Transition: Study Brexit to better inform Scottish Independence
Updated: Apr 4
By Gavin Baker
There’s power behind that word. Depending on how you say it can confirm your support, dejection or how often it has mired your newsfeed. We are seeing its immediate effects in companies stalling in a mire of red tape and food piles up in Dover and Calais. Quite rightly people are worried about the future of Scotland, but there is opportunity. Use these next few years to study and predict the possible benefits, hazards and bumps in the road for Scottish Independence based off the Brexit negotiation process and transition.
I want to clarify that this piece is neither a battle cry for or a denouncement of Scottish Independence. The aim of this piece is to briefly examine how MSP’s can examine the current uncertainty of post-Brexit transition to try and map the situations Scotland would face post-Independence.
The first big issue is the neighbours, how would Scotland’s relationship change with the rest of the UK? UK firms told the Scottish Public if they voted “Aye” to independence in 2015 they would leave for England. This was before Brexit however, now their answers may well be different. Firms that have not already made the transition to mainland Europe are now wrangling with the swamp of Brexit bureaucracy. Would those who remained be encouraged by an independent Scotland back in the EU? Would this encourage firms to relocate to Scotland, bringing a much-needed financial boost to large struggling cities like Glasgow? It’s supposition, but it’s also plausible opportunity.
This would of course antagonise England, factoring this into an inevitable divorce bill between the two countries (Hopefully not leading to a repeat of the “rough wooing”) where important factors like food will be on the table. England produces a sizeable chunk of the food Scotland consumes, which could result in the kind of lorry back up on the Anglo/Scots border that we saw at Christmas with the Anglo/French. This should be a key concern of MSP’s in forecasting the future.
Then there is the future relationship with Northern Ireland, now caught in an awkward situation of being in the single market, sort of, and still firmly in the non-EU UK, sort of. An independent Scotland could reach out to N.I for trade and cultural co-operation, cementing ties even with the Republic over the border to assist with this. If N.I were to choose their own path from the UK, there is grounds for the three to unite into a mutually supportive bloc. Now this is wildly optimistic thinking, given N.I’s turbulent history still resonating today and possible blocking moves by Westminster, but Brexit has jarred many people’s viewpoints. N.I voted wholeheartedly to remain and are now leaving against their will, making many re-consider their views on the union.
Secondly, even if Scotland gained independence would the EU want them to join? Could Scotland join another economic trade group like the Nordic circle?
It has been argued that Spain would block Scottish membership so as to deter Catalonian secession. Others point to prominent members of the EU fearing that Scotland would be another flailing economy to support. The same issues would apply for joining the Nordic financial and trade circle, even with Scotland highlighting it’s Norse heritage to reach out to other Scandinavian countries. Scotland would have to have solid options and resources on offer to tempt these groups into allowing membership.
Studying how the UK’s relationships with the rest of Europe in Brexit, MSP’s can again see gaps for trade, services and culture that the UK have relinquished. It would allow them to
predict the sorts of deals they would have to make as well as gauge the appetite of Europe to deal with a separate Scotland. Regardless, Scotland would have to be creative in advertising its strengths to the world. This leads us to what could Scotland offer these two groups? This was a thorny issue previously, but with Brexit it does provide new alternatives.
Scotland could open up its waters to EU fishermen again, a strong bargaining tool considering the storm fishing caused in Brexit negotiations. Education is another, Scottish universities have forged close ties with their European counterparts with Erasmus programs and are still fighting hard to keep them. By strengthening these ties, it helps cement Scotland into the European mindset; the opposite of Westminster’s drive to continually distance itself.
Security is another factor, with daily worries about Russian expansion on the EU’s borders, having a member well placed in the North Sea to link up Norway and Iceland to deter possible aggression would be valuable indeed. This would contravene many MSPs stance on de-militarising, but as Brexit has shown us, ideals sometimes get thrown out the window to get what you want. In this murky time of upheaval and division, with Euro-scepticism alive in every member state, having another friend on the block who shares in the EU vision may just be worth its weight in gold. But hopefully not Scotland being swayed by a parcel of rouges.
Though perhaps a spin off point, we cannot ignore how the Covid-19 pandemic has latterly shaped Brexit. Facing pressure on the economy with staggering debt, it’s clear from what little has been published on the Brexit papers that Brexit has prioritised England first before the other member states (Just look at Scottish fishing) Additionally the lack of unified leadership in Westminster has necessitated the devolved governments charting their own approaches to dealing with the pandemic. This sour feeling across the other devolved nations could lead to working closer together, something MSPs could use to smooth an independence transition.
To conclude, pro-independence MSP’s would do well to use the practical experiences of the Brexit negotiators in formulating a path after independence, to see how the EU reacted to a member leaving, how it would feel on welcoming part of it back and build upon the already strong mutual foundations each shares. With the uncertainty of Brexit transition, it has highlighted gaps, benefits and pitfalls that an independent Scotland could exploit or get trapped in. In short, the more MSPs quietly study the Brexit bill, its effects, transition and aftermath, the more they can gauge whether Independence could make or break Scotland.