Brian Monteith: Sturgeon’s logic flawed over EU

IT IS in Europe’s interest to continue trading with the UK, whatever the outcome of the the referendum, argues Brian Monteith

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with EC Comission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: AP

One of the hallmarks of the independence referendum was how the unionist campaign for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom appeared unremittingly negative. Being on the “No” side of the argument required it to deny much of what the “Yes” campaign was claiming.

The Better Together campaign had a duty to point out the risks and falsehoods of Yes campaigners, while the positive narrative of unionists was diverse and therefore never put forward as an argument – despite the best efforts of many individuals who spoke about the Union’s benefits outside of the official campaign.

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Also, naysayers in a referendum generally only have to effect a score draw to win – and while that is undoubtedly unhelpful in the long run (for it does not build up a core support for when the question might be revisited) it requires less thinking and reduces the likelihood of internal disagreement about what is considered to be positive.

The most vocal critics of the negativity of the unionist campaign were, unsurprisingly, the Yes campaign who used it as a stick to beat-up the No campaigners. Better Together was branded “Project Fear” and its spokesmen, one and all, were portrayed as scaremongers. It was both an attempt to demean an often factual explanation of why, say, an economic promise could not be delivered and to claim the moral high ground for the Yes campaign that was meant to only believe in a bright and harmonious future. The irony was that by the end of the referendum the most negative messages were coming from a Yes campaign that had resorted to claiming the only way to save the NHS, the only way to stop Trident and the only way to get rid of the Tories was to achieve independence.

It is therefore interesting to see that in the First Minister’s speech last week in Brussels and throughout the week she decided to strike out with negativity from the beginning before the campaign to keep the UK inside the European Union has even begun.

Leaving aside the inconsistency that Nicola Sturgeon believes constituent parts of the UK should have a veto on its EU membership – but does not believe constituent parts of Scotland should have a veto on its UK membership, the First Minister claimed that, “In Scotland there are roughly 300,000 jobs dependent on our exports to other European countries, which are made possible because of our membership of the single market.”

This is a bold claim, for it appears to be supported by little more than 15-year-old UK-based research, or derivations of the same, that have since fallen into question. I looked into this issue last year, together with Ewen Stewart of Global Britain and Stuart Coster of the Democracy Movement and established that not only are the claims about dependent jobs erroneous, they also conveniently ignore the number of EU jobs associated with trade to the UK – or Scotland.

The history is that in 1999 the National Institute of Economic and Social Research produced a paper commissioned by the pro-euro campaign, Britain in Europe that asserted: “Detailed estimates from input-output tables suggest up to 3.2 million UK jobs are now associated directly with exports of goods and services to the EU countries.”

This has given rise to popular concern that some of these jobs might be at risk if Britain were to leave the Union. Opponents of membership on the other hand argue that many of the benefits flowing from the increasingly integrated European Economic Area might still be available even if the UK were to withdraw… “In conjunction with the potential gains from withdrawing from the Common Agricultural Policy and no longer paying net fiscal contributions to the EU, there is a case that withdrawal from the EU might actually offer net economic benefits.”

Jobs associated with EU trade are not jobs dependent on EU trade. Professor Ian Begg, one of the authors of the NIESR report confirmed that, “there is no a priori reason to suppose that many of these jobs, if any, would be lost permanently if Britain were to leave the EU”. The then director of NIESR, Martin Weale, dismissed the negative spinning of the report by Europhiles as “pure Goebbels”.

This has never stopped politicians such as Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband repeating the lie that three million British jobs are at risk if the UK leaves the EU; now Sturgeon is promoting her own variation of the theme – 300,000 Scottish jobs are at risk. The reality is that trade is not dependent on EU membership but is guaranteed under World Trade Organisation rules, which is why the United States, Japan and Australia all have access to the European Single market, but without having to accept the political and administrative burdens we endure or the costs of membership.

Seventy-five per cent of all global trade in goods is now completely tariff free. In the few remaining areas where the EU could, in theory, hit UK exports with high tariffs once we were “outside” the single market it is extremely unlikely Brussels would choose to do so. Would French, Italian and Spanish wine exporters really want to face a potential 32 per cent tariff when selling to British consumers? Would German car exporters be happy to see a tariff of 10 per cent levied against them?

Given the European Commission has already signed, or is in the process of negotiating, approximately 70 bilateral free trade agreements with nations such as South Korea and Mexico – economies of far less significance to EU exporters than the UK market – it is extremely unlikely a deal could not be negotiated between an independent Britain and Brussels.

Using Sturgeon’s same logic, would the EU nations where unemployment is rampant want to risk their 6.4 million jobs associated with exports to the UK? If the First Minister wishes to start down the path of scaremongering she should find better evidence than asserting the world will end if the UK or Scotland were to leave the EU.