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.

So imagine being Belgium for a minute. Or being Ireland. Imagine being in a position to ask : if they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do…what are WE gonna do?

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.

There are many, many variations on exactly what happens on the basis of this principle, but here are a couple of things that will happen in the short run.

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.

Comments (8)

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  1. Will Pickering says:

    Unless there is a deal by March, there will be no transition period, because there will be nothing to transition to.

    We need to get out of this mess before then. Your patience, at this point, is nothing more than complacency.

  2. Derek Bryce says:

    Good piece but the force of its argument was diminished in style, if not substance, for me by the author’s regular emphasis of certain words using CAPS LOCK!!! No one likes to be harangued and I’m sure such was not the author’s intent but can he or Bella please make use of less shouty and more elegant devices like italics, please?

  3. SleepingDog says:

    I get the point about consistency and precedent, and anything the UK government does during Brexit is liable to be held against them, threatened or emulated by Scottish negotiators leaving the UK.

    One of the (many) things I don’t understand is about EU and UK secrets.

    If there was a no-deal Brexit, would there suddenly be no legal constraint on UK citizens revealing classified EU secrets, and EU officials revealing UK secrets? And if that happened, what would this precedent likely to mean in an occurrence of Scottish independence, where for example we may see new-minted Scottish citizens immediately legally unbound from their life-long vow of silent obediance to UK official secrets?

    In other words, what happens to official secrecy at the individual rather than the state level?

  4. George Gunn says:

    Having spent a month in North Antrim this Summer I got the distinct impression that there is no way the people there want to leave the EU, nor do they want any hard border between them and the Republic. Brexit is putting a huge strain on the ancient cables of Unionism. The corruption (because that is what it is) of the DUP is evidence of that. These cables are liable to snap asunder come next year. It’s no surprise that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland knows nothing about Northern Ireland. Very few English politicians know, or care, very much about Scotland. I think Peter is right in his analysis and I thank him for shining clarity on the foggy mess we are in politically. The Syrian poet Adonis once wrote that “all writers are exiles within their own language”: I feel, because of what is going on, or not going on, that in may ways the Scots are currently exiles within their own country. So I disagree with him when he says that the IndyRef2 is a distraction. On the contrary, keeping it on the forefront of our minds and the subject of our desire, gives us political focus. I like the pensive optimism of his piece. It has cheered me up this Monday morning when yesterday reading two Sunday newspapers which are actually one left me confused.

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      Cheers, matey. I hope all is well.

  5. Jamsie says:

    A tad dramatic and grossly fanciful.
    Wee Nicola and her grand army are already half way down the hill so perhaps the writer is just being wistful.
    Theatrical types do that.

  6. Jack collatin says:

    “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.”

    So we let England rape Scotland of its wealth and natural resources for another 12 years?
    What colour is the sky on your planet, Mr Arnott?

    We go, and we go before we are isolated and at the mercy of an English parliament.
    That’s April 2019.
    Implicit in your argument is the false premise that we can trust the Blue Red and Yellow Brit Nat Tories, and their Uncle and auntie MacToms Up here to co-operate with us on our tortuous 12 year Transition to Independnent Statehood.
    There are already gunboats Up Here, at Faslane.
    A dozen years at England’s beck and call is the distraction, the repository of frustrated energy, sir.

  7. Graham Ennis says:

    Absolutely excellent and well focused. Except that after BREXIT, having done one mad act, they will probably follow it with another and start reducing Scotland’s powers under the Scotland Act, so that Edinburgh is reduced to a sort of giant County Cooncil. (That should fix it, shoud,nt it?). Er, noo. Not exactly. Be Realistic. BREXIT is the trigger for reversing Devolution, which the English establishment find intolerable. Tories South of the Border are already talking about such things. Does anyone trust them not to.? I fear that the worst is yet to come. Really. Why should they not stop at BREXIT?….Brexit will be followed by a bonfire of human rights, civil liberties, safety laws, etc etc…..as Scotland is forced into the same mould as England, and stripped of most of its powers. Er…..nooo!. We shall then live in interesting times. (ancient Chinese saying).

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