All of a sudden, the UK
national news is full of Europe. Short of when we joined in 1973, I
doubt if the whole concept of Europe has ever had this much attention
from the media here.
In fact, getting anything
to do with the EU into the news here is usually quite a challenge.
So why has it been so
different this week? Well, it’s all down to the US and President Barack
Obama against the background of the success of the UK Independence Party
(UKIP) – not to be confused with independence in the sense that we mean
it in Scotland.
UKIP’s main drivers are
to get the UK out of the EU and to stop what they would no doubt
describe as rampant immigration. The Conservatives, thoroughly alarmed
by the scale of UKIP’s vote in the recent local elections, responded by
publishing a draft parliamentary Bill to legislate for an in-out
But on the day before
that announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron was in the US working on
EU negotiations with President Barack Obama for a free trade deal
between the EU and the US.
This is an interesting
contradiction and one that epitomises the dilemma the UK Government
finds itself in. David Cameron knows perfectly well that leaving the EU
would bring unprecedented disaster but at the same time he is pandering
to UKIP and some 114 MPs to run the referendum on membership.
President Obama was
measured in his comments. He told reporters that Mr Cameron’s “basic
point that you probably want to see if you can fix what is broken in a
very important relationship before you break it off” made “some sense”
Mr Cameron insists that
he is in a strong enough position in Europe to be able to re-write how
it operates. He says he finds it “very, very strange” that former
cabinet ministers Lord Lawson and Michael Portillo want to leave the
Union and has accused them of “throwing in the towel” before
negotiations have even started.
Even current Cabinet
Secretaries like Michael Gove (Education) and Defence Secretary Phillip
Hammond have said they would vote to leave the EU if there was a
President Obama, though
circumspect in his public comments, is clear that the “special
relationship” with the UK is one that depends upon Britain being
“engaged with the world.” And he added: “The UK’s participation in the
EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world as well
as obviously a very important economic partnership.”
There can be little doubt
that stripped of influence in Brussels, Berlin and Paris, Britain would
find itself increasingly ignored by Washington and sidelined on big
transnational issues such as the environment, security and trade.
America and other allies want Britain to remain in the EU. Without that
connection to the powerhouse of 504 million people, Britain risks
becoming a maverick, isolated state.
The UK is no longer the
imperial power it once was, though sometimes this Government’s behaviour
might make you think it still sees itself in that kind of light. Its
influence in Europe is much less than it seems to think and the chances
of 26 other countries agreeing to David Cameron’s “negotiations” are
minimal at best. Why would Germany, France, Spain, Italy and all of the
smaller countries agree to give away a host of dispensations to the UK?
You can’t have it both
ways Mr. Cameron. You join the club, you abide by the rules and you pay
your dues or you leave the club. You can’t decide to pick and mix from
the rules and still retain membership.
If Britain went for a
clean break from the EU, its exports – including Scotland’s if we don’t
secure independence – would be subject to EU export tariffs and would
still have to meet EU production and quality standards.
We would lose our EU
citizenship and along with it the right to live and work in any EU
country. Millions of jobs could be lost as global manufacturers move out
to avoid export tariffs. The notion that the UK would somehow save money
is nonsense. Its contribution to the EU budget is a drop in the ocean
compared with the benefits to business of being in a single market. The
UK pays £5.85 billion into the EU out of £706 billion in public
spending, less than one per cent. Withdrawal would be costly for
exporters and tax revenues would be lost if companies dealing with the
Eurozone, especially banks, move from the City to the EU.
There is a recognition
among many of the member nations that there does need to be reform in
the EU; that there is wastage and duplication that really can’t be
justified and it needs to be sorted out. But the EU was founded on the
fundamental concepts of fairness and equal representation, so those
changes have to be worked out on a partnership basis.
For Scotland, the debate
is an important reminder of how crucial it is that we have our
independence so that we come to the EU table as a member state in our
own right. There is no appetite here for an in-out referendum on EU
membership but if the electorate says No to independence, then we will
be swept out along with the rest of the UK.
Being there, being part
of the discussions, is vital to Scotland’s economy and its future