With less than a week to go, it certainly looks as if the UK – Scotland is on more of a knife-edge – is edging closer to leaving the European Union.
If the jittery markets are anything to go by then it may become time to batten down the hatches as the uncertainty over what happens next impacts on all of us whether we voted to stay or go.
Firstly, the debate over the past few weeks has been less inspiring than required but perhaps was no more than could be expected. The ‘short campaign’ should always be about getting down to reinforcing the key lines and messages that have been boiled down from months of informed discussion. Alas, as ever in UK politics, we just got down to the soundbites. Lead not leave versus take back control.
Throughout all of this, personally, I remain a supporter of EU membership. It’s not perfect but compared to isolationist Britain, I prefer it. I firmly believe that it is a vital component for the legitimacy and acceptability of an independent Scotland by centralist European states such as Spain, Belgium, France, etc who rightly fear that widespread acceptance of self-determination for Scotland could be a trigger for the aspirations of component states within their own borders, e.g. Catalonia, Basque country, Flanders and Corsica.
We all remember all too well the intervention of Barossa in supporting Cameron during the Scottish independence referendum. The EU establishment was anti-Scottish independence because it potentially threatens the constitutional arrangements of other member states. There is a striking irony now that Scotland could be one of the few parts of the UK that actually votes to Remain in the EU.
So what if Scotland votes to Remain but the UK overall votes to Leave? Scotland, per the Scottish Government, may gain some favourability within EU circles that perhaps they were wrong to be so partisan within internal member state constitutional issues. However, the reality is we are just not that important enough for the EU to want to cause more difficulty with the bigger UK member state.
More likely, even if the UK (and Scotland) votes to Leave, that we will have another referendum. Arguments will be made that the terms of leaving the EU should be put to the people in a ballot so that the guesswork of what Leaving actually means, can be endorsed by a more informed British public. Wouldn’t that be fair and democratic?
The same could be said of Scotland’s attempts to negotiate independence with the rest of the UK and frankly, I don’t really have a problem with it. If the terms are punitive, i.e. intended to scare people into changing their minds, it is likely to have as much of a reaction to bullying as much as actually change some people’s minds. More realistically, the rest of the UK is likely to offer even more favourable terms (The Vow 2) to stay, which I expect Scots to view sceptically: if you can offer that to make us stay, why didn’t you offer it earlier?
Naturally, there are pros and cons to double referendum processes (first referendum in principle, second to confirm the deal). It is likely that the EU and UK will go through a similar process and the precedence is there. Remember it took Ireland three referendums to ratify Maastricht? Denmark took two.
Cameron could claim that the first referendum was always to call Brussels’ bluff to force the real deal. Whether it works remains to be seen. It could well be that the rest of the EU sets out more clearly that there will be no special deals between it and the fifth largest economy, i.e. the UK. The idea that rational logic will bring order to the market or politics is dodgy at best. We are already reading Daily Express headlines that the French want to punish an exiting-UK as an example for others to follow.
Again, when the organism that is EU feels threatened, it will act to protect itself. It cannot risk a domino effect through the Netherlands, Denmark, etc.
In the meantime, we have less than seven days to make clearer what exactly is the SNP’s agenda for EU reform? Yes, reform of fisheries policy. Potentially reform of CAP. But what next? Perhaps a democratisation lead? How about the direct election of EU Commissioners from Member States instead of the political cronyism of patronage appointments? One of the biggest criticisms of the EU is its sense of unaccountableness to the people of Europe.
The European Parliament does the best job it can but it isn’t covered by domestic media so no one really knows what it does to challenge the Commission or Council of Ministers. The reality is that ‘Brussels’ is managed by member state governments, that is its democracy and accountability. Obviously it isn’t good enough for the Leavers but could something be done to change that?