The results of the EU elections were a major disappointment to the SNP as they effectively destroyed the notion that UKIP has no support in Scotland, albeit the poll was a derisory 33.5%. Of much greater importance however, are the results of the polls which preceded the elections, showing that over 30% of Scots would like to leave the EU and over 60% would like a referendum on Scottish membership, whatever the result of the independence referendum. These results contradict the persistent claims by the SNP that Scots are overwhelmingly in favour of EU membership, although the claims continue as the SNP and Yes Scotland make the EU an important issue in the independence campaign.
I am told frequently that the issue of the EU can be decided after the vote on independence, - as can everything else for those who think nothing should be allowed to distract from getting a Yes vote. Unfortunately issues such as EU membership, currency and a number of others are seen as important by Scots in general and for many, will persuade them to vote either Yes or No. They will also determine not only the kind of independence we will have, but whether in fact that what is on offer is actually independence at all. What follows is not about whether or not membership of the EU denies Scotland sovereignty, I have made my views on that very plain over many years. It is about how the SNP has committed a major error by making the EU such an important part of the independence campaign and an effort to persuade people to recognise that error. The attacks on UKIP were a major mistake and have already been acknowledged as such, but that is only part of the problem. The major error occurred by making false claims about Scots' enthusiasm for membership of the EU, because it has given Better Together an opportunity to attack the concept of independence when it was totally unnecessary.
By making false claims about the ease with which Scotland would gain/keep membership of the EU, the importance of the EU to Scotland in terms of jobs and future economic prospects, in short by stressing the need for EU membership to the point where it can be argued that without it, a Scotland independent of the UK could not survive, the SNP has given Better Together another weapon to use in their battle against independence. As in all its arguments, Better Together has to do no more than suggest an independent Scotland will have great difficulty in gaining membership as a "new" state because other members may raise objections, for the "Undecided" to see yet another "uncertainty", another "problem", another "risk". The SNP has made membership of the EU a "must", an "absolute necessity" for an independent Scotland to be a success, whereas the truth is that Scotland could survive more easily outside the EU.
In its eagerness to show that an independent Scotland would be a worthwhile acquisition for the EU, great emphasis has been placed by the SNP, on the contribution Scotland would make, in terms of the fishing grounds, the oil and gas reserves and the renewable energy technology we will provide, to say nothing of the fact we currently have a balance of payments deficit with the EU and are a Net contributor to EU coffers. As a Net contributor and a member which takes more goods and services from the EU than they take from us, just what are the great benefits Scotland has received and more importantly, what great benefits is Scotland likely to receive in the future? For a people which seems to be obsessed with "How much will it cost us?" or "How much will I gain from independence?" surely Scots should be asking what the EU is worth to us or how much it will cost us. To date, we have had nothing but some vague notion of the jobs it provides, with not a word said about the jobs it has cost or its total failure to live up to expectations, as the euro has been on the verge of collapse since 2008.
The fishing industry has always been far more important to Scotland than to other parts of the UK and the EU. In 2013 fish landed by the Scots industry was worth £429 million, a drop of 8% since 2012, but accounted for 87% of total UK catch and 37% of total allowable catch in the EU. There was more fish landed in Shetland than in the whole of England and Wales combined. Despite the volume of fish landed by Scottish boats, Scotland receives only 41% of the UK's European Fisheries Fund and between 1.1% and 1.4% of total EU fisheries funding. Fishing has suffered more than any other Scottish industry, with the possible exception of steel, from a combination of neglect and EU bureaucracy. In 1973, just after the UK's entry to the then Common Market, there were 1,800 boats and by 2007, the figure had shrunk to 697, as a consequence of decommissioning, quota restrictions and the loss of fishing grounds, in short the Common Fisheries Policy.
In January 2009, the Aberdeen Press and Journal wrote, "In case any proof were needed that the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy is one of the most damaging political schemes ever to affect a UK industry, some facts about its impact on every single household will help. Pressure group The Taxpayers' Alliance has calculated that the policy costs every family £111 a year in higher taxes and lost business and puts £186 per year on the average food bill. As the north and northeast of Scotland has witnessed, the impact on jobs has been severe. More than 9,000 directly in fishing and up to 90,000 have been lost from onshore dependent industries. This is before the baffling phenomenon of throwing away tons of dead fish has even been considered," in a world where millions are starving and many Scots rely on food banks.
