Brexit has played right into the hands of the Scottish nationalists. Their perfect example of a “material change of circumstances” has come true. Providing a justification for another referendum and, they hope, a rallying cry for independence. So it is no surprise that the SNP manifesto launch again called for a referendum after the Brexit negotiations but before we have officially left the European Union. The nationalists hope that the risk and uncertainty from Brexit will persuade Scots to take a chance. Arguing that the UK (in their mind England) is choosing to be isolated in Europe, poorer and less tolerant. Scotland, they believe could be a leader in Europe, prosperous, connected and independent. They are wrong, Brexit has its challenges, and it is risky, but nothing is a bigger risk to Scotland’s future and place in the world than independence.
Firstly, the UK is more than just its EU membership: We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council; a member of NATO; the G7; the G20; the fifth largest economy in the world; a nuclear weapons state; part of the Commonwealth; the OECD and a ‘special friend’ of the United States. Yes we are leaving the EU, and this presents a massive challenge to our world standing, that is undeniable; we, however, do still have many cards in our favour. Our ability to pursue British interests and promote our values abroad is impressive despite Brexit. Being a leading global nation is more important than most recognise. Our world standing determines how secure we are, how much we trade and how influential we are. Nothing has more of an impact on our future than international agreements on tackling climate change, defeating terrorism and breaking down barriers to trade. The higher our world standing, the better the UK (and Scotland) can forward its interests in these world endeavours. If Scotland chooses independence, it would be giving up its world role entirely. Scotland would no longer be represented as highly in the UN, the Commonwealth and would be represented only by the EU at the G7, G20, WTO and its friendship with the USA would only be nostalgic. It’s a challenge, but the UK wants to be a leading global nation and if successful the opportunities are exciting. It would mean more trade, more influence, defending our interests and promoting a prosperous and safer future for us all. Scotland would be deliberately turning down those opportunities and choosing to leave far more, and far more critical international tables than the EU is.
Secondly, the biggest and most important single market that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of is the UK’s market. The irony is lost on Nicola Sturgeon that she simultaneously argues that Scotland must stay part of the EU single market with its principal foreign trading partner but declare independence from the UK’s – which is Scotland’s most important trading partner. Nicola doubts that the UK will get a good Brexit deal, then wants to jump on the EU’s side in anticipation of a deal that goes against Scotland’s vital interest. It is dangerous how the SNP forget how significant trade with the UK is to Scotland. The future success of the Scotland and UK rests not only on securing the most comprehensive trade deal with the EU, but also the best trade agreements with countries around the world. It is impossible to achieve that if we sabotage our economy by rebuilding walls or barriers on our island to the detriment of Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish people and businesses. Brexit is again a challenge, but faced with a prospect of a divided Kingdom it pails into insignificance.
Finally, Nicola’s case for an independent Scotland rests on it having a prosperous European future. Many hope this would mean retaining full EU membership, but it is important to remember a third of yes voters do not want to hand control back to Brussels. While the SNP insist that their policy remains full EU membership, it isn’t impossible that they could change this. Even with a referendum on the SNP timetable (before we officially leave) Scotland would still be pulled out of the EU as they would not be an independent country for at least two years that could then retain membership or apply for it. Ultimately Scotland will become independent outside the EU, at this point who knows what the SNP or Scotland could choose to do. A Norwegian model perhaps? Or full membership? Would Scotland accept no say and full regulation but with single market access, with the added control over Scottish fishing? Or, would Scotland choose to hand back all powers gained to Brussels, become a net contributor and a small state in a growing EU? The SNP would say at least Scotland had its own choice. They’re right it does. The choice though is poor; both options have little power and influence in Europe and both involve giving away power to Brussels. An independent Scotland’s European future is to be a small fish in an expanding pond, hardly an attractive option.
Scotland did not choose to leave the European Union; however, they did decide to remain part of the United Kingdom and make these decisions collectively. Above all, Scottish people recognise that they have a choice of futures. The SNP envisage Scotland as a small state in Europe, with little control and influence, separated from its family of nations. Whereas the Scottish Conservatives offer a future where Scotland gains more power outside the European Union and remains part of a larger and globally focused Union. Although achieving it will be a challenge if we are successful Scotland will be more prosperous and autonomous than ever before. Scotland’s choice at this election is clear, a global future in the world’s most successful Union or a smaller future, separated and divided with the only certainty of a smaller world role. Surly, independence is a bigger risk to Scotland than Brexit is?
Written by James Clark