Sunday, 5 May 2013

Scottish Alternatives To The EU

Blair Jenkins used a rather clever ploy, when addressing students on the need for the Yes Campaign in the run-up to the referendum on Scotland's constitutional future in 2014. He asked his audience to imagine that Scotland was an independent country and, they were being persuaded to join a political union, which would become the United Kingdom. So that they would have some idea of what the new Union would mean, he listed the changes that would take place. Scotland's ancient parliament would be abolished and her MPs would have to sit in the new Parliament in London, they would be in a permanent minority and could be regularly outvoted, and so on. The question was, would they want to join a union under those conditions?  I recently wrote about the three issues which were causing the SNP the most embarrassment in the campaign for independence viz. whether or not Scotland would be an automatic member of the EU, the retention of sterling as Scotland's currency in the event of a "Yes" vote and, membership of NATO but without having nuclear weapons in Scotland, thereby necessitating the removal of Trident from the Clyde.

The SNP decided to support Scotland's full participation in the EEC, including the single currency, in 1990 and that has been the party's policy ever since. "Independence in Europe" became the party's mantra in 1988 and it gave its complete support to the various Treaties which followed the Single European Act, which it also supported when it was signed in 1986. The Party's National Executive told a rather unhappy membership that the Act would have little or no effect on the sovereignty of an independent Scotland. Support for the euro replaced the party's earlier commitment to a Scottish currency and remained until the banking crisis of 2008, caused the euro to begin to unravel. Although the SNP decided to retain sterling after Scotland votes "Yes", support for membership of the EU remains as strong as ever. Despite the embarrassment that this has caused, when it was discovered the First Minister and the SNP had taken no "specific" advice on the question of Scottish membership, the party has continued to insist that an independent Scotland will retain its membership, together with the opt-out of the euro and the Scottish share of the budget rebate won by Margaret Thatcher. Several "experts" on the legal and political aspects of the EU have expressed opposing views, therefore there is no definitive answer to the question of whether or not Scotland will be granted automatic membership.

If we were to use the Blair Jenkins ploy and apply it to EU membership, assume that Scotland is independent and was being offered membership of the EU in its current form, the Scottish electorate would be asked to consider membership of a Union where the imbalance of Scottish representation to total representation of member states, would be far greater than the current imbalance in Westminster. If those countries which have applied for membership are accepted, the imbalance will become even greater, with Scotland having a single Commissioner (perhaps) out of a total of 27 (currently), 2 - 3 in the Council of Ministers from a total of 345 where Qualified Majority Voting  (QMV) is applied and 255 votes are needed to win. The European Parliament has 735 members and Scotland would have a possible 16, whereas we currently have 52 out of a total 650 in Westminster. Scots MPs have never voted in Westminster on the basis of their nationality as Scots, but on the basis of their party affiliations, which has frequently meant that issues which impacted on the whole of Scotland such as the destruction of our industrial base, have been argued, won or lost on a party political basis, rather than a national basis, much to the detriment of the long term interests of Scotland. The same voting pattern would be followed in the EU.

Complete control of agriculture, fishing and foreign trade would be handed over to the EU which would also determine competition laws for the internal market. If membership of the euro was agreed, monetary policy, the setting of interest rates and indirect control of fiscal policy would pass to the European Central Bank. The recent history of the failure of the euro, has increased the demands for even greater integration and control of  member states' budgets. The conditions which are being imposed on Cyprus, assuming it accepts another bailout from the ECB, are the harshest imposed on any member state and speak volumes about the attitude of the bureaucracy at the head of the EU, to the smaller member states. Wide areas of social policy, transport, consumer protection and energy also come within the remit of the EU. There really is no need to take this ploy too far, given that the recent history of the EU, particularly those countries which are also members of the euro zone, will be fresh in peoples' minds and they have seen the TV pictures of the riots in Greece, Spain and elsewhere. It does no harm however, to actually list the powers which the EU has and, to remind people of the imbalance of voting power in the hands of the larger countries. We have been fed on the myth of how well small countries have done in the EU, when the reality is that it has been run by the Franco/German axis. The recent experiences of Greece and Italy and how easily their elected heads of government were removed, should be a wake-up call for those who are concerned about democracy and the rights of member states.

