6 Reasons Why Brexit Would Not Lead to Another Scottish ReferendumTweet
This article by Alistair McConnachie was posted on this site on 14 March 2016. Pic courtesy of www.Economist.com
Quite a few politicians who support the United Kingdom are claiming that a British Exit from the EU (Brexit) might lead to the break-up of the UK. For example, William Hague had an article in The Daily Telegraph (23-12-15) entitled "If we leave the EU, it will break up the UK and destabilise Europe". He stated that it would "increase the chances, if the UK left the EU, of Scotland leaving the UK."
Is this really true?
Whether one is for remaining in the EU, or leaving the EU, it's important for pro-UK people to consider whether it's correct?
We don't believe it is true. We've heard it before! It's the SNP narrative. We hear it all the time because, for now, the SNP is the only story-teller in town.
The story goes like this: If a majority in England vote to leave, but a majority in Scotland vote to stay, then this will be 'a material change in circumstances' which would lead to a second referendum on separation, which the SNP would win.
We hear this to the exclusion of any other point of view because virtually every single elected official in Scotland is for the EU (with the exception of one – UKIP's David Coburn MEP). From the SNP to the Conservatives, the official political position is to stay in – and the media reinforces this collective view.
Consequently, the anti-UK SNP narrative of doom is able to dominate unchallenged.
However, there is, as with everything, an alternative view, and in this article we lay it out.
THE DEMOCRATIC CONTEXT IS THE UNITED KINGDOM
Firstly, let us remember that Scotland voted to be part of the United Kingdom on 18 September 2014.
That means we voted to accept that there is a common good to which we are all bound in the UK. This common good requires us to accept and affirm that which the UK, as a whole, decides.
There is no injustice there. That is the democratic position. That is the moral position. That is what we voted for.
Furthermore, the EU referendum was promised by Mr Cameron before the 2014 referendum. That means that Scotland voted to remain in the UK in full awareness of the possibility of Brexit.
Therefore, even if voters in England voted to leave, while those in Scotland voted to stay, it should not in principle make any difference.
Unfortunately, in practice, because the Scottish political system has become so imbalanced towards the SNP, and dominated by its narrative, it is to be expected that the SNP will create as much noise and division as it can from such a situation.
Would that enable the SNP to force another referendum, and win? We should not get ahead of ourselves. Let's remember several things:
1. It is far from certain that Scotland will vote differently from England
If both areas vote the same way then the issue does not arise.
At the very least, the Leave vote is likely to be higher than expected. An overwhelmingly pro-EU result in Scotland is probably not going to come to pass because...
2. The SNP under-estimates the extent of anti-EU feeling
There are many SNP supporters who are against the EU and they will take the opportunity to vote against it. Are we to believe that these anti-EU SNP people will vote to stay in the EU in the hope that some day in the future – when Scotland is presumably independent – they can then vote against it?
Surely they will take the opportunity which presents itself now so that if Scotland were ever to become independent, it would already be out.
3. The SNP's rhetoric of 'independence' and 'sovereignty' logically leads Out of the EU
By promoting separation from the UK, the SNP is also subliminally implying, and encouraging, the idea of separation from the EU – whether it intends this or not. Therefore, the more the SNP concentrate on independence from the UK, the more the general idea of 'independence' – in its wider EU sense – inevitably becomes part of its supporters' attitudes.
4. It could be good for Scotland to leave the EU
The EU has impacted Scotland in negative ways. Surely those who believe in Scottish independence presumably want to hasten the day when Scotland retains control of its fishing grounds and its farming, for example. By leaving the EU, several of those competences will fall to the devolved Scottish Parliament within the UK.
All these things add up to a higher vote to leave the EU then the SNP leadership might imagine. So, the idea that there is going to be a massive difference between how Scotland votes and how England votes is probably exaggerated.
IMAGINING THE SNP'S SCENARIO
But let us imagine that Scotland votes to stay in the EU, yet the UK leaves because of the vote in England. Will the SNP really want another referendum if England votes out?
The SNP plays up this idea because it must satisfy the impatient tiger, which is its membership. It must constantly make them think that independence is just one more meal away.
However, it is unlikely to want a referendum in reality – for the simple fact that it would struggle to win it!
After all, the SNP would be basing the rationale for another referendum on the claim that people in Scotland wanted to be in the EU. Therefore, in a second referendum, the SNP would have to make membership of the EU central to its "independence" case.
It would be asking people to vote to leave the UK and join the EU.
It would have to argue that it was better to be in the EU than to be in the UK!
We are only speculating, but is there really a critical mass of No voters who want to be in the EU more than they want to be in the UK? Is there really enough of those people to swing the vote to leave the UK? It seems very unlikely.
And if there is such a percentage of these people, then there is also likely to be a percentage of Yes voters who do not want to join the EU, and who would therefore reluctantly vote to stay in the UK.
And the SNP knows this...
1. The SNP knows it cannot rely on its Supporters to Vote to Join the EU
As we say, the SNP knows that it already has a significant number of supporters who do not want to be part of the EU. It knows it cannot rely on their votes if a second referendum on leaving the UK has become essentially a vote to join the EU!
2. The SNP would be Promoting an Unwinnable Proposition
Moreover, it seems politically unlikely that the SNP could win a referendum for independence from the UK which depended upon it arguing that Scotland must deliberately join another trading block from our nearest neighbour with whom we do the overwhelming bulk of our trade (1); adopt a different currency, the euro; and expose ourselves to EU levels of immigration!
