Robert McGregor says a volatile Scottish electorate could surprise us over the EU referendum, and considers the impact of its outcome on the future of Scotland in the UK.
Opinion polls have suggested we Scots are more Europhile than England. But now the debate has really commenced, Scots could surprise everyone again. Here’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the referendum:
“There are better outcomes for Scotland when decisions about Scotland are made in Scotland by the people of Scotland.”
No, it’s not the forthcoming EU referendum she referred to, but the Scottish referendum in 2014. But this time around Sturgeon is campaigning ‘passionately’ that there are better outcomes for Scotland when decisions about Scotland are made in ‘Brussels’. The phrase double standards is an understatement. In her 2014 speech, she went on to say
“Independence for Scotland is the only solution that can eliminate this democratic deficit.”
As campaigners will know, the democratic deficit point was used tirelessly during the Scottish referendum. Like many No voters I must have heard the expression ‘more pandas in Scotland than Tory MP’s’ over a hundred times in 2014. Yes campaigners laboured the point over and over again that decisions in Scotland should be made in Scotland. And now the very same argument will be used by those campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.
The democratic deficit argument may have been overplayed so much by the SNP that it spills into the EU debate. And if some Yes voters believe Westminster is undemocratic with its unelected House of Lords, they will find out it’s nothing compared to the European Union. Back in 2010, the House of Commons Library published a comprehensive analysis of laws that derive from the EU. It was not an easy task. Their conclusion:
“It is possible to justify any measure between 15% and 50% or thereabouts.”
Whatever the exact figure, we know a substantial number of laws derive from Brussels and not our national parliaments. This will be hammered home by the Leave side. It will be their main weapon in countering the risk of job losses and detriments in leaving the EU. So surely it is logical to suggest that Yes voters who were persuaded by the SNP’s democratic deficit argument will be outraged when they realise the EU is the embodiment of technocracy trumping democracy – from pushing national parliaments into austerity to the European Commission having more influence than the elected European Parliament?
Of course a sizable number will not give a damn. Whatever Sturgeon says they will obey (including the sheepish SNP MPs). And because of the anti-London rhetoric used by the SNP (check out the dramatic video) some Scots voters are only interesting in bashing the south east and see Brussels as a boring irrelevance.
But we are living in a crazy and unpredictable electoral period. Scottish Labour losing every seat but one. A marginalised backbencher storming to become leader of the Labour Party. And an outrageous reality TV star having a good chance of becoming US President. Three years ago if you predicted even one them, never mind all three, you would have been laughed at. So who knows what the difference will be between how Scots and rUK vote could.
It’s also worth noting that Scotland has no shortage of political beasts campaigning for us to leave, from all backgrounds – Michael Gove, Jim Sillars, Liam Fox and George Galloway to name a few. Jim Sillars, the former deputy of the SNP and unrelenting Scottish independence campaigner, is one of the influential figures that could sway thousands of SNP supporters. He said he was ‘astonished’ by the number of SNP members who wanted to leave the EU but were not willing to speak.
For all the EU’s faults, I personally want us to stay in. The four freedoms guaranteed by the EU (goods, services, persons and capital) are the right path for a globalised interdependent economy. But I don’t want to remain if that means the sacrifice of Scotland rupturing from the UK. Like many in Scottish Labour, I believe being part of the UK is of far more importance to Scotland than membership of the European Union.
To give one example, in 2011 Scotland exported goods and services to the rest of the UK worth £45.5 billion. This was four times as much as exports to the European Union.
For Scots, a border at Gretna Green is a lot more economically damaging than a border at Dunkirk. Not to mention our cultural ties that are cemented through centuries, rather than EU treaties. Around 750,000 Scots live in England and Wales, more than the Glasgow and Edinburgh population combined.
There’s not a week goes by without SNP shouting that if Scots vote to remain, but the UK votes to leave, this will trigger a second referendum. Scottish independence is the grand prize for the SNP. It’s the only reason the party exists – to slash all political ties between Edinburgh and London.
Nicola Sturgeon will do her utmost to try and mask her delight if the above transpires, but others are already struggling to hide their glee about another referendum on the horizon. Type the word ‘irresistible’ into Google and all sorts of examples come up – delicious food and past lovers are common. Alex Salmond used the phrase to describe a second chance to win a Scottish referendum.
I have therefore reached the conclusion that, because of the value I hold for the UK, I will not be campaigning or voting for Scotland to remain in the EU. In the end, I do hope the UK (including Scotland) remains in. But I certainly won’t be trying to persuade Scots to depart from the Leave side, because if the rest of the UK votes to leave, I don’t want to look back and discover I helped the SNP break up the UK by a backdoor EU referendum. I concede it’s politically cynical, but this is what the SNP have debased our politics to.