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Michael Fry: A No vote may see Scots leave the EU by default

A No vote could leave Scotland on course to exit Europe

A No vote could leave Scotland on course to exit Europe

WITH THE Tories on a course out of the EU, says Michael Fry, a pro-Europe Scotland that is still part of the UK may be forced to follow.


Nearly a quarter of a century ago the SNP adopted the slogan of Independence in Europe. It marked the maturity of the party.

Up to that point the SNP could still be written off as an outfit of cranks looking forward to a future Scotland where everybody wore kilts and ate haggis to the sound of skirling bagpipes. Now there was a different vision – of a Scotland bright, clean, open and liberal like any normal small European country.

That also solved the big problem the SNP then had with the word separation. Scots entertained little doubt they were different from the English.

Even so, the two peoples had been members of the Union for nearly three centuries, and both alike had contributed to it and defended it.

As an independent country Scotland might gain a lot, but would also sacrifice some of these cherished connections and memories. At worst, introspective isolation beckoned. Separation was therefore a negative term.

The concept of Independence in Europe neatly got round all this. Both Scotland and England were by now members of the European Community (not then itself called a union).

They had cast off their imperial past and forged new links for a changed world. An independent Scotland could be depicted as just a further step in this fruitful progress.

And it would be all the more desirable because, inside an evolving Europe, Scotland could never really be separate from England anyway.

The language of that defining period in the history of the SNP is still the language it speaks today. In the run-up to the referendum, Alex Salmond constantly stresses what in an independent Scotland would be the same as before.

Identical, without any doubt, would be all the obligations the UK has accepted as a member of the European Union.

This makes me wonder just what an independent Scotland would need to negotiate for continued membership of that wider union.

But, as David Maddox wrote here this week, the chances increase by the day that the Conservative party will commit itself to leading Britain out of the EU.

Maybe David Cameron cannot bring himself to do that, but he seems willing at least to ask the question.

If he will not take No to Europe for an answer, then Michael Gove will. Given the popular anti-European mood, Labour can only tag along.

Doubtless the Lib Dems will resist the trend, but they have already penned several suicide notes to the electorate anyway.

Not only have the Brits been putting on their coats, but other Europeans are standing by the door ready to open it.

It is true that if we did leave the EU, many of our neighbours would genuinely be sorry to see us go – not least the Germans, who see us as allies in the cause of a free trading and deregulated Europe.

That cause is for the moment, however, not the central one.

The central cause for Europe now is fiscal union: one tax-and-spend policy for all 25 of the member countries that signed up to it at the fraught summit in Brussels in December 2011, as they stared into the abyss of the collapse of the euro.

The UK stood aloof, spurning closer European integration as the way out of the crisis.

If the crisis is overcome – still a big if – the resulting Europe will in fact be much more integrated, but the UK will not be a part of it.

As the UK could never bring itself to join wholeheartedly in the less integrated Europe of the past, it will not join in the more integrated Europe of the future.

While all this is still working itself out, Scotland will make a decision of its own in the referendum of 2014.

This is, in the first place, a decision on ‘in or out of Britain’ but, against the wider background, it also appears as in effect a decision on ‘in or out of Europe’, in particular in or out of Europe’s fiscal union.Scotland will, in truth, at that point be facing an even bigger choice than anybody has so far appreciated.

If the Union should be confirmed and maintained, then Scotland would stay, like the rest of the UK, on a course out of Europe.

If the Union should be broken, then Scotland would face a further choice.

Scotland could continue close links with the Union it had just left, including the use of that Union’s currency: this is Salmond’s present offer.

Or else Scotland could opt for a deal with its continental neighbours as the newest member of the EU.

Of course, this course of action would need their consent too, and that consent cannot be counted on as being automatic.

But if the UK is both leaving Europe and breaking up, I find it hard to believe the rest of the EU would not want to hang on to that part of the British Isles called Scotland.

From Scotland’s point of view, neither course is without its costs. Links with the UK (or the rest of the UK) would be broken.

Scotland would need to join the fiscal union (though not necessarily the euro, since a number of other countries are already members of the one, but not the other).

As the SNP’s own fiscal outlook has always erred on the side of the profligate, this may be no bad thing.

Perhaps, in our pondering of the choice that faces us, the difference could be made by the warmth of the welcome for Scotland.

Europeans are quite likely to want to take England down a peg or two (just look at what is happening this week in Brussels).

The end of its union with another Celtic nation, the second within a century, would seem to fit the bill nicely.

 

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