A Tale of Two Countries

I love the beginning of a Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Dickens’ contradictions capture our imagination and, because he doesn’t mention the characters involved, the reader is left to determine to whom the tale of good times, wisdom, belief, light and hope belong in this tale. It is all about perspective.  So it was with some interest I sat down to watch the interview with Mr Barosso and Mr Marr following the headlines of “It would be ‘extremely difficult’ for independent Scotland to join EU, says European Commission chief”.

The Interview with Mr Marr was a tale of two halves.  When speaking of the UK’s sought for reforms to the current EU treaty Mr Barosso says

“José Manuel Barroso:    Now, I have to be very honest, the reforms of the treaties are extremely difficult in the European Union, because they require unanimity, so any point that Britain wants to make for reform of the treaty requires the other 27 countries


Andrew Marr:     All to agree.


José Manuel Barroso:     …they are sovereign countries as well to accept the same way; any reforms the other wants to make requires also Britain to accept, so I think if there is goodwill, if there is intelligence on all the sides, it is possible provided – provided – there is not, let’s say the attempt to put in question the basic principles of our union and the integrity of our union, because the challenge is precisely that one.  We need to have a deepening of the internal market, and from that point of view, I have to say that the British Government and Prime Minister Cameron himself, they have been very supportive, because they understood perfectly well that it is also in the interest of Britain, and indeed, the interest of the world, the financial stability, but at the same time, we have to deepen the Euro area, we should keep the integrity of the single market, so that British citizens or British companies have now access to the internal market, it represents a British Government, £90 billion per year for the  British economy, so it is extremely important not to put that at risk. “


And on the future of Europe that may involve diverging paths for the UK and Europe he says

What I think, it is important to have in mind is the following; I don’t see a fundamental contradiction between deepening the Euro area, that is certainly desirable, and having someflexibility for the European Union, provided the general framework is kept as it is.  For instance, we have already now, countries that are in the Euro, countries who are not in the Euro, we have the Schengen, where Britain is not a member, and we have, for instance, some opt-out for justice and home affairs, so it is possible if there is wisdom on all sides and if it is a constructive discussion to come to some arrangement, but I repeat, it is not our competence, it is for the member states now to decide.”


What positive language Mr Barosso uses as to how a UK requested EU treaty change might take place:


If there is goodwill…, if there is intelligence.., it is possible.. Integrity of our union, keep the integrity of the single market. So it is extremely important not to put that at risk. “



But then we move to the second half where Mr Marr moves on to the question of Scotland’s referendum and we have quite different language!


Andrew Marr:     An Independent Scotland applying for membership of the EU.  How would that be regarded?  Would that be a welcome thing for the EU?  Would you say, yes, of course, come in?


José Manuel Barroso:     First of all, I don’t want now to go into hypothetical questions, what I can say is the following; we respect the democratic process going on.  It is for the Scottish people and for the British citizens to decide about that, the future of Scotland.  What you said is perfectly right, in case there is a new country, a new state coming out of a current member state, it will have to apply, and – this is very important – the application and the accession to the European Union, will have to be approved by all the other member states of the European Union. 


So far so good! We have exactly the position as for a UK change of treaty!


Andrew Marr:     So countries like Spain who have got their own accessionist issues as well?


José Manuel Barroso:     I think it will be – I don’t want to interfere, I repeat, on your referendum here and your discussion, a democratic discussion here, but of course, it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state.  We have seen, for instance, that Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance, so it is to some extent a similar case, because it is a new country, and so I believe it is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries, getting the agreement of the others.  Having said that, the British people and the Scottish people, of course, in their referendum to decide about their future. 


Andrew Marr:     Would it affect how Scotland was regarded if Scotland said it would want to be a member of, say, the Schengen group or even the Euro?


José Manuel Barroso:     Look, then I cannot go now in detail, you understand, because this is a hypothetical question.  I don’t think I should now interfere.  It is up for the Scottish to decide and the British people also in the British system, but certainly, I think it will raise a lot of difficulties and it will be never easy that process. 


