Starstruck SNP’S stance on Brexit shows a gross fail­ure of po­lit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion

The Scotsman - - Perspective - Brian Wil­son

The di­chotomy at the heart of the SNP in its cur­rent phase was on full show this week. While main­tain­ing the soli­tary ob­jec­tive of break­ing up the UK, its en­thu­si­asm for the Euro­pean Union verges on the starstruck.

If this was purely a mat­ter of rhetoric and po­si­tion­ing, it would be their own in­ter­nal busi­ness. The prob­lem is that their re­liance on a doomed Brexit to re­vive their cause is pre­vent­ing any pre­tence of pos­i­tive en­gage­ment at govern­ment level, which Scot­land ur­gently needs.

The Scot­tish view of the EU is more nu­anced than the Na­tion­al­ist lead­er­ship likes to pre­tend, as is their own party’s his­tory on the sub­ject. Most Scots might agree that the cur­rent ob­jec­tive should be to pro­tect the best of what ex­ists but also ac­tively en­gage in de­vel­op­ing the pos­i­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties that emerge. There is ab­so­lutely no sign of that.

In­stead, the con­tra­dic­tion be­comes more glar­ing and ab­surd. While com­mit­ted as a mat­ter of high prin­ci­ple to free trade and open bor­ders by re­main­ing within the EU, they would cheer­fully dis­re­gard th­ese same pre­cious ben­e­fits within our own small is­land, re­gard­less of cost.

Jim Sil­lars, the party’s for­mer deputy leader, wrote this week of an “un­hinged love that paints the EU in glow­ing colours” and “an un­think­ing paean of praise”. Un­like Jim, I voted to re­main in the EU but that does not blind me to the fact that ex­ag­ger­ated cheer-lead­ing for the sta­tus quo cor­re­lates in­evitably to ne­glect of other op­tions.

As Jim Sil­lars pointed out, the EU’S first obli­ga­tion is still to the free move­ment of cap­i­tal, its found­ing prin­ci­ple. He in­stanced the ruth­less treat­ment of Greece as an ex­am­ple of that con­tin­u­ing pri­or­ity. There have been many valu­able add-ons which have given the EU a far more hu­man face but it is delu­sional to as­sume that all its works are good.

For years, we have heard “Brus­sels” be­ing held re­spon­si­ble for what govern­ment must do or is not al­lowed to do. I have sus­pected that a lot of this was ques­tion­able and that “EU reg­u­la­tions” be­came a con­ve­nient de­vice in the hands of civil ser­vants. But all th­ese claimed con­straints can­not now be air­brushed out.

If you lo­calise it to where I live, much could be done at do­mes­tic level to im­prove fish­eries man­age­ment, to de­vise a sys­tem of agri­cul­tural sup­port favour­ing mar­ginal land, to ease the en­vi­ron­men­tal des­ig­na­tions that are scat­tered around like con­fetti against lo­cal wishes, and so on. In all th­ese re­spects – truth­fully or un­truth­fully – pre­vail­ing con­di­tions have hith­erto been at­trib­uted to the EU.

It rep­re­sents a gross fail­ure of po­lit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion if no­body in the Scot­tish Govern­ment can see any­thing pos­i­tive in be­ing able to act more sen­si­tively out­side frame­works of EU reg­u­la­tion. In­stead of cre­at­ing a bo­gus con­flict about the process through which pow­ers will de­volve to Ed­in­burgh, we need in­tel­li­gent think­ing about how th­ese pow­ers will be utilised.

The same is true of the wider Scot­tish econ­omy. How of­ten have we heard the “state aids” ar­gu­ment used to thwart use­ful pub­lic in­ter­ven­tion? Is it not due to EU pro­cure­ment pol­icy that we have failed to cre­ate a re­new­ables man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try sup­posed to be the “sec­ond in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion” (© A Sal­mond) but in­stead has sus­tained jobs in Spain, Den­mark and Ger­many?

If, by any chance, Brexit dis­ap­pears into the ether, none of that think­ing will be wasted and a lot of it would be use­ful and over­due in push­ing out the bound­aries of what is ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble. Yet there is an omerta im­posed on Scot­tish Min­is­ters about how any­thing might be done dif­fer­ently or bet­ter in a post-brexit world.

In­stead, it is one long cry of woe taken to ex­tremes when my con­stituency MSP is­sued a press re­lease claim­ing the very ex­is­tence of Stornoway Black Pud­ding is threat­ened by “West­min­ster’s Brexit sham­bles”. How can they ex­pect to be taken se­ri­ously on is­sues of sig­nif­i­cance amidst this litany of doom? It is be­com­ing a case of “the boy who cried black pud­ding”.

I cer­tainly want no new bar­ri­ers to trade with the EU and I like free move­ment of labour, which brings lots of valu­able peo­ple into our so­ci­ety. Th­ese same ar­gu­ments ap­ply else­where in the UK and cer­tainly to its eco­nomic en­gines. It is in the Scot­tish in­ter­est to ally our­selves to those who share the same ob­jec­tives in se­cur­ing a Brexit which pro­tects ben­e­fits, rather than sim­ply hop­ing the whole thing falls apart.

One irony is that while the SNP is pin­ning its colours even more firmly to the EU mast, their med­dling in Cat­alo­nia makes it even more cer­tain that, at some point, they will have to re­write the en­tire script. More clearly than ever, Spain would be vot­ing for its own dis­mem­ber­ment by giv­ing house­room to the SNP’S claims.

Fur­ther­more, the Cat­alo­nian im­broglio high­lights the threat of frag­men­ta­tion for other EU states which con­tain se­ces­sion­ist move­ments. From an EU per­spec­tive, Cat­alo­nia is not an iso­lated prob­lem but part of a wider philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion – how can progress to­wards Euro­pean unity be rec­on­ciled with the break-up of mem­ber states?

One of the 2014 fal­la­cies was that Scot­land would some­how stroll back into the EU af­ter se­ces­sion. Post-cat­alo­nia, there will be wider un­der­stand­ing that this is non-ne­go­tiable hog­wash, so any in­de­pen­dence case will have to be based on Scot­land be­ing out­side the EU. If one be­lieved the cur­rent Stur­geon script, that would be a catas­tro­phe worse than death so rewrit­ing it will be tricky. Brexit demon­strates the dif­fi­cul­ties en­tailed in break­ing up a union. The se­ced­ing party does not get what it wants. The prospect of bor­ders cre­ates mas­sive dif­fi­cul­ties. There is no easy route out of one union and into an­other, and so on . . . even be­fore we get to money.

Scot­tish vot­ers are get­ting the hang of this even if the SNP lead­er­ship is not.

I would have no dif­fi­culty an­swer­ing the ques­tion Mrs May avoided – if asked again, I would vote to re­main in the EU be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is too much has­sle.

But it is the al­ter­na­tive which cur­rently pre­vails and the Scot­tish Govern­ment should be mak­ing the most of it rather than ly­ing in wait for po­lit­i­cal pick­ings that might or might not ma­te­ri­alise.

0 Op­er­at­ing out­side EU reg­u­la­tions may prove ben­e­fi­cial for Scot­land – but the SNP is un­will­ing to seek such op­por­tu­ni­ties

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.