On Saturday night, I had the misfortune to watch the press review on Sky News. One of the guests was a Brexit supporting writer, a woman whose name escapes me, which is a pity because it means that it will be harder to avoid her nonsense in future. It was the usual ill informed guff about Scotland. She averred, with the arrogant certainty that her ignorance is a virtue which only a British nationalist possesses, that support for independence in Scotland has stalled. And then she waffled on about how she didn’t understand why Scotland wanted to swap its place in the UK for membership of the EU, because to her mind that’s not really independence.
The truth is, if you don’t understand the difference between Scotland as a part of the UK and an independent Scotland that’s a member of the EU, then you really should refrain from commenting on either. Because all you’re doing is exposing your ignorance. But confident ignorance is the British nationalist’s stock in trade, and we’re going to hear a lot more of it as Scotland moves towards independence.
The first important difference is that Scotland is not a member of the UK. It is a part of the UK. The Brexit process has exposed the truth, there are no constitutional safeguards or provisions within the UK to protect Scotland from the malign effects of English nationalism. That’s why we’re getting Brexit, even though Scotland has voted against it by a very large margin. We’re not just getting Brexit, we’re getting a more hardline version of it than even Jacob Rees Mogg thought possible just three years ago. Scotland’s sole official representation within the British Government is the Scotland Office, yet ever since devolution, and indeed before it, the role of the Scotland Office has not been to represent Scotland within the British Government, it has been to represent the British Government in Scotland.
The EU has member states. Each of those member states takes a turn at the European presidency. Each of those member states sends its head of government to important EU summits. Each of those member states has a veto on certain aspects of EU policy. There is a formal mechanism of representation for each member state at the very highest levels of the EU.
You can see the distinction between being a member of the EU and being a part of the UK by contrasting the way in which the EU responded to the concerns of Ireland during the Brexit negotiations, and the way in which the UK responded to the concerns of Scotland during those same negotiations. The EU hasn’t only accommodated the Irish position, they have reinforced it and made it very clear that other member states stand in solidarity with Ireland. The British Government has at every turn ignored, sidelined, and treated with contempt any suggestions from the Scottish Government. Theresa May didn’t even bother to respond to the Scottish Parliament’s proposals for a compromise Brexit that met with some of Scotland’s most important concerns. Brexit has proven that there is one country in the British isles which is an equal and valued partner in a family of nations, and that nation is Ireland within the EU.
That’s only the beginning of the differences. If Brexiters had been told that the UK required the permission of the EU before it was allowed to hold a referendum, Jacob would perhaps have been justified in his claims that the UK was a vassal state. Yet that’s precisely what the British Government is imposing on Scotland. More than that, one of the Tory leadership contenders has stated that under no circumstances would he permit another independence referendum. Jeremy Hunt doesn’t believe in Scottish democracy. Can you imagine the outcry from the Brexit supporting press and British nationalists if a senior figure in the EU had stated that under no circumstances would the EU permit the UK a referendum on its EU membership? But that’s a constraint that the UK is happy to put on Scotland.
The EU doesn’t insist that one of its members states host nuclear weapons so that another can enjoy a seat on the UN Security Council and pretend to itself that it’s still a global power. The EU doesn’t make us go to war. The EU doesn’t decide the entire foreign policy for all of its members. The UK does all of that and more. Opponents of independence like to imagine that being a part of the UK allows Scotland to punch above its weight – for some reason they like their metaphors violent – the reality is that as a part of the UK Scotland is invisible abroad. People in Spanish speaking countries talk about Inglaterra and inglés as synonyms for the UK.
The EU doesn’t set the vast majority of our taxes and determine the level of social security. The UK does, and the UK is hell bent on reducing taxes for the wealthy and for big businesses and making the poor and the low paid carry the can for the financial irresponsibility of the banks. Poverty in the UK is a consequence of the decisions of British governments, not the EU.
The EU doesn’t ensure that our old age pensions are amongst the lowest in the developed world. The UK does that, and then it tries to frighten pensioners by lying to them that in the event of independence they won’t get a pension at all.
The EU doesn’t concentrate development and infrastructure in the UK on London and the South East of England. It’s British governments which do that. The ignoring of the parts of the UK outwith London and the South East by successive British governments have led to the UK having some of the poorest regions in northern Europe. The EU on the other hand, provides funding to marginalised and impoverished regions. That funding will be lost when the UK leaves the EU.
Brexit is driven by the fantasy that Britain is still an empire, that it is still a global player on the world stage on a par with a superpower in a world where only a superpower can truly be independent of other countries. It’s a delusion. It’s a cruel delusion because it’s the poor, the low paid, and the disabled in the UK who will pay the price of it, not the wealthy backers of Brexit like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.
The reality is that in the modern world all countries must cooperate with others and share aspects of their sovereignty. However for Scotland the difference between the UK and the EU is the difference between an animal being trapped in a small cage with no freedom of movement, and roaming in a national park. The UK is a cage, the EU is a vast park. Claiming that Scotland has less freedom of movement and freedom of choice within the EU than it does as a part of the UK is an idiotic nonsense that should be rejected with the contempt that it deserves.
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