Monday, 27 February 2017

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Like a Hollywood producer who can’t find any original ideas, it seems First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is determined to make Indyref2: The Sequel. Her problem is that nobody wants to see the same old story told again just with a different cast of actors. There’s a reason they didn’t make Groundhog Day 2.

Of course the SNP’s argument would be that indyref2 is justified because Brexit has changed the story; but does that really justify Scottish voters being subjected to yet another soul-sapping referendum before we even know what Brexit actually means?

It would be the worst sort of political opportunism to call indyref2 while Westminster is distracted with Brexit negotiations. The polls still suggest we’d vote No1, so surely we want Westminster focused exclusively on achieving the best possible Brexit deal for all of us in the UK? When those negotiations are completed and we know what Brexit actually means, then would be the time to take stock and ask the people of Scotland if they have the appetite for yet another referendum.

It’s not as if the SNP don’t have enough on their plates exercising the increased powers they now have. Our First Minister is undoubtedly a talented politician, but her party isn’t blessed with great depth in talent. My sense is that hard-working Scots would rather see the SNP’s scarce resources directed away from creating division and towards improving our lives here and now.

Nicola Sturgeon once famously said that her party’s obsession with independence “transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends”. This is really just a long-winded way of saying “independence or bust”. I believe her too. On the SNP’s watch our education system has declined from being one of the best in the world to being no more than average2. Hospital waiting times in the fully devolved Scottish NHS have risen3. Having been granted the tax powers to redistribute wealth more fairly and the welfare powers to top-up benefits for those hardest hit by austerity, the SNP have chosen inaction. This is what happens when you have a party governing Scotland who dismiss anything other than furthering the cause of separation as “passing political fads”.

But a leopard doesn’t change its spots and the SNP never knowingly miss an opportunity to stoke grievance if it helps them create division. Their relentlessly repeated assertion that Scotland is being “dragged out of the EU against our will” certainly strikes an emotional chord with many - but Scottish voter aren’t mugs. Most realise that sometimes having to accept the wider democratic will of the whole UK is a price worth paying for retaining the benefits of pooling and sharing with our closest neighbours.

Some claim the Brexit vote shows Scots are somehow emotionally closer to the EU than the UK, but that argument doesn’t withstand a moment’s analysis. The people of these islands quite clearly have more enduring historical, linguistic, cultural and economic bonds with each other than we do with our European cousins. The current dominance of the Tory party in England may be a concern for many, but the rise of populist right-wing movements in France and Holland is arguably a greater worry. Opposition parties may be in disarray, but political winds change and tides turn; decisions about the very existence of the UK should transcend party politics.

Whatever the reasons, the polls show that Brexit hasn’t been the game-changer the SNP clearly hoped it would be. Perhaps this is because Brexit has actually made the choice clearer. In an indyref2 the question would effectively be: do we choose to remain in the UK single market or hope to remain in the EU single market?

The economic case couldn’t be simpler. After over 40 years of free access to the EU market, Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are four times greater and still growing faster4. If we have to choose which side of any EU/UK trade barriers to be on, we surely have to choose the UK side.

In the UK we currently pay about £150 per person a year as members of the EU. In contrast, Scots are currently “paid” (receive an effective net fiscal transfer of) £1,700 per person a year as members of the UK5. This is money we’d immediately lose if we left, it’s a direct benefit of the on-going pooling and sharing the No vote guaranteed. The SNP’s White Paper on independence attempted to disguise this reality by making the hopelessly optimistic assumption that this year we’d generate £6.8 – 7.9bn of oil revenues to help plug that gap. We now know the actual number will be close to zero; they tried to sell us a pup.

Then there’s the practical question of when and under what conditions Scotland might actually join the EU if we leave the UK. Given we don’t have our own stable currency and run what in EU terms is called an “excessive deficit”, there are no guarantees. An independence referendum could well see Scotland end up outside the UK and outside the EU, further isolated in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world.

Leaving the EU may well be harmful to our economy, but Scotland leaving the UK wouldn’t fix it. Put simply: two wrongs don’t make a right.


1. See Scotland Decides

2. See Scottish Schools Drop in World Rankings
Scotland's schools have recorded their worst ever performance in an international survey of pupils.
Scotland's scores for maths, reading and science all declined in the latest set of Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) figures.
It was the first time since the tests began in 2000 that all three subject areas were classed as "average", with none "above average".
3. See ISD Scotland: Hospital Waiting Times

4. See ESS data

5. for £150 EU membership cost/capita see Thoughts on EU Referendum

 For £1,700 effective fiscal transfer see The £9bn Fiscal Transfer vs the £15bn Fiscal Deficit


Alastair McIntyre said...

I was reading your "Thoughts on an EU Referendum" and I wondered how your thoughts are now with the last 6 or more months of positive financial news. Also the fact Trump is now the President of the USA and is seemingly keen on a trade deal with the UK?

