SCOTTISH ELECTIONS AND THE PROBLEMS WITH SCEXIT
The result of the elections to the Scottish Parliament has effectively denied Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, a mandate for a second independence referendum. The SNP were one seat short of a majority, although they are now talking to the Greens, who won 8 seats, about a possible coalition. The Greens also favour independence and the breakup of the UK.
Repeated opinion polls have indicated that the re-elected Scottish government must focus all its efforts on steering Scotland through the Covid-19 crisis, with a core objective of achieving rapid economic recovery. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a “Team UK” approach in the hope that all parts of the United Kingdom can work together to overcome the economic crisis.
Despite this, Nicola Sturgeon has stated that she will now seek parliamentary approval from the Scottish Parliament for a Bill to hold another referendum on independence, threatening a wildcat vote without Westminster approval. She has thrown down the gauntlet to Boris Johnson, goading the Prime Minister to challenge her in the Supreme Court. With the SNP failing to get an overall majority in the election, the First Minister will not be forgiven by the business community if, after failing to get the endorsement she asked for, she prioritises a divisive referendum over saving lives and economic recovery from the pandemic.
Pro-UK parties secured over 50% of the constituency vote – a clear indication that most Scots reject a second referendum.
In Scotland, many remain supporters, who voted ‘No’ to independence in 2014, were against Brexit and may have switched to the SNP, attracted to the nationalists’ policy of an independent Scotland re-joining the EU. While, prior to Brexit, the UK was a member of the EU economic and customs union for 47 years, Scotland has been a member of the UK economic and customs union for the past 314 years. We have enjoyed the free movement of people, goods and services throughout the UK during all of that time. We have also enjoyed the benefits of being a member of the UK monetary union, social union, political union, cultural union, common security union and everything else that goes with our long-standing partnership over the past three centuries. If some people think that Brexit was a mistake, Scexit will be a thousand times worse.
While oil was booming, Scotland was a net-contributor to the overall UK economy. That was the case throughout the 1980’s and again for a short time in 2007-2008. The collapse in oil prices saw Scotland become a net-benefactor from the UK’s sharing fiscal union. Scotland’s deficit is now more than £15 billion. Despite the fact that the SNP government levy the highest taxes in Britain, there is a yawning gap between how much we spend on public services and debt repayment and total tax revenues. In addition, the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has poured £10.9 billion into Scotland during the pandemic, protecting 900,000 jobs. Rather than recognising the value of this partnership, the SNP have, bizarrely, ramped up their grudge and grievance rhetoric, claiming ludicrously that Scotland’s economic dependency proves the UK system is broken and that independence would bring miraculous prosperity. The fact that for centuries we have thrived in a system that levels out the economic asymmetries across the UK is an inconvenient truth to the separatists.
The SNP have to explain how Scotland would be funded after independence. Where would we find the additional billions? Scots also deserve honesty about Europe. With our current deficit at 25% of GDP, the highest in Europe, we would not be quickly welcomed back into the EU. It would take years of savage cuts to reduce the deficit to acceptable levels for EU membership. And what about the currency? We’ve had at least three different versions of a post-independence Scottish currency floated by the SNP. The current favourite seems to be sticking with the pound, in or out of a currency union, although the UK Treasury says that is not possible. And if we keep the pound Scotland would not be able to join the EU, so an independent Scotland might have to create its own Central Bank, at huge cost and float its own currency. New EU member states must adopt the Euro, so Scotland would have a third currency change if we eventually succeeded in becoming a Member State. How would our huge financial services sector, not to mention business and industry, deal with the shockwaves of three currency changes over a relatively short period of years?
And what about the border? An independent Scotland as a member of the EU would have to establish border controls with the rest of the UK, where we do over 60% of our business, four times greater trade than we have with the EU. As a member of the EU, Scotland would see the full restoration of freedom of movement of people from the rest of the EU. But Brexit England, with its tough new controls on immigration, will have to work out a way of stopping tens of thousands of immigrants flowing south across the border from Scotland. We’ve seen how difficult border negotiations with Ireland have become during the Brexit talks. It would be ten times worse between Scotland and England and the disputes with England and Northern Ireland over fishing grounds would make the current Brexit fishing wrangles look like a playground spat.
It's typically selfish and self-centred, as we face the worst recession in our 300-year history, for the SNP to focus on another divisive referendum on independence in the next two years, instead of concentrating on economic recovery and jobs. But the people of Scotland deserve more than empty promises. We need to know the truth. It is simply illogical for those Scots who thought Brexit was a bad idea, to think that Scexit is a good one!