2007 - 2020

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 

Comments (17)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    Tony Giugliano is quite right to be skeptical about Jim Sillars’s belated conversion to Euro-skepticism. It does looks like unprincipled opportunism.

    However, what Tony fails to acknowledge is that there are supporters of independence for Scotland who have been consistently skeptical about the EU for many years.

    Nigel Farage met with a hostile reception when he visited Edinburgh; but that was because of his racist and anti-working class policies, not because of the EU. Quite a few of the protesters who heckled him were skeptical about the EU, but from a very different perspective from Farage.

    Oh, by the way, although Tony Giugliano is described here as “one of the SNP’s six European candidates”, he does actually have a salaried day job, as well as being a would-be Member of the European Parliament. He is the interest groups organiser of the (non-party-political) YES Campaign. As such, one of the groups he was supposed to be working with is Senior Citizens for Independence.

    On February 22nd I wrote “in order not to lose the momentum that has been generated, I think we need to move quickly to organise an initial meeting of Senior Citizens for Independence”. That initial meeting was held in Edinburgh on 16th March. As it happens, I was unable to attend. But either Tony Giugliano, or somebody acting on his behalf, from the YES Campaign, did attend.

    Afterwards, we were told that, so far as a public “Launch” meeting was concerned, we had to wait for Tony Giugliano to get this organised, so it would be an official YES Campaign thing. I was a bit skeptical about this, thinking it could lead to loss of momentum, but I went along with it. Several times since then, I have asked “So, when is this happening?” We are still waiting. I can’t help feeling Tony may have got his priorities a bit confused.

  2. I have never liked the idea of half a member,either get in and have a voice,or stay out and its nothing to do with you,no half-way house.Just now we have a FAX “democracy” just sitting waiting for others to make up their minds as to what we can or cant do.There are several bitter people who are not in the mix and missed their chance and as such become embittered these people cause more problems by stirring up trouble from thin air,dividing us again so that others may rule us,and a lot of these “yesterday’s men” seem to have the sourest smiles.Oh myself I voted against joining the EEC,but have changed my mind since.

  3. Toni says:

    Hi Dave
    A conference has been set up for the third week of June – email to go out over the next couple of days advertising it. You can email me for updates. toni.giugliano@yesscotland.net

  4. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    No opt-outs for EFTA members. I think that is the most important factor when comparing EU and EFTA membership.

  5. Doug Daniel says:

    I find it strange when people say “hold on, you want to get independence from London only to surrender sovereignty to Brussels?” or words to that effect. What people don’t seem to get is that, no matter how much we talk of Germany and France running Europe, simple arithmetic shows that the two countries alone – never mind either in isolation – simply can’t dictate EU policy against the wishes of the other 25 (26 on the 1st July!) member states. That’s the main difference between the union we’re leaving and the union we wish to join as a full member state – no country in the EU has 85% of the population and more political representatives than the other members combined, several times over.

    The problem with the EU is that most of us don’t really know what it does, as the only time we hear about it is when the newspapers are coming out with one of their “EU bureaucracy” type stories. The recent one about olive oil hardly helped matters, and was an absolute dream for the UKIP-obsessed media. As usual, it was taken out of context, with commentators saying simply that the EU wanted to ban olive oil from restaurants, rather than simply wanting to ban refillable bottles. It seemed like a typical example of lawmakers wanting to do something for the sake of doing something, rather than because it was a genuine problem, although in fairness, the reasoning behind it was innocent enough. Talk about giving the media an open goal, though!

    I’d like to think that, post-independence, the Scottish media might be less hostile to the EU than the English media has been. Maybe we could even have more coverage of European issues, such as covering more than just the French presidential elections. Probably just a pipe dream, mind…

  6. Dom says:

    A very poorly researched article

    Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do actually have a court – It’s the EFTA Court; which has similar power to the ECJ as part of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.The EEA doesn’t cover agriculture or fisheries so that’s why no CAP subsidies or CFP.

    Switzerland has a different relationship and is via bilateral treaties and is not part of the EEA.

  7. Tom says:

    I want Scotttish Independence, from all nations and every nations. I don’t want Independence in the EU as that does not exist. It seems that the YES campaign are not actually offering independence at all. Who is too wee or too stupid now?

    1. Dave Coull says:

      As it happens, I am skeptical about the EU, and I would be quite happy for Scotland not to be in it. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have international connections with other countries. The reality is that the kind of independence you are suggesting, cut off from “all nations and every nation”, doesn’t exist, and has never existed, at any time in human history, anywhere on this planet. But maybe you already knew that. I think you are a fraud, “Tom”. I think you are a member/supporter of “Better Together”, or perhaps of UKIP, just pretending to be a supporter of independence, so that your foolish comments can be seized on by your Unionist pals in the media..

  8. Tom says:

    No, I’m not a Unionist – I’ve said what I want in black and white. I want an independent Scotland which isn’t beholden to the EU. If Scotland is in the EU it will lose sovereignty. When the EU says we have to do something that we do not wish to do then we have lost any semblance of independence. Do you dispute that?
    Lots of countries have international connections, treaties and trade agreements while retaining their sovereignty, why can’t Scotland?
    You obviously think Scotland is too wee and too stupid, which I emphatically do not.
    Sorry “Dave” I think you are a coward and we don’t want people like you talking the country down.

