Do you have cheery memories of Artists for Independence? Did you think the likes of Pat Kane and Liz Lochhead sprinkling a wee bit of semi-stardust on the Yes campaign in 2014 got through to Mary McGinty of Maryhill or Shuggie MacIver from Shotts? If so, you’ll be chuffed that there’s now a continental version of this initiative called Europe for Scotland. An assortment of writers, artists and thinkers from across the continent – including Brian Eno, Ian McEwan, Colm Tóibín, William Boyd, Nigel Osborne and Slavoj Žižek – have penned an open letter to leaders of the European Union and its member states to “offer Scotland an attractive way to rejoin the EU”.
That’s correct. Around 200 arty-farties and pointy-heids believe they represent the views of 500 million citizens of the EU spread out from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way to the border with Ukraine (many of whom probably couldn’t pinpoint Scotland on a map). Completely preposterous and utterly pointless. To be able to sway in any way the powers-that-be in Brussels (along with their counterparts in all 27 national capitals concerned) they’d need to pull off something no alliance of ideologically-aligned political parties has managed to do in the entire history of the European integration project. They won’t.
Even if a significant number of ordinary Europeans were to sign the multilingual petition they’ve started, the suggestion by anyone that there is some seamless, pain-free way in which a fledging Scottish nation-state could flutter back to the EU is nonsensical. Back in the customs union and the single market? Bien sûr! But not too keen on adopting the euro as your national currency or surrendering all your fishing grounds again? Kein Problem. Come on, let’s get real.
‘Scotland Loves Europe’ and ‘Don’t EU want me, baby?’ might have been snazzy placard slogans during the (undemocratic) campaign to derail Brexit but, now that battle is won and lost, EU leaders aren’t so eager to get back at Britain that they’d offer Scotland some special à la carte membership deal – or risk disrupting again access to the much larger English export market. Realpolitik dictates there will be no “attractive way” for Scotland to rejoin the EU.
So opaque are that entity’s decision-making structures, the Europe for Scotland signatories could not work out where power lay so began their open letter thus:
Dear Heads of State and Government of the EU, President of the European Council, President and Members of the European Parliament, President and Members of the Commission…
They should score MEPs off any future mailshots. The European Parliament is, in the words of Perry Anderson, the “least consequential component of the Union”, merely existing to provide “the appearance of a democratic assembly behind which oligarchic coteries are comfortably entrenched.” Apart from the personal publicity it generated, it was futile for Alyn Smith, in his histrionic departing address, to urge that puny chamber to “keep a light on” for Scotland. MEPs are kept in the dark by the clandestine, unelected forces that have always driven the EU. They don’t even know where the light switches are.
It’s noticeable that the ‘world leading thinkers’ who lent their authority to the Europe in Scotland stunt didn’t include the man who is, arguably, the world’s leading thinker on the European Union. Perhaps because Anderson has eviscerated the secretiveness and democratic unaccountability of the EU institutions. The ‘consensus’ they contrive to project, he contends, is ‘a façade of unanimity’ principally imposed by Germany and France. This genuinely world leading thinker has also, on the pages of the New Left Review, written an ultra sharp assessment of the impact of Brexit on the Scottish independence movement:
In political terms, in a stronger position to argue that the overwhelming will of the Scottish people has been ignored, and…the only way for it to be respected is a second, successful referendum on independence. In economic terms, in a weaker position, since secession from the U.K. would no longer guarantee access to the rest of it, on which 60 per cent of Scottish exports depend, as it would have done if both countries belonged to the EU, to which only 15 per of Scottish exports now go. In that sense, the logic of Brexit is to close the escape-hatch of Europe, leaving Scotland trapped in the Union bought with English gold in 1707, now far more at the mercy of London than London is to Brussels. Project Fear, which Cameron and Osborne were sure would give them victory once again in the referendum on Europe, did not deter the English from putting considerations of sovereignty before calculations of prosperity. The risks would be much higher for the Scots. Would the same be true of them?NLR 125, Sept/October 2020
Indeed. Would a solid majority of Scots ever cast caution to the wind like a majority of their southern neighbours did in 2016 and fight to escape from the U.K. without an absolute certainty that Scexit was going to be super soft from the very outset? To persuade a legendarily canny country to take such a giant leap of faith will require something similar to what needed to be summoned to get Brexit done:
There must be a determination to provide political leadership. A managerial and bureaucratic approach to politics will not suffice in our present situation. And that must be accompanied by an unshakeable conviction that full self-government outside the European Union is a precious prize…whose long-term benefits long exceed the inevitable short-term costs.
That view was expressed during the last Conservative leadership contest by Geoffrey Cox, the then Attorney-General. While it was all too easy to mock his absurdly deep baritone voice and am-dram delivery, at least England’s top law officer said what he said. When did we last hear any of our SNP chieftains extoll the benefits of full self-government? When have they ever publicly acknowledged that there would inevitably be some short-term costs to exiting from a more than three centuries old economic, as well as political, union?
Advocates of Scexit must dare to declare what the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the Brexit talks said recently about that rupture: ‘It’s a divorce!” For decades SNP leaders have never been able to utter the D word, pretending that all they’re proposing is some sort of Anglo-Scottish open marriage. They will also continue, no doubt, to steadfastly resist any attempt to present the options on any future indyref2 ballot paper as Leave/Remain rather than Yes/No again. But the reality is Scotland would, under their proposals, be leaving the U.K. There’s no way to sugarcoat that pill.
Now the U.K. has withdrawn from the EU single market, there is no going back to the status quo ante for Scotland in terms of its trading relations. Asked by the New Yorker whether an independent Scotland would have to choose between the EU’s single market and that of the UK, Sturgeon’s onetime most trusted economic adviser Andrew Wilson reportedly replied: “Yeah, of course.” So, now we’ve got that clear, anyone for customs checks at Gretna Green?
The only politicians on these islands who have been crying “bring back control” in recent times have been Brexiteers. Restoring national sovereignty was their loudest campaign theme in the 2016 referendum, much more than immigration (although some of the repulsive rhetoric on that sticks more in the mind, alas). Nicola Sturgeon and her acolytes remain fired by Europhilia, forgetting that the EU’s relentless drive towards ‘ever closer union’ means ever less autonomy for its component parts. Incredibly, their naive idolatry does not appear to have been dented even by the EU’s catastrophic failure to deliver anti-Covid vaccines to its citizens with the speed and efficiency needed to prevent a third wave of the pandemic.
Ian Blackford can continue to bellyache about how Scotland’s exit from the EU was a deep betrayal of the promise made by Unionists in the 2014 referendum that, only by voting No, could Scots remain in the EU. But the contingent he commands at Westminster subsequently failed to stop Scotland being “dragged out of the EU against its will” – as he repeatedly told us they could and would do. Or was that just a cynical pitch to voters in order to amass more seats in ensuing elections? If so, that sounds to me like two betrayals of trust, not just one.
Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has been tacitly floating the notion that Scotland should foresake a return to full EU membership and instead join Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the European Free Trade Association. An idea that might slowly gain some traction if they can flesh it out and articulate it with some fervour – assuming this breakaway party can make a breakthrough on Thursday. But even if we were to end up in EFTA rather than back in the EU proper, there’s still no denying that any newly launched Scottish ship of state would need to navigate its way through some choppy waters, in the short term at least. Unless there is some honest levelling with the electorate about that, it won’t ever get out of the construction yard.