Scottish independence is the only route back to the EU - Lesley Riddoch

Is Nicola Sturgeon “selling voters a fantasy by insisting Scotland can rejoin the EU as an independent country”? Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine told Scotland on Sunday yesterday: “The SNP are trying to persuade people European Union membership and independence go together, which for me is a nonsense.”

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:00 am
European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (L) and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) receive Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the European Commission Headquarters on June 11, 2019
European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (L) and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) receive Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the European Commission Headquarters on June 11, 2019

The party’s Treasury spokesperson also called for a universal basic income, said politics should focus not on “tribalism, but people” and predicted a Lib Dem surge at next year’s Holyrood election.

Strange, but her comments left me wanting a whole lot more. Like any kind of evidence or justification.

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On EU membership, if another route still exists as part of the UK, can anyone point it out? If there’s another major party bar the SNP that still champions EU membership or another electorate bar Northern Ireland that still demands it – let’s meet them.

But there isn’t. The only route to EU membership for Scots today is via independence.

Of course, a pro-European Unionist might argue that the European benefits wouldn’t outweigh the downsides of leaving the UK. But Ms Jardine doesn’t seem to think her supporters need such an old-fashioned, argument-based approach. Perhaps Lib Dems think wild claims are fine if they “mobilise the base”. It used to work for Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, so why shouldn’t it work for them?

That outlook is so dated, it hurts.

Populists are coming unstuck and voters are less wedded to old outlooks as the world transforms itself around us. Considering, swithering and weighing up options are all in – being switched on and off like a political automaton is out.

So what’s the evidence? Is it nonsense to suggest “iScotland” can rejoin the EU?

Au contraire.

In 2017, Jacqueline Minor, the European Commission’s head of representation in the UK, said an independent Scotland would already be aligned with EU requirements and thus in a different starting position from other countries applying for membership.

Previously Ms Minor had put iScotland in line with Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia.

Around the same time, three years ago, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt sent a “lovebomb” message to Scots saying: “Europe hasn’t forgotten that a large majority of the Scottish people voted to remain. We need the Scottish people and their firm European beliefs.”

Sounds like a broad hint to me.

Then a German MEP and former chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee said an iScotland would not have to join a queue because each case is judged on its merits. Thus, Elmar Brok said, the process of rejoining the EU for Scotland could be “relatively speedy.”

Even the Spanish clarified they have no veto on Scotland rejoining as an independent state. Maybe Ms Jardine didn’t notice.

In fact, there’s widespread agreement an iScotland would easily qualify for membership of the EU single market, either through full EU membership or “halfway house” status via the smaller trade bloc Efta.

Senior officials in Iceland have openly discussed the advantages of having Scotland as a new Efta member to create a powerful bloc along with Norway – three contiguous North Atlantic states controlling vital sea routes, fishing grounds, oil and gas fields and a vast renewable energy resource.

Meanwhile academics at the Oxford conference on Rewriting the UK Constitution in 2019 predicted the EU would make an offer to the Scottish Government once Brexit is concluded and there’s no further risk of offending Mr Johnson by wooing the Scots instead. Let’s face it. regaining five million progressive, pro-EU citizens in the wake of Britain’s acrimonious departure would be an important economic and psychological boost for the EU project.

So there could conceivably be a bidding war over Scotland between the two trade blocs, further enhancing the independence option.

Professor Christophe Hillion, of the centre for European law at Oslo University, was lukewarm about the prospects of UK accession to the “halfway house” in 2018. But he said: “It could be very different in the case of Scotland – not simply because it’s a smaller country but because a majority voted Remain and thus to be part of the single market. The general attitude and circumstances are different in the UK and Scotland.”

Of course, Brexit will make cross-border trade more difficult as former SNP communities minister Alex Neil has recently pointed out. But there’s no longer a single option for Scotland that’s challenge-free – including the status quo.

Ms Jardine observes; “Independence will not put food on the table, it will not pay for uniforms or help people eat.”

And being part of Brexited Britain will?

But perhaps Ms Jardine’s most off-beam assertion is the recurrent unionist claim that independence supporters are somehow “tribal” while unionist politicians are only interested in “people”.

This is an utterly false polarity.

For most Yessers, independence is based on the realisation that “protecting people” within a market-led, Conservative-dominated UK means ambulance-chasing in perpetuity – running constantly to the scene of accidents without having any control over the source.

Ms Jardine talks about welfare systems – surveys show most Scots believe control over all benefits would be better than constantly mitigating “cruel” Westminster ones.

Ms Jardine talks about a universal basic income. Without a Scottish treasury, a universal basic income would be financed by Holyrood while tax recouped from high-earning individuals would return to Westminster. So a universal basic income can never be more than a pilot project in Scotland thanks to the lack of full fiscal control.

That’s why folk who’ve spent their lives in caring professions now believe independence is the only way to create a fair society in our lifetimes.

In short, most intelligent Scottish voters can see beyond the end of our noses and expect intelligent politicians to do the same.

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