The SNP has reverted to type. After a year in which all the arguments for separation were knocked over like a row of dominoes, those who would cast us free from the mother country have decided to fall back on the negative theme which has taken them so far in the past. Suspicion, distrust and, indeed, hatred of the UK government is now back on the bill.
The first battleground chosen – and there will be many more as this year unfurls – is a phantom row over the allocation of European Union structural funds. Now, European funding is far too boring a subject to be investigated in detail here. But, in brief, European Structural Funds are the main instrument for supporting social and economic cohesion across the EU. They provide a mechanism for reducing disparities between regions while aiming to increase employment and economic growth.
“The level of support available to member states varies depending on the status of the area, with the most disadvantaged areas receiving greater levels of support.” That’s from the EU official website.
Two things here are relevant. First, the UK receives much more financial support from the EU than is accounted for in the structural fund budget. Secondly, the size of structural funds that will be available to Scotland, England or Wales has not yet been determined.
But Nicola Sturgeon is determined to raise it and, as Ms Sturgeon is now the most popular Scottish leader since Robert the Bruce, she must be listened to, if not obeyed. How her boss, the previously most competent politician of his era, is taking his fall down the charts has not been revealed. Perhaps some additional EU funds to restore social cohesion are necessary.
This is an artificial row. Ms Sturgeon herself makes this clear at the end of her statement to Holyrood, adding in a post-script, that she is confident that a positive solution can be reached. Well, it will be unless she insists on being obstructive, holding out as Scotland’s champion to increase the chances of a referendum success.
Rational argument having failed the separatists they are now resorting to the resentment factor that was the underlying driving force in the SNP for decades. “The English want to do us down”, is a mantra that has worked well in elections in the past.
Reversion to it does indicate the desperation that the SNP must feel after a year of set-backs. It is, in fact, a volte-face. Up until now this majority Scottish Government, in its fantasy post-referendum world, has tried to portray the English as friendly, helpful and an easy touch in the separation negotiations. Not only will the UK invite us to sit on their Monetary Policy Committee, they will accept that no border posts be set up, and will eagerly agree to give up the vast majority of the UK’s oil rights, as well as abandoning their nuclear bases. Ms Sturgeon needs to make up her mind and decide which caricature of the English we have to adopt. Maybe she won’t because the SNP have got plenty of mileage out incoherent policy conflicts.
However, we are nothing if not serious here, so let us take this enormously popular leader at her word. She claims that the new formula will be used to allocate the money in ways which favour densely populated areas of the UK. If that is the policy decision is it not because Europe has identified that it is these areas that need more help now and that injecting funds there will produce better results in terms of employment, income and investment than elsewhere? It is simply selfish and isolationist to demand that areas identified as poorer should be deprived of funds in order to protect protects in your own backyard. But that is the badge of the separatists; self interest. So much for the social justice promised by Ms Sturgeon in her speech last year. Charity should not begin at home and fairness, by definition cannot.
There is another aspect of this that the greatest deputy leader since Spiro Agnew has overlooked. Wales already gets a greater proportionate allocation of these funds than Scotland because the Principality is assessed to be in greater need. The SNP’s confident message for separation is that Scotland is a booming oil-rich, smart, successful economy ready to fly into the arc of prosperity once the chains of London have been loosed. Yet the fact that aid from Europe has been so high suggests the opposite. Scotland is more akin to Spain than to Germany. We are being bailed out. The fact that Ms Sturgeon is terrified of losing our privileged status indicates she knows exactly how vulnerable our shaky economy is.
The next fact is that all informed legal opinion confirms that in the event of separation Scotland will have to apply for admission to the EU – a process that will take years. What happens to our structural funding in the interim? Will all the EU states – including the UK – be prepared to sacrifice their funding to help out a state pleading for membership? Or will Scotland simply lose out?
Ms Sturgeon’s outburst is the second time she has raised the white flag. My interpretation of her keynote speech last year was to position the SNP for election battles in the years following a referendum defeat. This latest attempt to portray the UK government as a body always on the alert to do Scotland out of its just desserts is a further indication of how a leopard cannot change its spots.
The warm and friendly process of disentangling Scotland from the UK if a Yes vote were to be achieved is one that the SNP assiduously cultivated last year. That has now been abandoned. The fact is that in the run up to the referendum no British government is going to do anything to Scotland that is, up here, seen to be unfair or negatively discriminatory.
The SNP can justly claim that as one of their successes. London listens. As long as the separatists are made to stick to their role as a party of protest they can be of use to Scotland. If they ever achieved their central goal all their bargaining power would disappear and we would see the fine mess into which they want to lead us.