Independence or Fax Democracy?
Without a doubt, the SNP policy of Independence in Europe has set the agenda. In essence, the whole issue boils down to whether Scotland will have a full and equal say in the European policies which will shape our future, or be a province which, at best, will enhance our lobbying ability and, as is likely to be the case, remain as we are, powerless, lacking real influence.
With these words, Jim Sillars introduced an SNP pamphlet entitled “Independence in Europe”, published in 1989, a year after the party formally abandoned its hostilities towards Europe. The former Govan MP was considered the “inventor of the formula” of Independence in Europe and the architect of the party’s new pro-European direction.
Of course everyone is entitled to change his or her mind. But Sillars’ justification just doesn’t add up. Writing for the Scotsman in 2012 he argued that the EU significantly changed: “the EU widened, deepened, the euro emerged and majority voting replaced the national veto in key areas.” So where was he in 1992 as the Maastricht Treaty was signed? As the political dimension of the EU and the strengthening of majority voting were becoming a reality? As the single market was being completed and the UK joined the exchange rate mechanism, paving the way for the single currency? He was advocating Independence in Europe.
The irony is that the opening statement of his pamphlet is as valid now as it was back then. Scotland still ‘lacks real influence in Europe’. The difference is that Scotland now has a devolved parliament and Government setting EU priorities that are at odds and in stark contrast with Westminster. This has arguably increased the democratic deficit in terms of Scotland’s representation in Europe and the safeguarding of our distinct national interest. So while Jim Sillars’ standing in the SNP may well have diminished since 1989, the rationale of Independence in Europe most definitely has not.
Sillars’ reaction to my Europe Day article was quickly overtaken by events. His Holyrood Magazine piece was published a day after a Sunday Times poll showing that Yes and No are both at 44% if it appears that Westminster is heading for a Euro exit. Indeed, with Europe in the equation, Yes would only need a 4% swing to win.
The fact is that over half of Scots believe we should continue our EU membership, consistently higher than opinion in England. This is backed up by every European Parliament election result; by the emphatic rejection of UKIP – a party without a single elected representative in Scotland – and by every national poll comparing attitudes to EU membership across the UK. Sillars can be as eurosceptic as he likes, but denying that Europe has become one of the strongest arguments for independence only undermines his own credibility.
The former deputy leader has been arguing for several years that EFTA would allow Scotland to function as a truly independent state, taking advantage of the common market while avoiding interference from Brussels. That view, however, couldn’t be any further from the truth and too often goes unchallenged.
EFTA membership would significantly undermine Scottish independence, not enhance it. The EFTA States all have to abide by EU single-market legislation and obligations while having no representation in any EU institution. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have no say whatsoever over all aspects of the internal market – social policy, environmental laws, company law and consumer policy. They must do as they’re told but have no voice, no vote, no veto, no MEPs, no Commissioner and no judge in the European Court of Justice.
This inspired Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to brand his country a “fax democracy”, whereby Norwegian officials sit by the fax machine waiting for the latest directive from Brussels.
Even outside the EU the EFTA nations have an obligation to make a financial contribution to the EU budget with a view to reducing the economic disparities between EU States. A total of €998.5 million has been allocated by EFTA nations for the period 2009-14. Since Norway is the largest of the three States, it contributes towards 95% of the EFTA grants. On top of that, Norway pays an additional €160 million per year which is allocated to cohesion funds for the poorest regions of Europe. So although these countries are contributors, they are by no means recipients of EU expenditure. No structural funds, no farm subsidies from the CAP, no EU project funding.
Indeed, Norway has had to restructure its entire natural gas industry to satisfy the EU’s competition authorities. It has had to comply with the EU’s controversial working-time directive and parental-leave regulations and has so far implemented around 3,500 pieces of EU legislation on the internal market. A Norwegian Government report published last year concluded that Norway has seen “extensive Europeanisation” over the past 20 years despite being outside the EU and as such it would be “an illusion to consider Norway as outside the EU”.
Without the opportunity to shape and mould European legislation, or the power to reject it or question it through the EU’s Court of Justice, Norway is each day enduring a significant loss of sovereignty. Is this what Sillars has in mind for Scotland? A newfound independence to be abrogated by fax democracy?
It’s no surprise that Norway’s current Foreign Minister has warned the UK that EFTA membership would be a bad deal for Britain. “We are not at the table when decisions are made” he said. Joining that chorus was eurosceptic think tank ‘Open Europe’ which concluded that the single market alone was a strong enough reason for staying in Europe. Their report published in June 2012 stated that “from purely a trade perspective, EU membership remains the best option for the UK.”
Whether you love or loathe the European Union, it exists, and if it didn’t exist we’d have to create one – particularly when 50% of your trade is with other European countries. Being at the fringes reduces influence and relegates you to the second division. And as the EFTA States demonstrate, staying out of it does nothing to increase a nation’s sovereignty; it diminishes it. Only by being at the very heart of European decision-making will Scotland’s national interest be safeguarded.
And why on earth would a newly independent state want to have no control over the regulations governing its largest trading market? Why would it want to leave a union of 500 million Europeans and the social and economic benefits that come with it, to join an EFTA union of 13 million, away from the largest centre of power in Europe, shut off from the boardroom, ordered to obey the rules and still forced to make a financial contribution towards a club it isn’t part of?
Independence will allow us to develop our own European dynamic. It will give us that sense of belonging and participation and the ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours.
Only with a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will Scotland have the power to choose which international organisations it wishes to be part of. Eurosceptics will continue to argue for fax democracy. I’ll stick with independence.
Toni Giugliano is one of the SNP’s six European candidates. More info on www.toni4europe.org