Three weeks on and the reverberations of June 23rd continue to cloud any clarity of the political future for Britain. The now headless Brexiter movement has slid from media view and left a new government under Theresa May to sort out the mess they caused. It is still not clear how or when EU discussions to leave under their Article 50 will take place.
One thing that seems perfectly clear: a whole range of Westminster politicians from May on down believe:
- A democratic decision has been made and cannot be reversed
- This decision applies to all parts of Britain
- There is no way that any part/nation of the UK can remain in the EU
On the July 17th Marr Show, Labour (at the time) leader hopeful Angela Eagle showed typical bias: London and Liverpool voted to stay, as Scotland did, she said, but this decision was made by the entire UK as a unity. In this, she echoes hard-line Brexiters like Reese-Mogg and Redwood, as well as UKIP. There appears to be a cross-party front that there is no room to maneuver.
While perfectly democratic for an English majority to want a simple, fast and painless dissolution of their ties to Europe, that does not entitle them to ignore the desire of other countries of the United Kingdom to seek a deal best suited to them. Unfortunately, so far, the London establishment, backed up by a loyal media, claims a clean, fast, total exit is best for all. This is simplistic: we are no longer a unitary state, no matter how much easier that might make things.
Consider relevant local arrangements made by the UK in the past. They have sat comfortably as status quo for some time (some are even seen as giving advantages to both parties):
- The Duchy of Normandy once included vast territories of the Angevin Empire. But after the loss of Calais in Elizabethan times, it was reduced to the Channel Islands. These British Crown Dependencies are NOT part of the United Kingdom, but no passport controls are in operation between the UK and the Channel Islands (i.e.free movement). They exercise their own laws (especially on tax), which is generally regarded as beneficial to both sides.
- The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, but is a possession of the British Crown and its inhabitants are British citizens. The island came under the feudal lordship of the English Crown in 1399 and revested into the British Crown in 1765, but the island never became part of the United Kingdom. It similarly remains an internally self-governing Crown dependency and no passport controls operate (again, free movement).
- The Republic of Ireland was granted full independence in 1922 and joined the EU in 1973 (same time as Britain). But there are no border signposts notifying travelers they are entering a different jurisdiction. Both states are outside the European Union’s Schengen Area but share a Common Travel Area, resulting in an essentially open border (again, free movement).
So what does all this mean for Brexit? For a start, some latitude for adjustment for Northern Ireland and Scotland’s clear desire to continue to have access to the EU’s single market even if they remain part of the United Kingdom. A complete UK Brexit would have to deal with a 300-mile long EU border with Eire within the Common Travel Area. Any clamp down on that border would be hugely expensive, as well as damaging to the Irish economy on both sides of the border.
But a more sensible arrangement could be achieved by the following:
- Both Northern Ireland and Scotland remain in the EU
- The EU border with rUK becomes the 100-mile long Scottish border. It should be as open as the present Irish but a lot easier to monitor, if ever required
- All Irish, Scottish and other British citizens (including Crown Dependencies like Man) accorded equivalent reciprocal rights and entitlements within a Common Travel Area, much as already exists.
- As with the Channel Islands and Man, defence and foreign relations could be administered by rUK while further devolution leads to a comparable degree of autonomy.
- An EU “Celtic Bloc” of three countries with 11.8m people (twice the size of the Baltic States combined) would provide a trading critical mass for negotiations with rUK and possible new members of the Nordic Council as horizons broadened.
Though further steps would require considerable research into operational detail and diplomatic negotiation how this might work, the devolution of powers to Scotland could make even this semi-independence do Scotland favours, such as:
- Development of Scotland’s already strong finance sector to persuade London’s financial services players to invest there, rather than move to secondary finance centres like Paris or Frankfurt just to stay within the EU.
- Adoption of a currency independent of the £UK, adopting the Swiss and Singaporean regional finance centre growth, combined with a pitch for the Jersey/Man/Cayman/etc offshore investment business practiced similarly under the protection of the British Crown.
- Development of specialist manufacture within the EU. Oil services and related engineering (e.g. high pressure pumps) are already established, to which renewables equipment (especially wave and tidal) and further high quality food and drink would add export income, especially as the new currency became more competitive against the £UKL.
- Cruise ships are already opening up links between the putative Celtic Bloc and Scandinavia. A common tourism strategy to capitalise on our unique landscapes and wildlife could distinguish this Celtic Bloc from city-based tourism of London and the Continent, making Dublin/Edinburgh a primary Transatlantic and Asian tourist destination, not a side-trip from London.
It is not clear that Brexit has not already damaged the UK economy and placed England in a awkward fiscal dilemma where the freedom of release from EU compliance and funding is largely squandered in protectionist world. Scotland is no more immune than our English cousins to this chill wind of reality.
The reason all this might be feasible is that Theresa May and her English support will need to negotiate a deal with the EU. But, unlike the English, the Scots appear to have gained considerable popularity among our continental cousins by voting to stay part of the family. If Ms Sturgeon plays her cards right (and her handling of tough questions around this matter on today’s Marr Show suggests that she will), then there is every chance that Scotland can negotiate something along the above lines and even become a trusted interlocutor in Article 50 discussions.
Using precedences already set with corners of the British Isles (outlined above), pushing hard to negotiate a half-way house position for Scotland that would also ease Northern Ireland’s dilemma and calm Irish concerns about a more rigid border, Scotland could benefit from this and actually prosper.
If we Scots just sit on our hands and let serially xenophobic Tories further cow us with immigration scare stories thsat make little sense to us, then we will share in their accelerated fiscal decline and get short budget shrift out of London for doing so. But if we play the go-between, become the understanding broker who can speak to both sides, not only will Scotland get a boost in international trade and profile but our dynamic economy on the EU/rUK boundary will even help revive England’s fortunes for the tough times that now lie ahead for them.