote Yes.

      How many times has Westminster to betray Scotland before it sinks in they cant be trusted to look after our best interests?

  11. I would like to say to anyone who thinks that Scotland would be able to get out of joining the Euro: well, it’s possible; but I think fanciful, at best. The whole reason for the Euro existing is to bind the countries of Europe so closely that they would never be able to break out (in order to avoid war and stuff). That was why John Major had such a hard time negotiating Britain’s opt-out. And that is why, having seen Britain’s example, the EU will never in a million years allow new entrants, including Scotland, to have a similar escape route.

    Granted, joining the ERM (and thus the Euro) could, in theory, be avoided (a la Sweden), but, even if that were the case, Scotland would, as per Chapter 17 of the accession criteria, still have to get government deficit down to 3% GDP (it’s currently at 10%, which would mean a permanent cut in public expenditure of £10.43bn per annum (GERS 2014/15)); and would have to get national debt down to 60% GDP (the UK’s national debt is 89% GDP). Scotland would also have to set up (at colossal expense, one would imagine) a central bank with its own currency. And to all the people suggesting that we negotiate in bad faith – ie, agreeing to join the Euro, but not having any intention of doing so – well, I would suggest that our European cousins would be wise to this, and would not close Chapter 17, leaving Scotland in limbo.

    In any event, it appears to me unlikely that Chapter 17, which presupposes applicants have their own currency and central bank, would not even be opened until such time as a central bank and new currency have been introduced and both have proven to be functional and stable (which, given the Scottish Government’s track record at setting up new things, could take decades).

    Now, this is not to say that Scotland could not have associate membership or something until such time as it is ready to sign off on Chapter 17. But what is absolutely clear is that jumping straight out of the UK and into the EU will not be as easy as people seem to think – including the fact that Scottish accession will have to be approved by the people of France in a referendum, the result of which is by no means a given.

    References: (Article 88-5 refers)

  12. Garve is quite correct; brexit means we are by no means in the same situation now (still less in 2.5 to 3 years time when we actually leave the EU) than we were in 2014. the Leave vote, whatever Fraser’s slightly desperate wishful thinking, holes the most potent Project Fear criticisms of the case for independence below the water line. The economic stability argument has evaporated, as has the oft repeated claim that the only way to guarantee staying in the EU was to vote No in 2014.

    As others have pointed out, you lack any coherent vision of what the alternative to independence within the EU might look like, whilst relying on tried, tested and failed arguments against independence from 2014 which weren’t universally accepted then, and have even less relevance now. There is no compulsion to join the Euro. Even were Scotland to be viewed as a “new” state rather than a continuing member, it would not qualify for the Euro until it had demonstrated compliance with ERM2 for 2 years. As the Swedish case amply demonstrates, any country can indefinitely postpone membership (whatever the technical commitment to join at some point might be) by the simple expedient of failing to meet these criteria ad infinitum.

    Whether a stable post brexit system which pleases both hard core Leave voters and disillusioned Remain voters can be achieved in the UK remains to be seen. There is certainly no appetite in Europe to accommodate UK demands for special treatment giving them full access to the Single Market without accepting free movement of people. In the Scottish context, you signally fail to address what Scottish Labour will do to address the democratic outrage of Scotland being torn out of the EU against the wishes of more than 60% of its voters.

    Just as with the currency/Euro issue, the certainty you assert that Scotland would have to rejoin as a new member “de novo” simply doesn’t exist. As we’ve seen since the brexit vote, EU officials, members of member state governments and political parties have all been falling over themselves to welcome the idea of speedy Scottish entry into the EU. There is simply no down side to the EU trying to prevent Scottish accession on the quickest and easiest terms possible.

    Your party’s utter failure to design any detailed convincing “Home Rule” or full federalism offer over decades has brought you to where you are. The Damascene conversion to making the UK a federal state now if following nobody. The reason so many former No voters and SNP critics are switching sides to support Yes is that they are horrified at the brexit result and the prospect of an even more right wing Tory government. that in itself is enough to push the Yes camp over there 50% mark; 4 more years of Tory government and UK Labour infighting will do the rest.