It just seems to me that many countries in the world are now keen to do trade deals with us so is that not a positive for Brexit?

Also as we go into elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany it does look like anti-EU rhetoric is growing. Italy also looks to be in a position where they might have to leave the Euro just to survive. So not all is rosy with the rest of the EU.

DPL said...

The other aspect aside from the financial is that of citizenship. I'm not sure what the SNP's current line is on this but the assumption that all Scots woudl retain UK citizenship upon independence is not correct in terms of international law. And it would also be a very hard sell to the rest of the UK.

Members of my family could well be affected by this - Scottish born, living in Scotland - post indy I doubt they would retain British citizenship. The only option would be to settle permanently in the remaining UK territory prior to secession.

Fight the good fight, Kevin - this blog is really one of the best.

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon and Salmond both said repeatedly that the EU referendum was coming, that it could lead to Scotland being taken out of the EU, and that it was a reason to vote Yes. The issue was aired, and the voters said "No, Thanks". How on earth those two muppets think that it is now justification for a do-over of their "once in a generation" referendum is beyond me.

Drew said...

I am unconvinced the UK Government will agree to a 2nd referendum, they are well within their rights to reject it.

To take offer one the first time is a calculated gamble, to offer one a second time isn't worth even the slim risk, regardless of the political fall out in Scotland.

With an ever more aggressive Russia, the UK Government, the Americans and Europe just can't afford even the slightest chance of the UK suffering the catastrophe of losing a third of the landmass with all the MOD assets based there, not to mention the real possibility of Trident being homeless or on foreign soil for 10-20 years until a new Coulport is developed elsewhere.

Both Scottish Nationalists and Scottish Unionists are prisoners of their own geography.

Scottish Nationalists can't pretend sharing the main British landmass isn't important for Scotland's security and economic interests.

Scottish Unionists can't suddenly wish away the continent of Europe being on the UK's doorstep as a major source of power, influence and trade in the world, regardless of the eventual fate of the EU.

Andrew Veitch said...

I would like to take you up on your challenge of a moment's analysis comparing the Scottish relationship to the EU with the UK.

The EU is a very odd place indeed by global standards. It has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its GDP and 50% of its social spending. Indeed government spending in the EU as a share of the economy is more than double the global average.

The huge debate that Brexit is throwing up is this: Should the UK change to a more common model where government spending is dramatically lower? This is something that has been outlined by both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister as a possible plan.

There is quite a bit of logic to it: my business quite happily competes against businesses in France and Germany. On the other hand, if the door was thrown open with a deep Free Trade Agreement with the USA (for example) then we would have severe problems as our our US competitors have much lower labour costs, much lower taxes and much lower environmental regulation which are all big costs in our industry.

The only way we could get a level playing field would be to persuade Donald Trump to raise US regulations and taxes to the UK level or as seems more likely cut the UK minimum wage, taxes and other regulations to match the US.

So really the question is: do Scots feel that they are closer to the European social model or are Scots closer to the US social model which is being promoted by the Brexiteers?

Arbo regular said...

If there is another referendum does the whole of the UK have to pay?
If England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to pay we surely deserve a say.

Wildgoose said...

If there's another Referendum then everybody should vote.

I suspect that Scotland would vote to continue being given English money - and that England would vote for Scotland to leave and stand on her own two feet.

Which is why, as always, nobody will dare ask what we English truly think.

Anonymous said...

Wildgoosee......To be honest, Nicola Sturgeon keeps on saying that the scottish people are being dragged out of EU aganst their will. But i wonder how many are ike me, who voted Remain, but are now quite willing to spport leaving the Eu to get the best deal possible for the whole of the Uk. I wonder if it' near the 50% of the voters. Then we wouldn't keep on hearing about her representing tthe scottish people

Terry Mushroom said...

Living on England's south coast, I think Wildgoose is probably right about the way England would vote in a U.K. wide referendum on the Union. If nothing else, to get rid of Sturgeon "moaning" on the TV every night.

I doubt that few English are anti-Scot. And are very sympathetic to Scots wishing to have their culture and law. However, both Remainers and Leavers in England know there is a huge amount at stake over the next two years. I wonder how many believe that England should be distracted from this for the sake of the SNP. "Yes you can have your independence referendum but you're bloody well not going to wreck our chances to sort Brexit out, when you might vote to stay anyway."

Although Sturgeon is careful to only attack Westminster, she doesn't come across well to an English audience; Salmond even less so. They don't seem to realise that they need English voters' cooperation not only to gain independence, but even more so afterwards. The SNP have not helped their cause with the English by making them pay to go to a Scottish university. That just appears seems incomprehensibly spiteful.

I've no hat in the ring. I'd feel very sorry for my Scottish neighbours who, of course, would become foreigners over night through no choice of their own. I'd feel sorrier for Scots in Scotland who wanted to stay. I'm just a bemused onlooker.