It does seem unlikely that it could be won by the SNP. We say 'unlikely', because at the end of the day, we accept that much depends upon the politicians and circumstances of the moment. Reason and logic can often take a back seat. After all, 45% did vote for Scottish independence based largely upon emotional exploitation and a false prospectus.
[(1) Figures released in January 2015 show that 'exports' from Scotland to the rest of the UK in 2013 were £46.2bn; exports to the EU £12.9bn; and exports to the rest of the world £14.2bn.
3. The UK might be Richer
The SNP would have to argue this somewhat unappealing vision in the face of the new political and financial reality of a revamped British State, which might be enjoying access to the billions of pounds which it currently spends on the EU, and which could now be spent for the betterment of all the people of the UK. That figure amounted to £19.1bn in 2014.
4. The Oil Price will Continue to be Low As long as oil prices remain low, the SNP will never risk another referendum, anyway...which leads us to the next incontestable fact...
5. The EU Does Not Want an Independent Scotland as a Member
...and the SNP leadership secretly know this.
As Michael Glackin wrote in The Sunday Times (13-3-16):
Closer to home, last week's eagerly awaited Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report revealed Scotland's national budget deficit widened to 9.7% of GDP in the latest fiscal year — double that of the UK as a whole — with public spending almost £15bn higher than tax revenue.
This leaves Scotland in a worse state than Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Spain, the economies whose spiralling deficits have placed the entire European project at risk.
The EU, well, let's be honest Germany, has enough basket case economies to deal with. It doesn't need an SNP-led Scotland adding to the list.
Against that backdrop, any attempt at a post-Brexit secession referendum could equal Darien and Argentina '78 combined in terms of national humiliation.
Don't just take my word for it. One Scottish investment manager, managing assets across Europe, told me: "The question is why would Europe want Scotland today? With oil prices contained for the foreseeable future, where do we find Scotland's contribution to be a member? There are not enough higher-rate taxpayers in Scotland to find the dosh. It would have to fall on all Scots to find the money. Europe has so much debt to burn off today it does not need another weak player that needs more out of Europe than it puts in."
And it is worth remembering...
6. The Present British Government has said it Will Not Grant a Referendum
If the SNP was denied another referendum, then it is virtually certain that it would not hold one. It would not want to break international law. It is not stupid.
However, it would certainly continue to talk up the threat of one, and it would continue to foster grievance for the benefit of its supporters. It would probably try to hold out for the 2020 British Parliament election in the hope that a less pro-UK leader of the Labour Party would meekly grant such a concession.
Perhaps this talk, and lack of action, would lead to a split in the party?
All these factors indicate that, in the event, it is far more likely that a second referendum would not be held in the lifetime of this British Parliament.
If it were held, then it is quite possible that it would be won overwhelmingly by people in Scotland saying that we want to pitch in with the rest of the UK and make our UK independence work.
This brings us to the SNP's philosophical and political fear of Brexit.
THE SNP FEAR A REBIRTH OF BRITISH POLITICAL PASSION
A Brexit could help to concentrate feelings of Britishness throughout our Islands. It would tend to make feelings for Britain the Nation, stronger.
There would be the opportunity for a rejuvenating of Britishness, a re-consolidation.
While that emotion may play out in different ways and with different degrees of strength in the different parts of the UK, it would still affect Scotland to an extent.
After all, it would become clear that to survive, Britain would have to pull together, and look outward, as a cohesive, unified national state.
There would be an understanding that if we were broken up among ourselves then we would become dangerously exposed.
Those people, such as the SNP, who would be trying to break up the UK in such circumstances, would risk being looked upon with scorn.
Consequently, it is possible that the SNP would start to lose its grip as it became apparent that the British future looked bright, and that it did not belong to the SNP after all.
All of this would require political leadership, of course. We accept that such leadership is not immediately apparent!
But everything we have said here demonstrates that there is another story in town – if we could only hear it from our politicians!
EU citizens will not be allowed to vote at the EU referendum. However, some people think they should, including the leader of the Scottish Labour Party. This letter, pointing out why she is wrong, was published in The Scotsman, 2-6-15:
Kezia Dugdale says (your report 30 May), "Voting rights are a matter of democratic principle, and I strongly feel it is unfair to exclude EU nationals from a fundamental referendum."
She is incorrect. Voting rights are a matter of the national citizenship principle. If "democracy" is the principle, then we should abolish national citizenship and give every single person in the world a right to vote in the UK from the age that they become conscious.
Many people will be surprised to know that EU citizens, who are not also British citizens, can vote at all in any elections in the UK. In fact, they can vote at every single election, except the General Election and UK-wide referendums.
This is due to a controversial interpretation of one word in Article 19(1) of the Consolidated Treaty on European Union; which enables EU citizens to vote and stand at any "municipal" election.
The word "municipal" has been interpreted to include Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and all local elections throughout the UK, including London Assembly elections. However, from a strict "black letter" legal interpretation, the word "municipal" cannot be stretched to mean an entire country! Chambers 20th Century defines the word as "pertaining to (the government of) a borough, town or city."
In any case, UK-wide elections and UK-wide referendums are not "municipal" elections by any stretch of the term. Therefore, EU citizens who are not also British citizens should continue to have no right to vote in them.
Dugdale's position, furthermore, implies the abolition of the very idea of national citizenship. If British citizenship is to mean anything, then there must be privileges of membership attached, which are not attached to those who have not made such a commitment. If she doesn't believe this, then she should argue for the abolition of national citizenship and see how far that gets her!
Alistair McConnachie, Bath Street, Glasgow.
[We examined the Franchise in depth in our article The Franchise for the Scottish Referendum Explained].
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