    Brexit has cut Project Fear off at the knees; it won’t work again, the only question for Scottish Labour is whether they bite the bullet and support independence within the EU in an attempt to remain relevant in Scotland, or if they continue to sell the “here’s some wooly federalism we can’t quite define within the UK but outside the EU” snake oil and dies along with the union.

  13. I’m sorry to say that this article is complete nonsense.

    Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the former permanent secretary to the Treasury (a leading figure in the Better Together campaign) has come out to say that independence for Scotland in the wake of Brexit offers a golden opportunity. He advises Scotland using its own Scottish Pound (we already print the banknotes) which is *not* pegged to the English pound.

    To say Scotland will have to use the euro overlooks the point that plenty of other EU countries don’t use the euro (Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Hungary; Poland; Romania; Sweden; United Kingdom).

    To suggest “Federalism” or “Home Rule” misses the point that “Home Rule” and “Federalism” was offered to Scotland by Gordon Brown if Scotland voted “No”. Scotland voted No and then the Labour party fought harder than anyone else to ensure that Scotland got as few extra powers as possible. So I’m not sure why anyone would believe that a second time.

    To claim that “Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership” overlooks the fact that EU constitutional experts in the UK and Europe are saying the opposite of this, and that the UK’s membership could be passed to Scotland during Article 50 negotiations, which are upheld by a qualified majority (so Spain couldn’t veto even if it wanted to), after which time Scotland could be kept in a “transitional status” with full EU rights maintained while the details are worked out. It also ignores the fact that many European leaders and PMs are arguing that the process of Scotland retaining its EU place should be “fast-tracked”, since we already implement all EU law in our own legislation.

    To say that “Scotland did not and does not meet the European Union’s debt obligations as a member state” is not really true, since Scotland could only fail to meet thise obligations as part of the UK, and Scotland in the EU would be independent. So, for example, the oil and gas revenues would be part of the Scottish economy rather than flow directly to London. Similarly Scotland would take 100% of the £4bn Whisky revenue, rather than the 20% approx which is currently allocated as Scottiosh income. There is also the predicted doubling of Scotland’s finance sector from £7bn to £14bn, as financial institutions relocate form London to a Scotland inside the EU in order to preserve their EU passporting rights. And then there’s billions in savings Scotland would make by not funding UK infrastructure projects like Crossrail, London sewers, Cambridgeshire Lighting, M25 Orbital, HS2, Heathrow extension, and also the £205bn Trident renewal. The list of perks and savings are profound, and that’s before we get into servicing the UKs £1.6 trillion debt, which Scotland didn’t take out or spend.

    To suggest that Scotland is “leaving its biggest trading partner – the UK” is daft. Countries maintain different trading agreements with different countries. The UK, for example, maintained trading agreements with both the EU and the USA. The UK is not in a political Union with the USA. Scotland sells about £50bn in goods and services to the rest of the UK. rUK sells about £62bn in goods and services to Scotland. So severing trade (which won’t happen) would see the rUK lose more than Scotland.

    I could go on. And on.

    Agriculture and Fishing policy would not return to Scotland, but to Westminster, for example. Westminster won’t give that back to Scotland.

    And if the choice is leaving 10% of power in Brussels and 90% in Scotland, compared to about 80% of power to extreme right-wing Tory governments and Lords we don’t vote for and only 20% in Scotland’s hands, which is more or less what being in the UK involves, then the choice, for me at least, is clear.

  14. Fraser
    You state , “legal opinion still holds that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership”.
    What is your source for this? Since The Brexit vote is us clear that nothing is clear.

    Many Labour members and voters (and previous No voters) I know are having their eyes opened by the circus that is Westminster in the last fortnight and seeing independence as the only sensible way forward.

    Your post does not set out what your vision is of a post-Brexit “UK”.

    Let us all move forward into the future. A modern, democratic, progressive, outward looking, independent country. Our Scotland. In Europe. Together.

    The prize – for us, for our children – is there for the taking. Join us.

  15. Fraser,
    Plenty of questions but noticeably no answers. You are learning the rules of a Labour apparatchik quickly. Rule 1. Policy is to be dictated. Never enter an open discussion.

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