Our relationship with Europe is just as worthy of consideration as the one we have chosen to continue with the UK, writes Brian Monteith
It is received wisdom in polite Scottish society – the MacChattering classes – that be it as a fully-signed up member of the UK or a sovereign state, Scotland should desire to remain a member of the European Union.
Even so I found it bizarre that during the referendum the SNP not only insisted that Scotland would automatically remain a member of the EU, but was willing to deny any idea that if there was a renegotiation of membership the Scottish people should have any say in accepting or rejecting the new arrangement.
What if the new membership terms meant the net cost of membership escalated? The UK is a very large net contributor to the EU, but would have paid even more had it not over time (thanks chiefly to the stoic perseverance of Margaret Thatcher) enjoyed a rebate on payments that Scotland could not expect to become heir to. The SNP has never been able to explain how or why Scotland would pay the same proportion of membership costs as the UK, never mind deny our nation would pay more.
As Scottish politicians rail against austerity and the corresponding constraints placed upon public spending would it not be wise to at least consider if joining the EU club was worth the candle – and why not ask what the Scottish people think?
Then there are all the new regulations and laws that come out of the undemocratic and unaccountable European Union – an institution where only the unelected European Commission can instigate new legislation. We know – because at least one former EU commissioner has admitted it – that approximately 70 per cent of British laws originate from Brussels. We also know through official records that Germany accepts that nearly 80 per cent of its laws originate from the EU, so why would Scotland be any different?
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Westminster cannot cope with the huge influx of EU laws; even with two chambers it fails to scrutinise what it receives. Its politicians are not waving order papers, but drowning under a deluge of legalese. How then could an independent Scotland cope with its single chamber and poodle-like committees that fail to scrutinise current legislation?
You may wonder why I write this, given that the independence referendum has now passed and for the foreseeable future the prospect of Scotland being able to consider its membership of the EU is somewhat distant. There are two obvious reasons. Firstly, there remains the prospect that whatever the colour of the UK government after the general election of May next year there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU and secondly, the SNP has added to its extensive list of fabricated grievances the idea that Scotland should somehow have a veto on the whole of the UK from deciding to exit the EU.
There can be no escaping the fact that the UK parties contending for power, either intentionally (the Conservatives will offer an in/out EU referendum) or fait accompli (a Labour government has committed to do the same if there is a change of EU treaties, and that remains a live prospect) will ultimately deliver a referendum on EU membership before 2017. There is also no escaping the fact that if there is a further Scottish independence referendum in the near future then Scotland’s relationship with the EU will again become a central part of the debate. The cost, the burden of laws, the regulatory straightjacket – all will impinge on the decision we might again face.
There can be no escaping that Scotland’s place in the EU will remain important to the nature of the country’s relationship with our British family or the rest of the European continent. And yet, because here in Scotland the debate about “independence” has focused on our relationship with the rest of the UK, and also that all of the mainstream parties are so thirled to the EU that they dare not contemplate any other idea, there has been very little debate about whether or not it is in Scotland’s interests to be part of this economically declining and outdated customs union.
When I recently took up work in advising the research body Global Britain about how it should promote its briefing notes I was astounded to find just how much evidence there was for the EU being past its sell-by-date. It is not so much why the UK should leave, but why any country – other than those that crave the transfer of wealth from richer nations to poorer ones – would want the EU to continue.
Thanks to the unrecognised but astounding work of the World Trade Organisation there really is no need for either an EU single market. Average import tariffs into the EU are 1.09 per cent for the United States – and it does not bear the cost of EU commissioners and hangers-on, bureaucrats, politicians and advisers, nor an EU parliament or an EU membership fee to gain access to what the Confederation of British Industry claims mistakenly is vital to our economic survival.
Canada, Switzerland and South Korea all have Free Trade agreements with the EU to gain access without cost to the erroneously titled “single market” and the Lisbon Treaty makes the EU duty-bound to give any country leaving – be it the UK or Scotland – the same deal.
And here’s a thing that is never commented upon; if the UK were to leave the EU then by the terms of the original Scotland Act the management of Scottish fishing waters would pass not to Westminster but to Holyrood. Is Nicola Sturgeon willing to say to the voters of Scottish fishing ports that they would not be better off out?
Last week a UK-wide poll carried out on behalf of The Freedom Association found that 45 per cent of Scots favoured leaving the EU while only 39 per cent supported continued membership. Scots are no different in their euro-scepticism from the rest of the UK, and once they look at the arguments could actually become the vanguard of Brexit.
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