  9. Dave Coull says:

    This article on Bella Caledonia was by Tony Giugliano. He is a member of the SNP. I’m not a member of any political party, and never have been. Tony Giugliano is an ambitious would-be politician, standing for election to the European Parliament. Me, I will be 72 years old in a couple of months, and I have never in my entire life had any desire to be a politician. Tony Giugliano is enthusiastic about the EU. I’m not. So these are just a few of the differences between me and Tony Giugliano. As for differences between me and “Tom” – as many folk reading this, whether they like me or dislike me, will be well aware, I always use my own full name. And I still say you sound like a fraud, “Tom”. Your first comment on here was clearly helpful to the Unionist cause. You did NOT just say you wanted Scotland out of the EU. You said you wanted a Scotland cut off from “all nations and every nation”, which, as I correctly pointed out, is something which has never existed, at any time in human history, anywhere on this planet. Your second comment is also helpful to the Unionist cause. So, either you’re a fraud, or a fool.

  10. Tom says:

    Dave, you know full well that membership of the EU is not the same as independence. I don’t know what your age has to do with anything at all and I’ll refrain from using that in a negative fashion. I can repeat until I am (saltire) blue in the face – I want Scotland to be independent not a minor player in an EU of half a billion people. You don’t because you think Scotland isn’t capable, well I do think we’re capable and you “Dave” are just going to have to lump it.
    Tony Giugliano can think what he wants, he’s a career politician with little experience of real life and I’ve no time for them of any shape, form or fashion.
    You can’t call people frauds because what they are saying is uncomfortable for you.

  11. Dave Coull says:

    expressing yourself extremely badly, you provided ammunition for opponents of independence.

    What my age has to do with it is that Tony Giugliano is young and ambitious and wants to be a Member of the European Parliament. I, on the other hand, am clearly long past any personal ambition. Not that I ever had any ambition to be a member of the European Parliament, or the Westminster Parliament, or the Scottish Parliament, or even local government. My ambitions are for my class, the working class.

    “You think Scotland isn’t capable” – you have absolutely no evidence whatsoever for that stupid claim. I could produce a hundred witnesses to testify that what you have said about Dave Coull is untrue. But there’s no need for me to produce them. Virtually everybody reading this will know what you claim about me is false. You’re just making a complete fool of yourself.

    And maybe that’s all you are, a fool. Every post you have put on here has been stupid. You’re either a fool or a fraud – an opponent of independence who is just pretending to be a supporter. There is still that possibility. Unlike myself, somebody rather well known to a great many people, all “Tom” is, is three letters on a computer screen.

  12. Dave Coull says:

    “membership of the EU is not the same as independence” – but that’s not what we were arguing about. You went much further than merely rejecting the EU. If you didn’t really intend to go much further than merely rejecting the EU, then you expressed yourself extremely badly; and, in expressing yourself extremely badly, you provided ammunition for opponents of independence.

    What my age has to do with it is that Tony Giugliano is young and ambitious and wants to be a Member of the European Parliament. I, on the other hand, am clearly long past any personal ambition. Not that I ever had any ambition to be a member of the European Parliament, or the Westminster Parliament, or the Scottish Parliament, or even local government. My ambitions are for my class, the working class.

    “You think Scotland isn’t capable” – you have absolutely no evidence whatsoever for that stupid claim. I could produce a hundred witnesses to testify that what you have said about Dave Coull is untrue. But there’s no need for me to produce them. Virtually everybody reading this will know what you claim about me is false. You’re just making a complete fool of yourself.

    And maybe that’s all you are, a fool. Every post you have put on here has been stupid. You’re either a fool or a fraud – an opponent of independence who is just pretending to be a supporter. There is still that possibility. Unlike myself, somebody rather well known to a great many people, all “Tom” is, is three letters on a computer screen.

  13. Tom says:

    Unlike you ‘Dave’ I’m not a slave to the party word. The SNP have insisted on EU membership as being central to the independence debate and they are massively wrong. Being a member of the EU means a country the size of Scotland has no chance of retaining full control over its future, hence it cannot claim to be independent.

    I know it and you know it.

    Seeing as you refer to it, here is a question for you –
    Do you think Scotland is capable of full independence outside the EU?

    1. Dave Coull says:

      The coward who hides behind the pseudonym “Tom” has described me as “a slave to the party word”. Saying that about a named person who uses their own real name, both first name and surname, on line, is defamation. Fact – I’ve never in my entire life been either a member or a supporter of any political party, Come out from behind your pseudonym and repeat your lie.

  14. Tom says:

    🙂 Ha! I’ve just looked you up – I didn’t realise who you were, but now it makes sense. You’re just a contrarian with an over inflated sense of importance. And a bit of a numpty as well.
    Of course you’ll never admit anything if it makes you look stupid. Don’t hold your breath waiting for my reply to your inevitable boring riposte which will miss the point – again.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      The coward who hides behind the pseudonym “Tom” has described me as “a slave to the party word”. Saying that about a named person who uses their own real name, both first name and surname, on line, is defamation. Fact – I’ve never in my entire life been either a member or a supporter of any political party, Come out from behind your pseudonym and repeat your lie.

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