What should strike any supporter of Scottish independence, is the inconsistency of the SNP in their attitudes to the Union with the rest of the United Kingdom and the European Union. In her speech to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce in February, Nicola Sturgeon warned Scots that David Cameron's promise of a referendum on EU membership, created "damaging uncertainty", putting Scottish jobs at risk. She also claimed the EU had "created and safeguarded some 64,000 Scottish jobs in the past ten years". She asserted, without offering a shred of evidence, it was "overwhelmingly in the interests of an independent Scotland to be in the EU". Her entire address could have just as easily been applied to the UK and made by any Unionist politician arguing for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. She not only ignored the fact that Scotland is a net contributor to the EU and runs a Balance of Payments deficit with the EU, it has also cost Scotland 100,000 jobs in the fishing industry alone. In a piece for The Scotsman on January 26th, Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP, took the familiar party line of disparaging those who oppose membership of the EU as "dingbats". Such a sophisticated line of argument is sure to win converts to Scottish independence, from Scotland's ever increasing group of EU sceptics.

The SNP continues to insist that, despite being asked to relinquish control of our lives to the extent outlined above, we would still be independent. It is a claim of which more and more Scots are openly disdainful, to the point where the latest survey showed 34% of Scots are opposed to EU membership and 67% want a referendum on membership. The manner in which centralised control has been imposed by the EU, has gone largely unnoticed because of the relentless conspiracy of silence pursued by the main political parties. Those who have attempted to oppose EU centralisation, have more often than not, been parodied as cranks or even racists by the EU supporters such as Alyn Smith, David Cameron and Ken Clarke whose description of the membership of UKIP did nothing to enhance his own appreciation of the depth of opposition to the EU now prevalent throughout the UK. Cameron's decision to offer a referendum on EU membership - if the Tories win the next Westminster election - is not being followed by the SNP, a decision they will come to regret, particularly as the refusal has been couched in exactly the same kind of supercillious language used by Unionists when they earlier refused a referendum on Scottish independence and were rightly condemned by the SNP.

The SNP has invested so much political capital on the "Independence in Europe" line since 1990, it is understandable that they find it difficult to complete the volt face. The policy slogan was always an oxymoron but the increased centralised control of the EU and the unraveling of the euro, now make the claims associated with "Independence in Europe" quite risible. Both the SNP and more importantly, the Yes Campaign, would do well to look at the alternatives that would be available to an independent Scotland, such as the EEA and EFTA. The entire campaign from the Unionist side has been based on nothing more than the creation of uncertainty in the minds of the Scottish electorate. There has been no appeal to principle, little or nothing of a positive message of why we should adhere to the Union. Unfortunately, the SNP and the Yes Campaign, have reduced independence to the point where it has become almost meaningless and the only perceptible change will be in the transfer of fiscal powers from Westminster to Edinburgh, but, even those will be curtailed by the conditions the SNP has proposed for the monetary union it seeks with the rUK. Given the recent events in the UK and the EU, from the war in Iraq, the scandal of the MP's expenses, the banking crisis, the unraveling of the euro and the consequent increase in centralisation in the EU, the Scottish people may be far more ready to embrace radical change than the SNP and the Yes Campaign are ready to admit. It is almost certain they are prepared to accept greater change than they are currently being offered.

