Brian Monteith: Brexit won’t lead to Scottish independence and here’s why

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SNP Deputy Leader, Keith Brown, and Conservative Secretary for Scotland, David Mundell, have both claimed Brexit could lead to Scottish independence. They are both wrong.

Irrespective of what type of Brexit the UK ends up with, be it a WTO Full Brexit with lashings of Houses of Parliament Sauce, a Canada-plus Free Trade Agreement, or a Chequers-minus deal that delivers Brexit in name only – they are all toxic to the cause of Scottish nationalism.

Brexit is Green Kryptonite, to Keith Brown and Nicola Sturgeon; they will be weakened by it, for whatever one thinks of Brexit there is no escaping it makes the case for independence less attractive. Worse still, and despite what Brown and Mundell say, the more calamitous it is the worse independence will look to ordinary voters. If there’s so much havoc leaving the EU what would they expect leaving the UK to be like?

Once we leave the EU on 29th March any benefits accrued to the UK are likely to be lost forever to an independent Scotland seeking to rejoin the EU, while any benefits that once considered worth the high price of EU membership will not necessarily be reintroduced.

Brexit benefits should include not facing an annual bill of £10bn – which should deliver a Brexit Bonus for Holyrood of around one billion per annum. It should mean taking back control of our fisheries policy – which will be of greater importance to Scotland to the rest of the UK – as well as shaping agriculture policy to suit the needs of Scottish farmers within the UK’s single market.

Further Brexit benefits should include the ability to change our laws about how we trade and apply taxes; we should be able to open freeports in Grangemouth and Prestwick that will act as magnets to international duty free assembly – while we can decide to change what items are subject to VAT, what else we tax and at what rate, or what our tariffs for imports might be (maintaining, lowering or abolishing some – or raising others such as steel).

Once the UK is outside the EU then the SNP faces the challenge of arguing why it will be easy and painless to extract Scotland from a union of 311 years compared to the calamity it expects from the UK leaving a union of only 45 years. Alex Salmond reckoned Scotland required only eighteen months to exit the UK, yet with no deal yet agreed and a transition period if there is one, it could take five years to leave the EU fully in 2021.

Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are £46bn, which is more than its £13bn exports to the 27 other EU states and the £17bn to the rest of the world combined. The Fraser of Allander has put the number of Scottish jobs related to EU exports at 125,000 but for our trade with rUK it estimates 529,000. The threat to our prized financial services economy is existential, with most of their customers being English residents many, if not all, would have to move their HQs and associated operations to Leeds, Manchester or London. If Brexit is tough then independence is off the scale.

Then there is the question of how to get Scotland back into the EU. The first obstacle will be Spain and her allies within the EU. A secessionist Scotland can expect no favours from Spain whatever its political colour and there are other EU members that think the same way. The SNP’s fawning over Catalan separatists will prove to have been a major blunder, even in obtaining EAA status.

There’s also the loss of Margaret Thatcher’s Fontainebleau discount on the membership fee that will not be transferable from the UK to an independent Scotland. Indeed Scotland, as part of the UK, is already a net contributor to the EU so it would have to find at least a billion a year (rather than receive a billion a year) – a difference to the balance sheet of £2bn a year from being in the UK but outside the EU. If independent, Scotland would already have to find savings or raise taxes to finance its annual public spending deficit of circa £13.5bn, but taking on EU membership costs would ensure extremely painful Scottish austerity is unavoidable.

Then there are the legal requirements of Scotland having its own currency rather that of a country outside the EU – and accepting eventual membership of the euro. Covering that £13.5bn deficit is not an option, for EU membership requires Scotland’s debt to GDP ratio be brought down from an unsustainable 7.9% to no more than 3% within ten years.

How “hard” a Brexit the UK has matters too. If the UK settles for importing and exporting on WTO terms then all the problems that critics of this perfectly normal arrangement allege, such as a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be visited upon an independent Scotland, only worse. Brown and Mundell are both experienced enough to know their Brexit comments are nothing more than playing to their respective galleries. For Brown it is about rousing his troops to not lose hope that independence is near. For Mundell it is about circling the wagons around his Prime Minister’s besieged Chequers plan. He’s a remainer Cabinet minister who owes his comfy chair to a remainer Prime Minister.

The truth is the best friend of Scottish independence is not Brexit but Jeremy Corbyn. It is Corbyn who will trade a second independence referendum to achieve power and it is Chequers that will make the Tories unelectable and put him in power. So let’s ignore Mundell and chuck Chequers to save the union.