Project Fear 2 and Europe for Scotland

With less than a week to go to voting at Holyrood the media has been awash with nostalgia as all platforms and mediums beamed out Project Fear 2. Nicola Sturgeon was hounded from studio to studio and a sort of feeding frenzy emerged as papers and programmes tried to out-bid each other in the war against a referendum: “Nicola Sturgeon struggles to answer key questions about Scottish independence” tried the Telegraph, “Independence would result in a hard border” said The Scotsman, “Nicola Sturgeon dealt ‘hammer blow’ as RBS warns it will move to London under independence” cried the Daily Express … and on and on. The Herald focused on the fact that the FM didn’t claim she’d remove Trident immediately and banks and companies lined up to say they’d leave if people voted to govern themselves.

It was like the summer of 2014 all over again.

The phenomena was revealing – not because the media shouldn’t interrogate politicians – they absolutely should – but because none of the focus was on the actual content of the SNPs manifesto, policies or programme for government, all of it was about a future event that most of the media simultaneously claim will never happen.

In a mixture of disdain and blind panic the salvos had two main areas of focus, the economy and ‘borders’.

This was kind of odd because, as smart readers will remember what was said in 2014 was: “You can’t be independent because you won’t be in EU” – now in 2021 the message has changed to: “You can’t be independent because you’ll be in the EU.”

The borders obsession is strong for people who simply can’t conceive of Britain not being a unitary state, it triggers some kind of shock in the minds of some people for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. I’ve never really understood what this is about. People travel, people cross borders every day across the world. It’s no big deal. I suspect it is something that will be used to bash the indy movement then quickly forgotten about after, like smoking in pubs.

Of course the issue would be about access to market, and here again the issue of Scotland’s relationship to Europe rears itself. In contrast to the Project Fear 2 Frenzy this week saw some old-fashioned Love Bombing from allies across Europe. More than 200 prominent European writers, artists and cultural figures call on Europeans everywhere to join them and tell the Scottish people they would be welcome back in the EU, if they so wish. More than 200 leading writers, artists and thinkers from every EU member state have signed a letter to the EU leadership calling for Scotland to be unilaterally offered generous terms for re-entry to the EU.

The ‘Europe for Scotland’ letter is online for citizens of every country to co-sign in 19 European languages including Scots and Gaelic on the website

The signatories include, world leading thinkers as the economic historian Adam Tooze, the Dutch sociologist and globalisation expert Saskia Sassen, the English Holberg Prize winner theorist of Black Atlantic and black studies Paul Gilroy, German Peace Prize winner and cultural historian Jan Assmann, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Belgian political economist Philippe Van Parijs, acclaimed investigative journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, British historian David Edgerton, the French political philosopher Etienne Balibar, and renowned Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen.

Signatories come from every single EU member state and all UK nations. Among them some of the world leading philosophers and political thinkers and acclaimed European novelists, actors and musicians.

They are joined by actors, filmmakers, artists and cultural figures from across all European nations. They include Golden Globe winner Brian Cox, Academy Award winner Cristopher Hampton and Grammy Award winner Brian Eno. Among them also the Booker nominated writers Elena Ferrante (Italy), Colm Tóibín (Ireland), Daniel Kehlmann (Germany), Philip Pullman, Ian McEwan, James Robertson, the European Book Prize winners Sofi Oksanen (Finland/Estonia) and England’s Jonathan Coe, award winning novelist Carsten Jensen (Denmark), William Boyd, fantasy writer Neal Gaiman, crime writer Val McDermid. poet Neşe Yaşın (Cyprus), rising star playwright Borna Vujčić (Croatia), multi award winning composer Nigel Osborne, composers Alexander Vella Gregory (Malta) and Oscar nominated Patrick Doyle.