Membership of the Common Market was sold to the British people on the basis of it offering a much larger market for British goods and services; in other words it was supposed to bring substantial economic benefits, with little or no downside to the deal. The supporters of membership played down the question of the loss of sovereignty, denying such a possibility even existed. Even today, the more fanatical of the EU supporters still attempt to claim there is little or no loss of sovereignty, witness the most recent statements of the SNP leaders, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. Economic nationalism is the basis of the current SNP leadership's desire for independence, hence Nicola Sturgeon's claim about jobs and the importance of the EU to Scotland's trade situation. Sovereignty would appear to mean little or nothing to the leadership of both the SNP and the Yes Campaign, despite the assertion by Alex Salmond at the party conference in Inverness that, "....the sovereignty of the Scottish people is in our DNA." The loss of sovereignty involved in membership of the EU and a formal currency union with rUK, cannot be finessed or spun to the point where the Scottish electorate will be persuaded it does not exist. The loss may not matter to those who now argue that "independence does not mean what it used to mean", a piece of nonsense peddled to justify the fact that EU members have already surrendered their independence; but it certainly matters to those countries in the euro zone, such as Greece and Cyprus, who are currently having to live with the consequences.

If sovereignty of the people genuinely matters - as the SNP and the Yes Campaign claim it does -  Scotland's political leaders must look at the alternative political and trading structures which offer membership to an independent Scotland and compare the conditions under which Scottish membership would be offered. Scots have never been given the opportunity to decide whether or not they are prepared to surrender sovereignty to the extent that is required for membership of the EU and no political elite has the right to deny them the right to make that decision. There are those who argue sovereignty can be "pooled" or "shared" but a nation can no more be a wee bit sovereign than a woman can be a wee bit pregnant. We are either sovereign or we are not and those who favour membership of the EU but oppose membership of the UK, find it difficult to explain the difference.

Sovereignty is not simply an abstract concept, it has practical applications. A claim to sovereignty is a claim by some representative authority in the name of "the people" to exercise a monopoly of law-making and law-enforcement within a designated territory. In an increasingly interdependent world, sovereign states have accepted specific treaty limitations on their law-making rights. But the EU goes further by requiring member states to cede a general right of law-making on a permanent basis, to EU institutions. Sovereignty is a legal as well as a philosophical way of describing the right of a people to govern itself, to determine its own priorities within the constraints imposed by its external environment. Increased interdependence may change the balance of advantage and disadvantage in any "self-determined" act, but it cannot make the principle of self-determination or self-government superfluous. At any level of integration or interdependence, a community of people must ask itself how important it is to retain the right to make its own choices between the options with which they are faced. As the debate on the currency an independent Scotland should use, has finally attracted the attention of the media, it is obvious that one of the most important objections to a sterling currency union, is the degree of control of the Scottish economy which would be left in the hands of the Bank of England and the government of the rUK - in other words sovereignty.

If EU membership entails losing control, both political and economic, to the EU commission and other areas of EU bureaucracy, what are the alternatives? Obviously trade is important but is it so important that control of the country has to be sacrificed in order to satisfy the demands of those who live by it? A Union which has  existed for over 300 years, has shown what it means to surrender control of our affairs to a much larger neighbour, whose relationship with us has not always been benign. Having endured that experience, through bad times and occasionally good times, we know better than most that to repeat it with another group of larger and more powerful neighbours, intent on creating a federal union, would be an enormous mistake. We can avoid making that mistake but first of all, we must lose the notion that we have no alternatives, that we are incapable of creating the kind of society we seek, without surrendering control of the means by which to create it.

What are the alternatives? The first is the European Economic Area (EEA), sometimes called "The Norwegian option", which includes the member states of the EU plus, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. This would free Scotland from the regulations which govern the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and Regional Policy, while reducing the budgetary contribution. It would grant access to the Single Market in goods and services but access would be subject to rules decided by the EU, with no input by Scotland. It is the preference of Norway but there is growing discontent with what some Norwegian politicians call "fax democracy", where Norwegian Ministers receive the next rules governing their relationship with the EU, by fax. That view is contradicted by others who point to the 1989 Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, as an example of how Norway participates fully in drafting EU legislation which may affect it. Rules of Origin apply and there is little doubt that influence on EU regulations would be less than that afforded to those countries which have full membership, but fishing is too important an industry for Norwegians to surrender control to the EU and the CFP.

