A Brexit Deal for Scotland? A Scottish Deal on Brexit
As we enter a new Parliamentary term both in Holyrood and Westminster, to describe matters as being a wee bit “in flux” is something of an understatement. It’s rather more like those of us living on this cluster of islands off the coast of Europe are inhabiting different political worlds while remaining on one piece of territory.
While Boris Johnson calls Theresa May a suicide bomber in cahoots with Michel Barnier, that other famous Moslem, blowing a dog whistle to racists out of both ends of his ridiculous body, here in Scotland, we seem to be tearing ourselves to bits out of boredom and impotence, just for something to do. We aren’t having the fight we’d like to be having, it seems. So we’re fighting about something else…the timing of a second indyref which can’t possibly be decided on… just for wanting something to fight about.
In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, they’ve got a governing party whose sole interest seems to be on insisting that they don’t want to govern anything. The DUP have opted for Direct Rule from Westminster by default as part of the same bargain which is dragging those islanders whose constituent nations voted against Brexit over the cliff with those who voted for it.
Because next door, we’ve got both an England and inexplicably, a Wales where, despite recent shifts in opinion polls, exit from the EU remains, or at least is treated, as the “settled will of the people”…without any real thought as to who “the people” might be. The people insist that the politicians “sort it out” and “get on with it” without, apparently, the slightest idea what “it” is.
It is still possible that opinion will shift yet further…in favour, ultimately, one hopes, of what might at least be a comparatively Sane Brexit, but to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve got the imaginative energy to spare to give a lot of thought to the UK dimension of what’s going on any more.
I wish the neighbours well, of course, but much in the same way as if I lived in say, Belgium. I don’t actually wish any harm on them, I respect their decision – just about – however much I regret it. Here in Belgium, I hope you in Scotland (and they) don’t suffer too much from the consequences of their decision…but it’s kind of up to them. There doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do about it.
You’ve tried. You’ve argued that you think it’s a really bad idea…and, to be fair, they just might sort themselves out…they’ve got a few weeks left to do that, but their political parties seem to be totally paralysed by internal division and personal ambition and choosing Blind Brexit chaos by default.
In Holland and Belgium and the Republic of Ireland stability within the EU 27 seems to be the absolute strategic priority for the remaining members. Brexit will be a shock, but the collective decision seems to be that maintenance of the Union of 27 far outweighs any other consideration at this moment.
Luckily, we in Scotland already have the answer. The Scottish Parliament, in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, (albeit in a moment of briefly collectivised shock) already voted for what we’re going to do. Right across the chamber. Even the Tories.
We’re going to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union. That’s the Scottish Deal. Whatever else there might or might not be a mandate for in Scotland, there’s a mandate for that. We’re going to stay, by some means, in the same trading arrangement with our Irish and continental neighbours that we’re in now. Just like Holland or Belgium or the Republic of Ireland, we’re going to continue to respect the four freedoms movement of goods, services, money and people…just as we do now.
Imagine if we could do that!
I’ve got news for you. We CAN do that. We SHOULD do that. We MUST do that.
We must say to our neighbours south of the border that we respect their decision, but it’s THEIR decision, and not ours.
But it’s too late, everyone says…we’re out of the EU in March next year! That’s what the law says! That’s what the constitution says! We voted to remain in the UK in 2014! We’re trapped! We trapped ourselves! We failed!
Not quite. As part of the UK, we are indeed leaving the EU in March next year, but only as a matter of form. What actually HAPPENS in March (unless there is the dreaded NO DEAL…) is that we enter a transition period, nominally until the end of 2020, during which all the changes to the UK relationship to the EU Single Market and Customs Union take effect.
All we do right NOW, as Scotland, on the assumption that by hook or by crook at some point there WILL be a UK deal on leaving the EU,is to insist that at the end of that transition, whenever it really comes and by whatever means we get there, when it comes to defining a NEW trading relationship between these Islands and the EU, Scotland will remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union. Just like the Republic of Ireland.
We insist right now on the same end result no matter what Boris Johnson led chaos there is until there IS a deal…that at the end of the process of leaving, we “implement” or “transition to” a situation where Scotland maintains a status quo ante bellum relationship with the EU as far as trade goes. Come what may, by whatever route it takes, Scotland stays in the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Because even if the worst comes to the worst and Boris is PM by Christmas, even if we do crash out initially, there will still need to be a deal on leaving, because there needs to be a transition period that will end up with a yet to be negotiated new relationship between the EU and the UK. Everyone, even Boris, actually knows that.
In any case. That’s not our problem because we’re not leaving. Like they do in Belgium, we respect the decision of the Parliament in Westminster In the name of democracy. But we in Scotland demand the reciprocal respect that our decision to maintain our relationship with the EU also be respected. Because that is what our people and our Parliament voted for. If we do that, if we are clear and unequivocal about that, then everything else will follow.
Whether we get treated with respect, or we don’t, after all the shouting, it all ends the same way. With a rewritten relationship between Scotland and the rest of these islands, including the bit that is already unequivocally staying in the EU.
What will follow first is the following refrain of voices:
“But Scotland staying in the Single Market would mean a hard border between England and Scotland! That will mean an end to Free Trade and movement between England and Scotland!”
Really? Seriously? Is that all you’ve got?
If it is the insistence of the British Government that Brexit will mean no such border will exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which are ALREADY two separate States with different currencies…(and it is) ….one inside and the other outside the Single Market and Customs Union…then on the basis of what possible logic can such a border come into existence between a Scotland and England who will still, in 2020/21, be part of the same State?
The Brexiteers are similarly hoist on their own petard with every single argument they’ve got against a distinctly Scottish Deal on Brexit on the gallows of the Irish Border. But never mind the shouting and squealing and the talk of suicide vests… we can be very clear and decided on one thing: that no matter what the UK Parliament comes up with, Scotland is staying in Trading Europe. That is our deal with Europe, that is what is going to come at the end of any “transition” or “implementation”. We’ve already decided that. Just let Ruth Davidson vote against it. Nobody else will.
What the neighbours do about it is up to them. They might decide to abandon us as carelessly (and without knowledge or thought) as they appoint Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland who don’t have the first clue as to the culture or history or even existence of that Province of the Empire. They might send a gunboat. They might even decide to kick us out of the United Kingdom completely!
I don’t have a crystal ball any more than anyone else does.But if we simply do the right thing right now, if we make the simple assertion of democratic self-government that when Brexit comes, whether it’s Blind, Batty or In Name Only, Scotland is staying, by some means yet to be negotiated, in the Single Market and the Customs Union, then it is in the practical discovery of what those means of staying turn out to be – for example, in a new, direct negotiating relationship with the EU and with London, on the basis of our sovereign trade policy – that we will rewrite the British Constitution. All we need to do is be clear in our own intentions. Through that simple assertion of self-government will self-government come.
Which is probably why we feel we have the time to get cross with each other about the timing of Indyref 2. For what it’s worth, I genuinely think that argument is a distraction, a repository of frustrated energy. I genuinely think that Brexit is doing all the heavy lifting we need to be effectively an independent 21st Century European country by the end of the next decade.
No matter what the apparent complexities of the political boorach down South, if we stick to our guns, by some way or other, we’ll get there. I genuinely think that it’s as simple as that.