A large number of leading democracy scholars support the call, including political philosophers such as Srećko Horvat (Croatia) Daniel Innerarity (Spain) G. M. Tamás (Hungary) Philip Pettit (Ireland) Axel Honneth (Germany), political scientists such as Mary Kaldor Nadia Urbinati (Italy) Brigid Laffan (Ireland) Kalypso Nicolaïdis (Greece) Ulrike Guerot (Germany) Albena Azmanova (Bulgaria) Olivier Costa (France) Leif Lewin (Sweden) Sławomir Sierakowski (Poland) Miklós Haraszti (Hungary) Claus Offe (Germany) Rainer Baubock (Austria) Yves Many (France) Willem Schinkel (Netherlands) Tom Nairn, Vladimir Tismăneanu (Romania) Jan Sowa (Poland) and Brendan O’Leary (Ireland), European law scholars Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Alberto Alemanno (Italy) and Anne Weyembergh (Belgium), criminologist Federico Varese (Italy), the Human Rights lawyers Katrin Oddsdottir (Iceland) and Debora Kayembe. Finally leading political figures and activists as former Portuguese presidential candidate Ana Gomes (Portugal) and architect of the Good Friday agreement journalist and former Head of the European Commission in Northern Ireland Jane Morrice.

In Scotland the letter was signed by the Scots Makar (poet laureate) Jackie Kay, actors Sam Heughan, Brian Cox, writers such as Val McDermid, William Boyd, Neal Ascherson, and James Robertson, broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, Scots writer Billy Kay, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, singer, young musician Jānis Šipkēvics (Latvia), acclaimed documentary maker Apolena Rychlíková (Czech) and Jure Ivanušič (Slovenia).

In solidarity with Scotland and frustration with Westminster, many well-known cultural and academic figures in England and Wales have joined Europe for Scotland including: Misha Glenny, George Monbiot, Richard Eyre, Carman Calill, Vron Ware, Gary Younge, Stuart White, Hilary Wainwright, Laura McAllister, John Osmond, David and Judith Marquand.

It was an impressive roster of individuals and a gesture of democracy and solidarity.

Predictably it was derided by people who don’t want Scotland to be in the EU – from the left and the right.

But the issue was NOT in my mind about ‘the EU’, it was (and is) about democracy.

Someone wrote “just because you broke up with someone doesn’t mean you’ll want to get back with them”.

But that doesn’t describe what happened.

Scotland was removed from the EU against our will, we didn’t choose to leave. We didn’t ‘split up’ we were broken up.

Whether Scotland decides to re-join the EU, or other institutions will be decided after we re-gain independence, but the Europe for Scotland project is an impressive display of international solidarity. Scotland has banked karma. But if the hand of friendship contrasted sharply with the hostility of the British media it also begs the question, does Project Fear have the same reach anymore? My feeling is that much of the tactics of fear and intimidation have been over-played and are now of diminishing returns.

Finally the economic case is not the slam-dunk that unionists like to think. How do we know this? Because two of their top advisors told us.

You’ll remember the hastily withdrawn paper by Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott and Geoffrey Chapman? The analysis by Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott, a research fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and Geoffrey Chapman, an economic adviser to the Department of International Trade, used the break-up of Czechoslovakia as a model for the UK in the event of independence. The paper had been published on the London School of Economics and Political Science website. A UK government official issued a statement saying: “This is not the view of the Department for International Trade or the UK government, and the matter is being looked into.”

I bet it is.

Mackenzie-Gray Scott and Geoffrey Chapman concluded: “Considering Scotland has all the necessary machinery in place to become an independent state, we see no obvious reasons why Scotland would not succeed economically if it were to do so.”

They write: ‘While becoming independent would have immediate economic costs, the long-term view suggests there are benefits. By contrasting Scotland and England to the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic’s ‘Velvet Divorce’, our research suggests that an independent Scotland will continue growing real GDP per capita despite higher trade costs.”

Crucially, they advocate cessation by rule of law, as the key to international support, but also:

“In light of long-run economic growth and stability, it might be worthwhile for Scotland to attempt entering into foreign relations with other states and international organisations if there was no cooperation from the UK to take forward another referendum result favouring independence. A key factor is that if the UK did not respect any future referendum result favouring independence, unilateral Scottish secession would become more legitimate, meaning international recognition of Scotland as an independent state would arguably be more likely.”