The second option is the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), originally set up to act as an alternative to the original EEC but as some of the original members joined the EEC, the membership has been reduced to Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The agreement gives access to the EU markets under the EFTA umbrella but Switzerland has made a number of bilateral agreements with the EU and other countries throughout the world. EFTA has established trade agreements with twenty six countries throughout the world, as well as the twenty seven countries within the EU and only Switzerland is not also a member of the EEA. This gives Switzerland more control over its own affairs but none of the EFTA countries are bound by either the CAP or the CFP, nor are they bound by the Social and Employment legislation.

There is also the "Turkish Option" which, as the title implies, applies to Turkey only. Turkey first made application as an Associate member of the European Economic Community in July 1959 and the Association Membership came into effect in December 1964. Both the internal politics of Turkey and the external relations created by the problems associated with Greece and Cyprus, caused the application for membership to be shelved but on the 6th March 1995 a Customs Union was formed between the EU and Turkey. To complete membership of the EU, Turkey must complete 33 of the 35 chapters of the acquis commaunitaire, which is the complete body of EU Law. At the moment Turkey has full access for goods but agricultural products are not covered by the customs union and Turkey is not governed by either the CAP or the CFP, makes no Budget contribution and is not covered by either Social or Employment legislation.

Finally, Scotland could have no formal relationship with the EU other than that which would be conducted through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This would mean the EU would have no power over Scotland in terms of the CAP, CFP, Social and Employment legislation or Regional Policy, neither would there be any authority over product regulation except for exports to the EU. By the same token, Scotland would have no influence on the EU in how trade with other countries is conducted. The determination to liberalise trade throughout the world has been on-going since the end of WWII, a recognition of the fact that free trade can benefit everyone but it should never be assumed that free trade is always to everyone's advantage. It was certainly NOT to the advantage of the estimated 100,000 Portuguese textile workers who lost their jobs on the imposition of the internal market in the EU. It is now widely recognised that the fringe countries of the Mediterranean such as Greece, had economies that could not possibly compete with Germany and Greeks have had to suffer the consequences.

Free trade has more often than not, simply been an extension of the foreign policy of the major nations such as the USA or even the UK and, it has finally been recognised by the people of the UK, that the EU is as much a political union as it is a trading union. We are told that if we leave the EU, thousands of jobs will be sacrificed as they refuse to trade with us. It seems to be forgotten that trade is a two-way process, that Scotland has a balance of payments deficit with the EU; in other words, we buy more goods and services from the EU than it buys from us. Common sense would dictate that if they refuse to buy our goods and services, we will find other markets and whether or not we are members of the EU, they will still want to sell us their products - or suffer the unemployment that the loss of trade will create. Sheer self-interest will ensure trade continues, to say nothing of the vindictiveness towards Scotland that would need to exist in the EU, for it to cut off Scotland, alone of all the countries in the world, from a trade that would benefit their own citizens. In all my travels throughout both the EU and Eastern Europe, I have yet to see any evidence of the kind of vindictiveness with which Unionists claim we would be confronted.

The Scottish people are not just entitled, in theory, to decide whether or not they want to be members of the EU. They must be given the opportunity - for the first time - to vote in a referendum, on the kind of relationship they would prefer to have, after being given - again for the first time - the kind of information that would allow them to make that decision. The EU is not just a trading organisation, not by any stretch of the imagination; it is a political union, the evidence for which is more and more evident since the euro crisis. Scots are being told they MUST walk away from one incorporating union, in order to embrace another, without as much as a by your leave. That is both dishonest and undemocratic and must not be allowed to happen.

1 comment:

  1. Angela Merkel at a meeting with David Cameron on 7th June 2012:-
    "We need more Europe. We don't only need monetay union, we also need a so called fiscal union. And most of all we need a political union, which means we need to gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control"
    Jim is right, there is no independence under that set-up