More independence than Salmond bargained for?

The odds on the referendum of Autumn 2014 proving to be Salmond’s political death warrant have just tripled

Has Salmond bitten off more than he can chew?
Alexandra Swann
On 7 December 2012 16:02

There is a strange contradiction in Britain when it comes to independence; Cameron will fight tooth and nail against Alex Salmond and wants the issue to be settled for good via a single yes/no question “for the good of Scotland and the good of the United Kingdom”, and yet he utterly refuses to give the British people an in/out referendum on our membership of the European Union that undoubtedly would be for the good of the UK.

The Edinburgh Agreement, confirming a referendum on Scottish independence for Autumn 2014, comes five years after Alex Salmond’s Scottish Nationalist Party won a landslide election.

It seems awfully strange given that a referendum is the party’s raison d'être, the one policy that really separates the SNP from Scottish Labour amongst the socialism and the greenery, that it will have taken seven years from Salmond’s victory for a referendum to be held. Yet the First Minister has been astonishingly reluctant to table legislation for a vote at Holyrood, and perhaps the reasons are starting to see light.

Not so long ago Alex Salmond did what people on the left never, ever do and told a few lies. In fact, in a bid to convince and reassure our slightly more Europhile Northern neighbours, Salmond repeatedly stated that Scotland would be an automatic member of the EU and would therefore inherit all the UK’s opt-outs on immigration, border control, and the Euro. He even claimed that his government had sought legal advice on the matter to give his statements an apparent grounding in fact. This was, of course, a bare faced lie.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government recently assured that “Scotland has been an integral part of the European Union for almost four decades”; it seems the EU think otherwise, for Salmond was wrong on a spectacular scale.

In what may turn out to be the death knell of Scottish nationalism, the European Commission has written to the House of Lords’ economic affairs committee to state in no uncertain terms that if the Scots were to vote for independence then all existing treaties which cover the UK’s membership will “cease to apply”. Scotland would become a “third country”, meaning it would need to apply to join the European Union and already both the Spanish and the Cypriots have made it very clear that they would expect Scotland to “join the queue” and renegotiate their membership under the terms accorded to any new member state.

Scotland would be forced to comply with article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty which means it would be required to “fulfil the usual obligations”, such as joining the Euro, and would have to be “accepted unanimously by the members of the council”.

In the meantime, Scotland would have a great deal to lose as a lone state independent of both Britain and Europe. Unlike the United Kingdom as it stands, there is no trade deficit between Scotland and the EU that would give them a high bargaining power to negotiate a free trade agreement; Scotland would be subject to a common external tariff and until negotiations have been made and appeasement of the 27 members states secured, Scotland would lose the money it receives from the European regional development fund which currently stands at over 480 million euros. No wonder Salmond has tried so hard to keep this quiet.

But this is not all that Scotland would lose if they broke away from the rest of Britain. If they succeed in gaining independence Scotland will lose the additional income it gains from Westminster via the Barnett Formula which currently accords around £1600 more per year to each Scottish citizen than to their English counterparts. The most recent figures report Scotland’s population as 5,254,800 which adds up to a very heavy subsidy that Scotland would lose if they left the United Kingdom.

Perhaps the Scottish people realise the overwhelming likelihood that Scotland will lose its AAA rating and put its economy at a phenomenal degree of risk, not to mention destroy what over three hundred years of history have created, if they vote for independence; indeed, recent opinion polls show just 28 percent of Scots will vote in support of Salmond’s dreams if they are offered a straight choice.

One possible route for Salmond to secure victory might actually be to emphasize the EU question; while England is more Eurosceptic than Scotland, as that YouGov poll shows, 45 percent of Scots would vote to leave the EU compared to the 35 percent who would vote to remain. Indeed this might encourage more Scots to vote for independence as it would simultaneously get them out of Europe but Salmond should be careful what he wishes for as chances are many wouldn’t want back in.

And who could blame Scotland for that? They would regain control of their fishing grounds for the first time in decades and Edinburgh’s banking sector would be independent of EU banking regulations.

Perhaps English Eurosceptics should campaign for independence from Scotland; we might have the good fortune of being kicked out too.

The odds on the referendum of Autumn 2014 proving to be Salmond’s political death warrant have just tripled.

Alexandra Swann works in the European Parliament and tweets @AlexandraLSwann

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