This is interesting because it suggests that the Europe for Scotland project is indicative not just of international recognition and support, it is not ‘just’ soft-power’ but a route out. Scotland being ‘in the world’ again not just in a political or metaphorical sense but in a sense of having strategic partnerships, alliances, trade routes and pan-European standards as it leaves Britain for good.



Comments (22)

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  1. Dougie Harrison says:

    I think Bella readers deserve an important piece of information regarding borders Mike, in addition to what you have given us here.

    Whether Scotland has a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ border with England after we regain independence, depends entirely on the policy of the English Government. At the end of the day, they HAD TO eventually accept a soft border between the six counties of ‘Northern’ Ireland (which strangely enough does not include the northernmost point on the island) and the Irish Republic, simply because a legal international agreement required them to. They have (so far) reluctantly accepted this, because the USA, upon whose trade the Brexiteers’ future economic stability, as they see it, depends, has a huge Irish lobby. I am unaware that any such international agreement affects their future trade policy towards Scotland.

    So it’s quite possible that a future English Government, especially if led by the economically illiterate, will seek a hard border with us, simply to punish us for darling to leave them. Despite the fact that they export more to Scotland than they import from us.

    In this respect the experience of our Irish neighbours is important. I don’t have figures currently to hand, but as an economist I am sure that the Ireland which was heavily dependent on trade with England when it eventually won its freedom as a republic, now trades much more with the EU than it does with England, and Brexit has required the Irish to develop more direct ferry services to France and maybe Spain than it had before. Pre-Brexit, Ireland could use England as a landbridge into Europe. If England insists on a hard border, Scotland can do the same. Thus depriving the Humber ports of much of their income.

    Sure, this will take time to fully develop. But develop it will, if we have a hard border with England forced upon us. I am a transport economist who worked on the now (predictably) defunct ferry service from Rosyth to Zeebrugge in the 1990s, and understand the economics of such matters a wee bit.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      Here’s some recent evidence on Irish-EU post-brexit trade ptterns:

    2. I completely agree Dougie – we do need a big conversation about our relationship to Europe and what our border will be – and this should have been built-in to a case for indy that hasn’t been made. Some of this was understandably hindered by the pandemic, some of it was hindered by caution, hesitancy and an inability to confront difficult issues and constantly try and sugar-coat things.

    3. Tom Ultuous says:

      Dougie, do you know what percentage of Scotland’s rUK exports go to the north of Ireland? As they are in the single market there would be no problems exporting there (unlike now). Also, exports from the EU to England seem to be affected much less than the other way about. It seems to me that, if Scotland were in the single market, most of the problems would be on England’s side of any border.

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        Sorry Tom, I’m not aware that Scots trade with the RUK (as presently constituted) includes figures disaggregated to allow us to know how much we trade with ‘Northern Ireland’. My hunch is that it’s not much now, but I could be wrong.

    4. Chas Gallagher says:

      Dougie, ask the folks in Anglesey about the drop in Irish since Brexit after new Ireland to France ferry routes, ferries have even been taken-off routes to N. Ireland, Stena Line for one!!!

      1. Dougie Harrison says:

        Chas, thanks for this. If you check out the bbc clip I quote above, it tells of the decline in Wales-Ireland ferry traffic .

    5. Derek Thomson says:

      Anent a hard border with England, people seem to forget that, in the event of Scots voting for independence, Ed Milliband said he would put armed guards on the border. Feeling the love yet? Also, the border (yes, the one that doesn’t exist, and it would be “abominable” (the blabbering baboon’s word) to consider closing it, was last closed by the English when Scottish students repatriated the Stone of Destiny.

