This suggests that the ‘hows’ are all sorted so we’re free to move on to the fantasy fun bit.
The reality is that virtually none of the ‘hows’ of independence have been resolved at all – and, as they say, the devil is always is in the detail.
The overt need to move the debate away from the ‘hows’ and head for the soft centre of the ‘whys’ is an admission of defeat on the ‘hows’.
Above all things it is the ‘hows’ that really matter. They are the deal maker or the deal breaker.
No one knows:
- how the currency of an independent Scotland would be resolved…
- how we would secure a lender of last resort to back up our economy…
- how we would establish our own national bank – the UK taxpayer owns RBS and HBOS..
- how our defence would work…
- how we would relate to the UK defence establishment…
- how our borders would be managed and policed – and never mind immigration, what about smuggling…
- how or if our borders would be protected against, for example, foot and mouth disease [the last major outbreak in Scotland was imported from Longtown in Cumbria] and rabies…
- how we would travel abroad under what passport, replaced when…
- how we would be licensed to drive and to drive abroad…
- how our postal system would work, nationally and internationally…
- how the many UK-wide administrative systems would be unknitted, separated, with data transferred to newly commissioned systems – all in two years after a hypothetical ‘Yes’ vote in October 2014 – and what all of this would cost us. The UK would have no obligation to contribute to such costs, hypothetical independence being our choice, not theirs…
- how our food and drug administration system, with testing and approvals, would work…
- how all of the cross border, inter-state systems would affect the ease of physical communication between families dispersed across the UK…
The list goes on – and on.
The more of these ‘hows’ whose resolution would require facilitation from the UK – which is what it would remain – the more hollow the concept of ‘independence’ is seen to be.
Some of the ‘hows’ above have already been suggested as likely to operate through just such a facilitation – like the use of the pound sterling, the Bank of England as lender of last resort, the use of British passports and driving licences. And today, the SNP’s defence spokesperson at Westminster, Angus Robertson MP, has suggested a common airforce. Haven’t we already got one of those?
In the light of the Bank of England’s claim that no discussions had been entered into on the issues of the use of the pound and of the services of the Bank, we cannot know whether there is any substance to the possibility of British passports and driving licences. No one knows whether there has been any formal discussion on these issues either.
The ‘hows’ are the tripping points of the independence proposition.
The ‘whys’ are easy, if you don’t bother about the ‘hows’ until you’re committed. And then you’re in trouble.
If the ‘Yes’ movement got stuck in to producing credible resolutions of the ‘hows’, they would remove a lot of opposition and reservation, leaving the ‘whys’ for the home run.
As it is, they leave themselves open to unanswerable accusations of expecting people to vote away the security of the known for a mystery parcel which may contain nothing but unsupported IOUs.
The ‘how’ of EU membership
A very big ‘how’ of putative Scottish independence relates to the EU.
We are openly of the view that the EU, with the eurozone, has run its course in history and that the wise and energetic action is, instead of wasting time and money in propping it up, to accept this fact and move on.
We have also said all along that, should an independent Scotland wish to be a member of the EU, there is no doubt that this would be facilitated – but that it could not be continuous.
Moreover, we are firmly of the view that a truly independent Scotland would not wish to swop one master for an even more distant one but would relish the freedom to manage its own affairs and to pick and choose its markets and affiliations according to the shape and opportunity of the moment.
However, the Scottish government lacks the stomach for that sort of independence and is anxious to tuck itself under the skirts of Europe, at any cost, at the earliest opportunity.
In practice, what would this involve?
First of all, whatever the Scottish Government’s protests to the contrary, it is inconceivable that any new EU member would be allowed not to be a member of the eurozone.
The only way the eurozone can survive is, first, through fiscal union, with Brussels in the driving seat on monetary policy; and then through political union.
Fiscal union is, of course, the real deal in political union, so as soon as you accept fiscal authority from Brussels, the full deal, as salesmen say is effectively ‘closed’.
Where is the logic in moving away from a United Kingdom, with a shared currency and monetary policy – from a union that is itself independent and familiar – and plunging into a much bigger union, where the authority that matters is extra-territorial, much further away and Scotland is one of a plethora of members, rather than the second most significant in a union of four?
However, that is the Scottish Government’s intent so let’s look at the immediate consequences.
The limbo period
It is more or less accepted now that there would be no automatic and seamless continuation of membership; and that an independent Scotland would need to negotiate on this.
It could not formally begin such negotiation until it had the legal and constitutional status to do so. This would all add up to a period of some indeterminate length outside the EU.
What would happen during that period as a non-member, to give a few indicative examples:
- with EU legislation which, through UK membership, has applied in Scotland – and might again, but not continuously?
- with the sovereignty of fishing grounds and the status of EU fishing quotas?
- with entitlements to the Single Farm Payments?
As a country not, for the time being, an EU member and with no date on when it might assume that role, what would Scotland do?
The most likely course of action would be to behave like a trusty, hoping to smooth the path to membership: to continue voluntarily to apply existing European legislation; and to operate the fishing industry as if it was still governed by the Common Fisheries Policy – but without being a party to the passage of legislation or to annual negotiations on the fisheries policy.
On the new legislation issue, there would be no constitutional or legal basis for Scotland to introduce simultaneously into Scotland any EU laws enacted in this period. This means that, for however long membership negotiations took, Scotland would be banking a welter of laws that would be introduced all-at-once upon being granted membership.
Imagine the chaos in the courts. Imagine the parasitical legal practices that would spring up on the back of a situation of this order of complexity.
And how would the fishing industry like the notion of the country accepting rules and practices it was no longer legally obliged to adopt?
Would members of the Scottish fleets accept European trawlers, including the latest Dutch mega-hoovers, fishing their stocks when they had no legal right to do so?
Would the fleets of EU member states, finding Scottish trawlers in their waters when they had no legal right to be there, accept them peaceably?
What would happen to Scottish farms in mid grant period of EU Single Farm Payments? Could the EU legally continue to pay them? Would it not be wary of the impact of precedent were it to try to find a way of doing so?
Some small farms, having to do without such substantial grants for an indeterminate time, would be likely to fail, with more exits from the industry and no new entrants likely to take their place in such circumstances.
This is a minefield.
And what would happen to Scotland’s MEPs during the limbo period of non-membership compliance?
Were they to be given some sort of paid attendance with speaking but non-voting rights, what would Spain have to say about that precedent, looking over its shoulders at the Catalans and the Basques?
And then of course there is the other big EU related ‘how’ – the ‘what if’ ‘how’, so to speak.
The UK will, they say, have an ‘in or out’ referendum on EU membership on new conditions at the end of 2017.
By then, if Scotland were to have voted ‘Yes’ to independence in October 2014, we would, by the First Minister’s timetable, be independent – and would not be entitled to participate in that vote.
But Mr Salmond has made it known that Scots will not be given such a referendum on whether or not Scotland should be an EU member. We can vote on whether we want to be within the UK but not on whether we want to be within the EU. This never was about logic and the principles of democracy.
But here’s a scenario: the UK votes to exit the EU and Scotland negotiates independent EU membership. [Indeed, in the context of a UK exit, Scotland's membership might even be fast-tracked. The EU would need our financial contributions.]
Our borders, our currency and our markets would remain complex – only different. The UK is Scotland’s largest market by far – at £45.5 billion it is over four times more than we sell into the EU. But in this scenario that UK market would be outside the single market which is the EU’s one attraction – although less of an enabler than is thought – and which can be delivered by alternative and less expensive and restrictive alliances such as the World Trade Organisation and EFTA.
Interesting times – and the devil is indeed in the detail, in the ‘hows’ and not the ‘whys’.