WITH the UK parties trying
to out-Ukip Ukip, only a vote for independence can keep Scotland in EU,
writes Alyn Smith
I took part in an independence debate in Kirkcaldy last week. Allan
Grogan of Labour for Independence and I, the champions of independence,
versus Willie Rennie of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Murdo Fraser of
the Tories and Claire Baker of Labour, the axis of intransigence.
The audience, ready to listen and engage, found little to inspire them
in the No message and, in the good Fife tradition, let them know it. It
would appear, sadly, that Willie Rennie wasn’t listening and his
European Union rant in Wednesday’s edition of The Scotsman suggests he
hasn’t even noticed the hard lessons the Lib Dems need to learn from
their sordid affair with the Tories.
The UK government, propped up by the Lib Dems, is doing considerable
damage to our relationship with the rest of Europe. By pandering to Ukip
in the vain hope they’ll go away, they are sleepwalking towards the edge
of a cliff and, once over that edge, the way back will be nigh
impossible. Scotland faces being dragged over that precipice, held in a
deadly embrace as we fall, ending up sulking once more off the coast of
Europe instead of being part of it.
The UK is left searching for relevance in a world that has moved on –
that’s the reality of the Eurosceptic dream and it’s what the Lib Dems
and now Labour have signed up to, bringing a new reality to Dean
Acheson’s 1962 comment: “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not
yet found a role.”
The attempt to play a separate power role – that is, a role apart from
Europe, a role based on a “special relationship’” with the United
States, a role based on being head of a “commonwealth” which has no
political structure, or unity, or strength – this role is about played
London politicians of all stripes do not like or engage with the EU,
still imagining the UK as an imposing world power. For entirely
short-term political reasons, the UK government has set course for
leaving the EU with no other destination in mind. Scotland’s interests
clearly lie in getting away from this dithering foolishness and
ploughing our own furrow in the world.
I like to think that the UK government will, at some point, see sense,
that it cannot out-Ukip Ukip and instead of pandering to them we all
need to face down their half-truths and misrepresentations. However,
this cannot be taken for granted and we cannot dismiss the idea that the
UK will leave the EU altogether. The UK leaving the EU will be bad for
Europe in the short term and bad for Scotland, independent or not, in
the short term; but it will be bad for the UK in the short and
long-term. Scotland can escape that cul-de-sac with a simple Yes to
independence next year – or we can stick with the UK and hope for the
Not that sticking with the UK has done us much good so far. I laughed at
Willie Rennie saying independence would leave us without representation,
and therefore no influence, in London. Scotland suffers the inadequacy
of Lib Dem ministers playing lapdog to a Tory government driving an
agenda that is damaging Scotland or, in some far-off year, the revival
of a Labour Party promising to drive forward the current slash-and-burn
That’s the kind of deficit that devolution was supposed to address; it
hasn’t. The Scottish Government has achieved a lot but its efforts to
protect Scotland from the worst effects of UK policy are thwarted
because London still holds the purse strings and control of welfare and
taxes. Then there’s European policy; foreign policy; defence;
immigration; nuclear weapons; nuclear power; firearms; and so on. More
importantly, how Scotland is presented to and engages with the world is
out of our hands.
Independence is absolutely necessary so we can remake Scotland. I want
to build a new nation that puts people back in control of their lives
and has social justice at its core, a country where government’s natural
instinct is to protect the weak not punish them for being weak, and
where we collectively look to the future.
We can build that nation; build a better country and live a better life.
Independence is coming; we’ll vote for it next year and we’ll negotiate
the details thereafter. Our opposition would be far better getting on
board and helping deliver than carping from the sidelines.
We share a currency and it belongs as much to Scotland as to London; the
negotiation will be over how it’s used after independence. The same goes
for the Bank of England and all of the UK’s assets; they’re ours as much
as rUK’s and we’ll negotiate over them. We’re not walking away from
everything we own; we’re changing the rules of engagement.
There will be agreement because it’s in the interests of both nations –
Scotland and rump UK – to agree, and pragmatism will mean that a deal
gets done. Likewise, tired and stale doom-mongering aside, it is
overwhelmingly in the EU’s interests to facilitate our new EU status.
Scotland will be standing up for herself and arguing her corner more
effectively than it has been argued so far and we will be attracting new
companies, new investment, and the financial-sector organisations that
don’t want to be stranded outside of the EU.
Next year’s vote is a window of opportunity for Scotland and a chance to
build the nation we want.
Milk and honey isn’t a certainty after independence but it definitely
isn’t a certainty with the UK and the direction of travel in each case
is quite clear.
So here’s advice to those on the No barricades; listen to the Fife
audience and similar audiences across the country, step across, join the
campaign for a brighter future for your country. Join us in saying Yes.
Alyn Smith is an SNP member of the European Parliament.
Dr. James Wilkie
I have been involved in European integration for a lot longer than Alyn
Smith has, and furthermore at top government level. It is Alyn Smith and
the EU that have to get up to date, because the world has changed a lot
since the EU concept was devised away back in the 1920s.
The world for which the EU was designed has now disappeared. The "top
tables" at which Scotland has to sit are now at global level, and not at
the level of a sub-regional association of certain states representing
part of Europe.
The EU is not "Europe". It is not even a truly European institution,
because it represents only half of the continent. It has done a lot of
good work, especially in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, but its
functions are to a great extent transitional, and will become
superfluous once the continent has settled down and overcome the effects
of the Second World War and the Communist system.
The EU's economic function is the European Economic Area, which it
shares with EFTA, but even that represents only 31 out of over 50
European states. Its non-economic functions, including its mythical
"citizenship", are all obtainable through other organisations, all of
which now guarantee civic and human rights. When I am on the continent
my own pension, health and other rights are all guaranteed within EFTA
and the EEA, not just the EU.
The EU has performed some useful functions, and its usefulness for
Central Europe is not in doubt. However, Scotland's vital interests are
by no means identical with those of Central European states for which
the EU was designed, and possible membership must be approached with
caution. Scotland is a Scandinavian country, and its interests lie
elsewhere than in London or Brussels. The fisheries disaster is only the
most prominent proof of why Scotland must approach the question of EU
membership with cautious scepticism.
It is by no means axiomatic that Scotland must seek membership of this
single organisation among hundreds of others, and Alyn Smith and the SNP
should stop trying to present it as such.