  2. David B says:

    Hi Mike,

    If it’s my comment you were referencing, what I said was “just because you didn’t want to break up with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you want to get back together.” I think that’s quite a different point to the one you’ve paraphrased – really I was just saying re-entry would be a new question and the fact we didn’t want to leave shouldn’t mean we’re taken back in without having a proper discussion about it. If it wasn’t me then sorry for my big heid!

    The sanitary and photosanitary regs are the big issue with a hard border. It’s easy enough to fudge issues of electronics and car parts, but one infected plant or animal product can be disastrous.

    I also wonder why more consideration isn’t given to the EEA option as it seems to work for Norway and Iceland. I’d be interested in reading a column on that if you’ve got one in the archive or planning one in future. Cheers.

  3. Robbie says:

    I,m afraid I don’t know much about economics other than the weekly budget ,however I do know about relationship having bee married for 65 years, I DONT feel part of this country, I don’t feel Any friendship emanating towards me from over the border, and never have, every time I see an snp politition being talked down to or Sneered at In Westminster I feel like they’re doing it to me and mine. The quicker Scotland becomes Independant the better, we are great country with a great past and an even better future, We can manage on our own no bother ,especially with so much friendship and good will directed towards us from Europe ,all we need is the guts to put our two votes for a party who we know has Our Best interest at Heart

    1. IreneCrichton says:

      Well said Robbie I feel the same regarding how Ian Blackford is treated when he is given time to speak, the westminster Conservatives behave like a bunch of ignorant, uneducated , hooligans !Certainly not how politicians should act ,they should be ashamed of themselves. I have also been married 65years have lived in England for a long time but my heart is still in Scotland and I will be heartbroken if Scotland does not win the battle (because that is what it is becoming) bullying, no holds barred by greedy ,selfish, thoughtless thieves.Obviously the same World is watching history repeat itself .

      1. Bill says:

        Hi Irene, ‘ignorant, uneducated , hooligans’ well that is what they are!!! As well as corrupt, incompetent, racist, homophobic, mysoginistic and plain crass. – led by the biggest of them all. had Mike written a novel in which the main character was a known liar, twice sacked for blatant lies, renowned for storytelling to cover his incompetence, became a Prime Minister with a large majority – one would have said that credulity was stretched too far. But it is so!! England and the English have made it thus!! Today in the Observer there is a letter from an Englishman suggesting that we Scots should swallow our pride in order to ensure that the UK stays together. As a native born Scot with a mainly English family I know that I do not hate the English – but that the majority of the English, family excepted, hate me and my fellow Scots – otherwise why would they have inflicted the Tories, Cameron, May and Johnson plus Brexit on us?


      2. Iain MacLean says:

        Gandhi was right about the uk political elite, first they ignore you, then they make fun of you, then they fight you and then you win!

        We appear to be in the fighting stage and have been for some time, but the end is in sight, freedom and victory beckon!

        With project fear 1, 2 or 3, when the old too wee, too stupid and too poor ran its course it was replaced by you can’t use the pound, was replaced by out of the EU, was replaced by borders, was replaced by exodus of HQs, was replaced by, etc, etc….

        These threats and undermining of confidence can only work for so long, they are past their sell by date, people see through them. How many times can RBS and Standard Life move their HQs to England, every election seemingly!

        The desperation of unionism is rising, expect more obstacles to be placed in our way in the coming days and weeks, ignore and walk round them!

  4. Tom Ultuous says:

    Was it just me or did others notice the lack of reporting of the “love bombing”? Would the average Scot even know anything about it unless they read a pro-indy blog?

    1. It was reported in the Guardian and the National as well as across Europe and on Open Democracy and Bella.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I rest my case Mike. Not a tabloid or TV programme in sight (unless it was mentioned on Line Of Duty).

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Tom Ultuous, come to that, how many British news outlets reported on the publication of EU’s 4-year organised-crime-related corruption report last month, SOCTA 2021?

          I mean, isn’t the UK or its tax-haven outposts of the British Empire the favoured money-laundering locations of European Organised Crime Groups?

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Good point SD. I suppose the right see it as the EU trying to mess with whatever oligarch / dictator controls their team.

