As the SNP meets in Glasgow, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon begins to lay the legislative ground for a new referendum, it’s striking just how much Scottish unionists are being forced to resort to dogma and fallacy; how they’re being forced on to the ground of rubbishing, rather than engaging intelligently with, the challenges raised by the argument for independence in the face of the UK’s inexorable move towards a ‘hard Brexit’.
For example, leading Brexit enthusiasts in the UK government are unhappy that the UK Treasury is insisting on the same advice around the consequences of a hard Brexit as it did before it was on the losing side of the Brexit vote. As we know, that advice is broadly that the UK will suffer economically and that people and businesses will pay much less tax than they would if the UK remained in the EU. The figure quoted by all the papers was that the UK Treasury would take £66B less tax per annum. In addition, another perfectly credible assessment is that the effect of leaving the single market would alone lead to a £27B per annum loss to the UK Treasury, and that this course will also put 5000 UK financial service companies at risk of failure.
Now, these official figures – which would, remember, represent an annual loss – are immense, of course. They dwarf the most exaggerated unionist notions of Scotland’s deficit. For rational soft-unionists interested in their families welfare and future, they are potential game-changers because they shift the balance of risk in favour of remaining in the EU through Scottish independence. The disaster which most experts – and many politicians including the UK prime minister – predicted with Brexit is coming true. The weight of evidence is so strong that it is overwhelming perfectly intelligent leading unionists who, for their own reasons, have chosen dogma over intelligent re-evaluation.
So here’s a friend of mine, Tom Harris. He’s a fan of a hard (he says ‘clean’) Brexit. He’s completely up-front about that. And he’s clever, funny and a super writer. He’s made a genuine ideological choice that an English, right-wing led Brexit is better for Scotland than the dignity of self-determination. Fair enough. And if anyone can rubbish weak arguments, Tom can. That’s a good thing, too, because all the big arguments need to be tested rigorously , right?
So it’s telling, is it not, when even Tom has no idea how to deal with the pain leaving the EU will cause Scotland?
Take a look at this piece, for example. First off, he tries to ignore the horror of the harm done ANNUALLY by Brexit to Scotland and the UK. But then he ‘engages’ deploying what he knows is a fallacy. Scotland, says Tom, exports 4 times as much to England as to the rest of the EU. So the harm done by Brexit is much less than that done by Scottish independence.
But wait! As we know, there is NO question that the UK government believes it can avoid hard borders in respect of the movement of people and trade on the island of Ireland. The technical means are present in the form of joint port security agreements and common travel areas, and the general will is there because no-one wants to harm the people of either those parts of the British Isles which remain inside the EU nor those which don’t.
So the simple reality is that provided the other EU member states agree, the driving imperative for politicians of England/Wales, Ireland and Scotland would be to agree common port-of entry-standards and continue with open borders. Tom knows this but makes no mention of it at all, because it’s inconvenient.
Clearly, the plan I’ve outlined might be opposed by some EU states and it would require unanimity. Maybe that’s the flaw?
But Tom, and the dogmatic unionists, don’t want to go there. Why? Because they know that there’s an intelligent consensus on that in the EU too. No-one wants a return to the old days in Northern Ireland and most EU leaders want to do Scotland a favour because they literally hate the English Brexiteers.
And another thing? Lots of votes in the EU are by qualified majority, but lots are also unanimous. Unanimity is arrived at by a number of means, not least that when countries seek to exploit unfairly the need for unanimity then they pay a heavy price is what otherwise appear unrelated areas. You want to oppose an intelligent human rights measure? Fair enough, that’s your right as a sovereign state, but do expect the next EU Commissioner from your state to be in charge of public toilets.
The coming months will see many more examples emerge of the serious harm Brexit will do to Scotland. There’s plenty of room for intelligent argument, sure. Yet the risk calculus for regular, intelligent, soft-unionists will change with each headline. There isn’t much the dogmatic unionists can do about it except resort to Daily Telegraph nonsense.
Whether you’re SNP or not, if you want an intelligent, progressive, independent Scotland, each outbreak of unionist dogma is to be welcomed. They’re getting desperate. The outlook for independence is better with each passing day.