I’ve been trying to wrap my wee brain around some of the assertions of the Better Together campaign in response to the White Paper, especially those concerning Europe. Their lack of logic and the way in which the Unionist parties insult the intelligence of voters are infuriating, but it is even worse than that. Project Fear doesn’t just insult our intelligence, it panders to racist stereotypes. There can be no clearer illustration of the moral bankruptcy of the case for the Union.
Project Fear insists that the independence campaign is motivated by anti-English sentiment. It is is a classic example of accusing your opponents of your own sins. That the Scots hate the English is an ancient trope, one of a bundle of negative stereotypes about Scotland which were traditionally current south of the Border, sitting happily alongside alcoholism, deep fried mars bars, vegephobia, and a propensity to stab people called See You Jimmy.
The subtext of this smear is that Scotland has no real issues with the way in which the United Kingdom is run, that the only truly distinctive feature of Scottish political culture is anglophobia, and that the semi-civilised savages on the northern edge of Europe require the good services of Westminster to protect us from ourselves. It’s a smear which tells us that we really are like the stereotypes some hold of us.
The ludicrous nature of this claim is easily exposed by the high level of participation by English people resident in Scotland on the Yes side of the argument. And I don’t just mean people of Scottish heritage who were born in England. English Yes voters also include many, like my own English partner, who do not have a drop of Scottish blood. Except for that time when I dropped a glass and cut myself at dinner and bled all over his chicken tikka. He didn’t eat it though, so I don’t think it counts. Despite the chicken tikka incident, he fully intends to vote for an independent Scotland next year.
Project Fear’s assertion of anti-English racism is in itself racist, but that doesn’t stop regular airings of the claim even in a Scottish media which ought to know better. This is after all a media which is supposed to serve Scottish families like mine, which contain Scottish Yes voters who prove their love for English people every time we let them watch their crappy telly show instead of something more interesting. Our families also include English people who witness the extent of this supposed anti-English racism in their daily lives. The weird thing is that they bizarrely fail to see any.
When a media narrative contradicts the information from your own eyes and ears, you doubt the media narrative, not what you know from personal experience. Or perhaps my ex-polis former Royal Marine of a partner is so terrified of my latent anti-English racism that he’s too feart to tell me? Oh. My. God. All these years he’s been cowering in terror. If only I’d known, I could have got the TV remote control off him when he insisted on watching Top Gear.
Project Fear’s eurosmears also trade on racist stereotypes, this time concerning the behaviour of Continentals. In fact it’s really quite like Top Gear. Voting No is like voting for Jeremy Clarkson to decide your foreign policy.
One of my favourites eurosmears is that we’ll be compelled to sign up to the Schengen Agreement, which provides for passport free travel between participating member states. The UK of course, refused to join, and has one of its much prized opt outs protecting the UK from the hordes of Europeans who would otherwise descend on us, creating devastated cityscapes full of nothing but shops selling interesting sausages and sour cream. The horror.
That’s those things that after independence Scotland won’t get, allegedly. The opt out that is, even Project Fear acknowledges we’ll still be able to get wiejska, kolbasz and sour cream. Or at least they haven’t actually claimed otherwise yet, it’s probably just a matter of time. Anyway, after independence we’ll have no choice but to sign up to Schengen and put border controls at Berwick. “They” will make us.
This was the opinion of, amongst others, the UK Government’s David Lidington, the Conservative MP for Aylesbury who is also Minister of State at the Foreign Office with responsibility for Europe.
More recently, the scare was repeated by Professor Robert Wright of Strathclyde University, in a report for the Fraser of Allander Institute – the independent think tank run by former Labour leader Wendy Alexander’s hubby, which just happens to produce reports that are helpful to the Better Together campaign. Reports which are then gleefully splashed all over the Scottish media.
So were were told that in the opinion of some really clever academics, who can use big words and do hards sums that: “It is difficult to think of a set of circumstances that would allow Scotland to opt out and not be part of the Schengen Area as this is now the norm in the EU.”
It’s not actually that difficult at all, and you don’t need to be a professor of economics in order to think of one. Here’s a set of circumstances that will allow Scotland to opt out of the Schengen Area: geography. It’s the same reason that led the Irish Republic to opt out.
They must have access to atlases in university economics departments. Scotland has no borders with any Schengen member. The nearest Schengen state is separated from Scotland by 500 miles of England and the English Channel. Perhaps the EU loves us so much that they want to take the Proclaimers song literally, and we’ll have to walk 500 miles just to knock on their door.
The real question ought to be, which EU member state has an interest in insisting that Scotland sign up to Schengen? The EU itself has made no statement on the subject, neither have any other EU member states. They’re not going to before there’s a Yes vote. But the answer is none.
The EU knows, just as the Scottish Government and the UK Government know, that demanding that Scotland join Schengen while rUK and Ireland remain outside will damage the economies of Scotland, the rUK and Ireland, and will not create any significant economic advantages for any other EU state. Most Scottish exports to the EU go via the rUK, any advantage to other EU states to Scotland being within Schengen is negated by the reality that the rUK won’t join. There is absolutely no point to Scotland signing up to the Schengen until such time as the rUK decides to sign up too.
In fact the damage that border controls along the Scottish border would cause to the Scottish economy and the economy of the rUK would likewise have a damaging effect on all their EU trading partners. This damage would more than outweigh any supposed benefits that other EU states would gain by insisting Scotland signs up to Schengen.
So why does a scare story with no rational basis continue to be repeated? It’s because it rests upon racist stereotypes of Germans which Project Fear hopes will give it traction. It’s Project Fear’s version of German holidaymakers getting up at the crack of dawn in order to blag all the sun loungers with towels. That’s the law of sun loungers, and according to the stereotype Germans are genetically incapable of doing anything other than applying rules literally and without consideration of circumstances. They’re so incapable that they’ll even take steps which damage their own interests, like getting out of your pit at 6am when you’re on holiday even though the whole point of a holiday is to have a long lie. The Schengen Agreement has been blagged by a German towel, so naturally there’s no space for Scotland on an independent sun lounger.
What Project Fear doesn’t want us to consider is that foreign nations might act exactly as we would expect an independent Scotland to act: like grown ups considering their own rational interest. That means they will weigh up the pros and cons and collaborate when it suits them to do so. There is no downside to other EU countries agreeing to Scotland remaining a part of the Common Travel Area in the British Isles and Ireland, there is a downside to them insisting we join Schengen. After Scotland has voted Yes, collaboration not confrontation will be as much in the interests of other European countries as it is in ours.
On Sunday the Guardian published a poll taken in a number of European countries which showed that – by a very large margin – their inhabitants are not disposed to do the UK any favours, and that they are thoroughly disenchanted with the recalcitrant role the UK plays in European affairs. Yet Project Fear asks us to believe that these countries will willingly damage their own national interests to punish Scotland as a favour to Westminster, all so that Westminster can wreak a bit more havoc on the common European project than it has done to date. It’s not going to happen.