Even ardent Remainers know the SNP's Brexit stance makes no sense – Murdo Fraser

Scottish independence would have a much worse effect on trade with our nearest neighbours than Brexit

The Scottish football team’s adventure at the Euro Championships did not get off to the most auspicious start on Friday night, with a 5-1 hammering by the hosts Germany. That did not stop the contingent of around 200,000 fans from thoroughly enjoying themselves in Munich, although it seems there were a number of issues with the official fanzone for those unable to find precious tickets to the match itself.

Even the presence of a number of prominent SNP politicians in Munich was not enough to lift the performance of Steve Clarke’s team. Whether John Swinney, Angus Robertson, and Stephen Flynn were paying their own way or claiming the trip on the taxpayer will no doubt come to light in due course. Let us hope that the team’s performance will improve in future matches, starting with tonight’s contest against Switzerland.

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Scots politicians have always enjoyed being in Europe. I have visited Munich on a number of occasions and it is one of my favourite cities, but regrettably this time I had neither the time nor the money to be able to join many friends on a trip to soak up the atmosphere.

Tony Blair has warned against gambling with the Scottish economy by leaving the UK (Picture: Ryan Lim/AFP via Getty Images)Tony Blair has warned against gambling with the Scottish economy by leaving the UK (Picture: Ryan Lim/AFP via Getty Images)
Tony Blair has warned against gambling with the Scottish economy by leaving the UK (Picture: Ryan Lim/AFP via Getty Images)

Europe has changed

However, considering ourselves to be Europeans does not mean we necessarily have to believe we should be within the EU. I did not support Brexit back in 2016, but am now unconvinced that there is merit in us seeking to rejoin a union which has changed substantially even in the few years since we left.

The results of the European Parliament elections just two weeks ago demonstrate a substantial shift in political gravity across the Continent, with the rise of what is often described, not always accurately, as the “far right”. The election in October of Giorgia Meloni as Italian Prime Minister, leading the Brothers of Italy party, sparked commentary around the return of post-fascism, but in office she appears to be more of a traditional conservative.

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Meloni’s victory presaged a growth in the right-wing vote in the European Parliament elections across a number of countries, most dramatically in France, where the National Rally trounced President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Alliance. This precipitated Macron calling a general election, and one which might well end up with 28-year-old RN leader Jordan Bardella as Prime Minister.

This is all a dramatic contrast to what is happening here in the UK, where, if opinion polls are to be believed, the country is likely to shift to the left in the general election on July 4, after 14 years of Conservative government. And it presents an interesting set of challenges for an SNP which deliberately attempts to position itself as more pro-European, and more in tune with mainstream Continental thinking, than the rest of the UK.

Independence won’t reverse Brexit

First Minister John Swinney has quite deliberately positioned the SNP as a party of the centre left. It seems something of an irony that if the UK is going to end up with a centre-left party in government nationally, the SNP want to break away from that to join a Europe shifting quite dramatically to the right. The shift in EU voting patterns is driven by concerns about rising immigration and the cost of net-zero climate change policies, neither of which concerns chime with stances currently being taken by the SNP.

There is a greater challenge still for the SNP argument that Brexit can be reversed by voting for independence. The essential reason I opposed Brexit in 2016 is because I believe it makes little sense to cut ourselves off from our nearest neighbours, trade with whom is the foundation of our economy. If that applies to the EU, it applies on a much greater scale to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Yet the SNP would have us break ties with the rest of the UK, potentially creating a hard border from Berwick to Carlisle, and inevitably disrupting trade with our most integrated marketplace, in order to seek membership of the EU single market. When our trade to the rest of the UK is worth three times as much as our trade to Europe, this makes no economic sense whatsoever.

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Brexit times ten

Nor does the SNP approach learn the lessons from the disruption that Brexit has caused. Extracting ourselves from a 40-year-old political and economic union proved difficult enough; extracting ourselves from a 300-year-old political, economic and social union is bound to prove many times more difficult.

I could not put it better than Professor Mark Blyth of Brown University, one of the principal economic advisors to the Scottish Government, who stated that independence would be Brexit times ten. Those who complain about the impact of Brexit on trade can hardly argue for Scottish independence with a straight face, given the evidence of the damage that would be done by disrupting trade arrangements with our largest marketplace.

Even the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, with whom I would agree on very little, gets it. In an interview for Holyrood magazine covered in this paper on Monday, he referred to the paradoxical effect that Brexit had on the independence cause. Whilst giving people another reason for having independence, the impact has also made people nervous of breaking ties with neighbours. In his words: “Do we really want to gamble with the Scottish economy that is, by the way, much, much more linked to the British economy than the British economy is to Europe? Do we want to gamble with that?”

So the SNP’s campaign to reverse Brexit by seeking independence isn’t convincing anyone, even ardent Remainers like Tony Blair. Scotland now has more chance of winning the Euros than the SNP have of winning this particular argument.



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