After the recent EU referendum, in which I voted to remain a member of the European Union, I tweeted:
Scotland and Brexit. A democratic deficit too far. Time for independence. #UKhaditsday
This led to several replies and the obvious question about economic issues associated with Scottish independence. I don’t think that 140 character tweets are a good way to conduct a nuanced discussion about complex issues so I’m writing this post to articulate my views on this.
Firstly, the issue of a democratic deficit. Since, the 1980s, there have been several UK governments elected where the vast majority of Scots voted for a different political party. This enraged some people but I accepted that in a democracy, the majority view should prevail. However, in such circumstances, governments are elected to govern for all citizens not just those who voted for them. It is arguable to what extent this actually happens but there is no doubt whatsoever that governments accept this responsibility and sometimes modify their policies accordingly.
Single issue referendums are fundamentally a bad way to make decisions because they do not allow for this. The majority votes one way and their view prevails irrespective of the opinions of the minority. There is no going back and those whose views were in a minority are simply unrepresented.
So, I chose my words carefully in saying that the result of the EU referendum was a democratic deficit too far. All 32 regions in Scotland voted to remain in the EU with 62% of voters preferring to remain in the EU. By contrast, 53% of voters in England wanted to leave the EU. There is no room for compromise and flexibility here – we did not vote to leave the EU and I can see no reason why we should be forced to leave this institution against our will.
We are not a region of England but voluntarily participated in a Union with England in 1707. Scotland has undoubtedly benefited from union with England but has not been subsumed into it. We have maintained our own legal system, education system, healthcare system and sense of nationhood. Just as either partner in a marriage can file for divorce, so too can either country in the Union.
Obviously, if we remain part of the UK, the majority decision must be respected so I see no alternative to leaving the UK and establishing an independent Scotland that is a member of the EU. Although I voted ‘no’ in the last referendum I will vote to leave the UK in the next one and speak up for Scottish independence.
I voted ‘no’ in the Scottish referendum for 3 principal reasons:
1. I was concerned that an independent Scotland would be excluded from the EU for several years.
2. The economic case made by the SNP was utterly dishonest and did not accept the reality that there would be significant short to medium term economic difficulties if Scotland became independent.
3. Having lived and worked in England for almost 20 years, I felt British and recognised that our similarities were more important than our differences.
The key change since the referendum, of course, that a majority of English and Welsh voters preferred to leave the EU. I believe that is important and beneficial to be part of a wider community and feel betrayed by Cameron who commented that the only way for Scotland to be sure of staying in the EU was to vote ‘no’. The referendum has also changed the way I feel about Britain. I found the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Leave campaign to be quite unpleasant. It did not seem to me to encompass what I have always thought of as ‘British values’ and I really feel that I have little in common with the isolationist views of some (perhaps a majority) of Brexit voters.
I am now convinced that there is more chance of Scotland prospering and establishing a fair society within the EU rather than within the UK. Of course, the economic issues raised in the Scottish referendum have not gone away. Issues such as the income/expenditure gap and the choice of currency have to be faced rather than glossed over.
We can no longer rely on oil taxation to bridge a gap and I see this as positive – it forces politicians to be honest about economic issues. The deficit between tax income and expenditure in Scotland currently runs at roughly twice that in the UK (on a per head basis) and this will clearly have to be reduced, in time, by tax increases and public expenditure reduction. This will have to be a careful, long-term process although it may be helped by the cyclic increase in oil prices which will occur over the next few years. But any oil taxation should be seen as a bonus and we should not bank on this to solve our problems.
I believe that the deficit will also inevitably increase in England and Wales due to Brexit, although the government policies there will probably favour cuts more than tax increases. It is probable that tax increases in Scotland will be higher but, as a paid up member of the middle classes who will be affected by this, I think this is a price worth paying.
Personally, I am relaxed about the currency issue. It makes sense initially to either use the pound even without central bank influence or establish a ‘pound Scots’, that tracks the UK pound . It may well be that a condition of Scotland’s membership of the EU is, in the longer term, the adoption of the euro (formally, the eurozone rules would not allow Scotland to join until the deficit is reduced though that didn’t seem to apply to Greece). For sure, the euro has been a disaster for southern European economies but much less so for economies in Northern Europe. It is nonsense to suggest that membership of the euro necessarily leads to lower growth (Ireland’s growth in 2015 was 6%) or that Scotland will be required to bail out much larger countries such as Spain or Italy. I suspect that the eurozone will actually muddle through its problems and in 10-15 years the euro will be a much stronger currency than the pound.
I believe that short-term economic pain that independence will require is worthwhile for long-term gain. An independent Scotland, with a higher proportion of graduates than elsewhere in the UK, will be in a better position than England to attract incoming investment from large international companies. An English-speaking country within the EU, with easy access to London, and a highly educated workforce is a far more attractive proposition than a country that has chosen to turn its back on Europe. Threats of large companies, such as Standard Life, to move to England because of lack of EU membership have obviously disappeared.
We will be in a position to attract and welcome entrepreneurial young people from England and elsewhere in Europe who recognise the value of international collaborations. I hope many English and Welsh people who share our views on the EU will chose to move here. In a digital connected world, our distance from major European cities is much less important than it used it to. In 10 years time, we will reap the benefits of independence within the European community.
There may well be hiccups on the way to independence. The EU may decide that Scotland should not be considered a special case in an application for membership so a referendum will be delayed until we have a clearer path to membership. They may argue that Scotland cannot join the euro because of the deficit although they ignored this rule for several countries such as Greece.
Predictions are always challenging, especially those about the future but I predict that Scotland will prosper as a member of the EU. The Brexit vote has revealed such deep divisions between the nations of the UK that I cannot see how the UK can remain united. I am confident that Scotland will become independent in the near to mid-term future.
Sadly, I think that the English and Welsh economies will decline significantly because of their decision to leave the EU. I would like to be wrong on this – an independent Scotland will benefit from a strong English economy and vice versa. But even if I have got this completely wrong and the English economy prospers more than ours, I would still prefer to live in a country that was part of the EU.
Because this isn’t just about money. It is about embracing the future where we are outward looking participants in an institution that is more than the sum of its parts; an institution that is working to address the problems of climate change that can only be tackled collectively and that believes that regulations to protect the environment are important; an institution whose regulations are widely criticised but many of which are designed to protect individuals from businesses motivated only by profits; an institution that recognises that we cannot simply turn our backs on refugees, fleeing for their lives, or people seeking to escape desperate poverty and persecution.
The problems that humanity faces in the future are enormous and can only be solved through joint action. The EU is far from perfect but, in general, I believe it is a force for good. This is not the time to walk away.