Despite claims that the situation has improved in recent years, in December 2013, The Scotsman carried the following headline, "Scots Fishermen face a tidal wave of red tape". and in the Spring 2014 edition of The Scottish Fishermen's Federation News, Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of SFF said, "Paradoxically, if the only consideration for a newly separate Scotland was fishing, the industry would probably be best served by being outside the EU and the tight constraints of the CFP"
When Ted Heath was negotiating entry to the Common Market, the British Steel Corporation was producing 20 million tons of steel a year, with plans to increase that figure to 40 million. He was told by the bureaucrats in Europe that not only would they not tolerate a single company producing 40 million tons of steel every year, they demanded a reduction in the current capacity of 20 million tons, because the anti-monopolistic powers in the Common Market ruled that no single company could produce more than 10 million tons a year. So sensitive was this information that Heath slapped a D Notice on it, so that it could be kept from the British public. From that time on the death knell was sounded on the Scottish steel industry, which in the 1970s was employing over 27,000 directly and many thousands more indirectly. When Ravenscraig was closed in 1992, its workforce had already been reduced from its maximum of 13,000 to a mere 770, but that led to the closure of another four plants and the loss of thousands of other jobs, directly and indirectly employed in steel. At the time of its closure Ravenscraig was the largest mill in Western Europe and the most efficient of the five remaining mills in BSC, expending 2.5 man hours per ton of steel, compared to the average of 6.5 in other BSC plants.
These are only a couple of examples of the jobs that have been lost so what about the current situation and the "massive importance to jobs" that the SNP and Yes Scotland claim for the EU? The Scottish Government's own figures show that in 2011, of the top ten countries with which Scotland traded, seven were in the EU and three were outwith the EU. More significantly however, the value of the trade with the seven EU members was £9 billion while the value with the three non-EU members was £5 billion and the largest single market in the EU worth £2.7 billion was with the Netherlands, which is currently one of the poorest performing economies in the euro zone. The Government figures show that between 2006 and 2011, Scottish trade with the EU increased by 35% whereas outwith the EU it increased by 29% but the crisis in the euro zone, the unemployment levels in Spain (29%) Italy (20%) Portugal (15%) Greece (27%) and even France (10.2%) has reversed that pattern. Given the austerity measures which are likely to continue in order to reduce the chronic debt burdens in those countries, the prospects for the foreseeable future are hardly encouraging.
In 2012 there were an estimated 2,100 foreign owned firms in Scotland employing an estimated 290,000 workers and with turnover of £87 billion. Contrary to the picture painted by the Europhiles, over 60% of those firms were owned by firms not in the EU. In the past five years Scotland has been more successful in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) than any other part of the UK, but in 2012 almost 53% of that FDI was provided by only three countries, the USA, Japan and Norway, none of which is in the EU. Ruth Lea of the Arbuthnot Bank group states, "It would seem that for all the vigorously promoted benefits of being in the EU's single market and Customs Union, they do little if anything, to offset the more obvious attractions for UK exporters of exporting to growing markets rather than exporting to sluggish ones." Ms Lea goes further by pointing out that over the past decade, UK exports have increased by 76%, growing by 45% to the EU but by over 100% to non-EU countries. All the UK's high performing trade relationships have been with non-EU countries, mainly outside any preferential trade deals. The SNP and Yes Scotland cannot simply ignore that kind of evidence, that membership of the EU, which is pushing ahead with closer integration to control the fiscal policies of member states, is hardly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which is being presented to the Scottish people.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, the rise of the right wing in the EU must be confronted for what it is. The SNP did much to promote the presence of UKIP at the European elections, then reacted in horror at the thought of "the right" actually winning the largest share of the vote in England and Wales, using that victory to suggest Scots had an even better reason to vote for independence. If the victory of UKIP is a good reason to reject the UK, the victory of the National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, is an even better reason to reject the EU. They are only the tip of the right wing iceberg in the EU, where Fascist politics is never far from the surface, yet the only response from the SNP has been total silence. In the final 100 days of the campaign, there is still time to persuade Scots to take a more realistic look at the EU and what it means to an independent Scotland. The threat that we might find it difficult to get in, is actually no threat at all.