The UK has had its day

Why I believe that leaving the EU has the inevitable consequence of the break up of the UK?

I originally wrote this post shortly after the Brexit referendum in 2016. I set why I have changed my views on Scottish independence and why I believe that Scotland should be an independent nation that us part of the EU.

Since then, we have had years of uncertainty, the election of a right-wing, pro-Brexit government and, most significantly a global pandemic that has had immense human, social and economic consequences. I am writing this during the pandemic and I am now even more convinced that independence from the UK is in the best long-term interests of the Scottish people. I believe that the pandemic has highlighted the problems of social inequality yet I have no confidence in the UK Government to do anything about these. Change will only come about through independence.

My original post

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 main 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 problems 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 and my association with Europe is more important to me than my association with England and Wales. The referendum has also changed the way I feel about Britain. I have little in common with those Brexit supporters whose vote reflects their dislike of immigrants and foreigners. Of course, a lot of Brexit supporters are not xenophobes and racists but there are too many of these for my liking.

The economic situation since the Scottish referendum has obviously changed and we can no longer rely on oil taxation. I see this as completely 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 inevitable increase in oil prices which will occur over the next few years.

However, 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 may well be that a condition of Scotland’s membership of the EU is adoption of the euro. 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 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.

We will be in a position to attract 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 have priority in an application for membership so a referendum will be delayed. But the Brexit vote has revealed such deep divisions between the nations of the UK that I cannot see how the UK can remain united.

Predictions are always challenging, especially those about the future, but I believe that Scotland will prosper as a member of the EU. Sadly, I think that the English and Welsh economies will decline 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 or people seeking to escape desperate poverty and discrimination.

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.