  5. Iain macphail says:

    Spot on.

    And I guess when the redwhite&blue rinse brigade ask about a border, the obvious answer is “well, you did give us 27 new borders that we didnt ask for”

    I’ll swap those 27 for one border – and I’d lay money that the shock to the Westminster political system that would come with it would see a pro single market approach rapidly emerge down south…any border would be an English border & would not last more than a couple of years.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Any political entity faces a range of problems, some severe, chronic, urgent, emergent, receding and so on. At the moment, regarding Scotland as a political entity (with its own governance, legal, educational systems and so forth), is hampered (or possibly helped) in dealing with problems by the quasi-constitutional UK, which (with parliamentary powers and royal prerogative) can override and even remove all of those distinct political systems.

    Independence is not about having no (or fewer) problems, it is about having the appropriate toolkit to deal with them along with shouldering the responsibility for doing so; and democracy is about applying your available collective intelligence to solve such problems. If Project Fear 2 aims to make Independence-leaners flinch at such problems, then their targeting seems suspect, and a deflection from having to recognize that the UK faces a great many problems, many of which are caused by its own long-running imperial structures, endemic corruption, fetishistic secrecy, anti-democratic traditions (including lack of popular influence on foreign policy), proclivities for violence and repression, mythical reality aversions and elitist self-perpetuating establishment. Although I have concerns about some of these being transposed in some measure to an Independent Scotland, I would be astonished if the latter was anywhere near as bad at solving problems as the UK (whose remaining reputation for governance and diplomacy has recently been wrecked by various problems it has either created or exacerbated, in decolonisation, public health or relations with neighbouring countries).

    1. Drew Anderson says:

      “…Independence is not about having no (or fewer) problems, it is about having the appropriate toolkit to deal with them along with shouldering the responsibility for doing so…”


  7. JohnTosh says:

    You raise an interesting point about the media’s interrogation of the FM over the SNP’s position on, hypothetical, post-independence issues. That the SNP seek to answer questions on Trident etc baffles me and creates easy wins for the anti-independence supporters and the media while, I think, confuses a significant proportion of the electorate.

    I expect a new political landscape to exist after independence is achieved; I doubt I would vote for an SNP party in a post-independent Scotland. The formative years of an independent nation would produce many interesting alternatives and I doubt the SNP could hold together even if the wished,

    Why not embrace the reality?

    Adopt into the SNP constitution a clear and unambiguous statement that the party would dissolve on the date of the first general election to the independent Scottish Parliament.

    Many voters dislike the SNP enough not to listen to the argument for independence and assume that independence is just a vehicle to ensure the SNP govern for evermore. Remove that mental block from their minds and the “never SNP” group might be persuaded of the benefits of independence rather than dismissing it out of hand.

    With clarity on the non-existence of the SNP post-independence, the answer to media questions on any topic would not need to be defensive or defended; instead interviewees could talk up the merits of self-determination, of the range of options available to the Scottish electorate that are denied by being part of the Union. The answer to every question would be the same; “That’s not a question I can answer because, as you know, the SNP won’t exist. That will be for the independent Scottish Parliament to decide, a Parliament with a full range of powers which works solely in the interests of the Scottish people. However, here are the range of options that might be considered …”

    Every question on policy becomes a discussion on the benefits of self-governance. Unionists, instead of poking holes in hypothetical issues of policy, would be forced to argue against self-governance. It wouldn’t give them much shelter and, ultimately, they’d end up saying we are too stupid to govern ourselves.

    Embrace the irrelevance of the SNP, post-independence, and move the discussion to the only matter of import, the benefits of self-determination.

    On exactly the same note, it would be beneficial if the FM, whomever that is at the time, were to declare that they would hold no position in the fist post-independent government. The current FM, for example, has many haters who won’t listen to the independence argument because of the personalities involved, they assume NS just wants to hold power for ever. Remove that obstacle and a whole new group of “never NS” voters become open to persuasion.

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