Well this is a bit tricky for Mr Barosso! What is described as flexibility and protecting the integrity of the European Union in a UK context, will raise a lot of difficulties in the Scottish context.  Similarly is there no goodwill for Scotland? Is protecting the integrity of the single market not applicable to Scotland? Is the £10bn of trade that Scotland contributes insignificant? After all it accounts for £10Bn of that £90bn that Mr Barosso says is “so it is extremely important not to put that at risk.”

This is a tale of two halves of an interview, a tale of two countries, a tale of two futures. Dickens has shown us in “A tale of two cities” that it is a matter of perspective. I finish with the perspective and words Eu expert words EU expert Graeme Avery, an honorary director general of the European Commission, who made the comments at the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee:

“In my view 18 months is a realistic figure for the timespan.” Mr Avery added that with “good will” he believed that it would be possible to negotiate Scotland’s EU membership in 18 months.

He said: “It’s pretty obvious if you think about it for a moment that it’s manifestly in the interests of the rest the United Kingdom for Scotland to be a Member of the European Union on the first day of independence.

“It’s obvious that the common sense solution would be for Scotland’s membership of the European Union to be effective on the same day as its independence.”


Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause

Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist

To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.

There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.


SI Jul 2008

What will you do when England says “No”? – James Halliday

Matters political and constitutional are rather more profound.


Older readers may remember Archie Birt of Gourock who enjoyed making trouble for the SNP by repeatedly posting letters to the press demanding to be told “What will you do when England says ‘no’?” Archie’s assumption was that England would say “no” while the SNP asserted that England would not say “no” because “no one can imagine any such refusal to accept the democratic will of the Scottish people”. In any case what is “England” in the context of the Gourock Question? Certainly not the ordinary English people who may not be genetically gentle but who are certainly gentler than many.

But perhaps in Mr Birt’s mind’s eye there was a kind of cavalcade of officials, employees, servants, functionaries of the British state, drawn in large measure from successful social groups upon whom that state had conferred advantage. Such people do not mess about in securing their own status and powers, and, in particular, their power to define the vital national interests which they would then defend to the last ditch. Every state has such vital interests upon which it will admit no compromise, no modification, no concession. What we have to hope for is that England’s vital interests will be defined by sensible, civil people. So before anyone tries to answer Archie’s question we have to speculate on another and ask “Is England likely to say ‘no’?”

The question has just been given new relevance by Mr Frank Field, an English Labour MP and a former Minister of State (for Welfare Reform), who has insisted that Scottish independence must secure referendum backing, not just from Scottish voters but from England’s electorate as well. It is a great surprise, and a great pity, that Mr Field should have been the man to put forward such a demand. He has shown himself so often to be a man of principle and integrity that the thoughtless folly of his demand comes as quite a shock.

He may see the whole question of the Union and Scottish aspirations as if it were a mere matter of business or commerce, something to be settled between Board Rooms where Company Law exists to bring disputants to agreement. If a commercial partnership is to be wound up then indeed there must be participation and consent all round. What surprises is that Mr Field does not seem to appreciate that matters political and constitutional are rather more profound.

Archie Birt’s persevering reminder that the day might come when a very difficult issue would confront Scots was a good stimulus to college debates or pub arguments. Mr Field’s demand on the other hand is fraught with danger. It may indicate that he is just being obtuse and lacking in foresight about the possible consequences of his action. His demand indicates a wish and an intention to thwart, to frustrate and obstruct Scottish aspirations to independence. If his view attracts serious political support it will mean that English decision-makers are entitled to deny Scottish wishes. This is government by coercion.

How would Mr Field suggest that we should respond to that? And how can we assess what is likely to be the conduct of Scots when Archie Birt’s question must at last be answered? What Mr Field suggests is that we will then face the equivalent of conquest, because no matter what we wish an external authority will impose its will upon us.

We can guess at some possibilities thereafter if we look back, for instance, to 1940. Most conquered people resigned themselves to the new regime and lived out their lives as best they could. They had only four or five years to endure, as it turned out, but it could have been more, and past freedoms could have faded into wistful memory. Some collaborated with zeal and enthusiasm, making common cause with the conqueror. Quisling thought he was doing the right thing and so did Laval. They are far from unique. In any such situation the provocation of a people is profoundly undesirable, and we must hope that Mr Field has a better understanding than his demand might suggest.