Month: December 2016

Scotland’s Place in Europe: Time for britnats to put up or shut up?

A response to Ian Duncan MEPs analysis of the Scottish Government’s brexit plan. ( to be found here:

My responses to his text are in bold italics; nice try Ian, but definitely no cigar!


“The best deal for Scotland is the best deal for the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish Government sets out the challenges facing Scotland in pursuing a separate deal with the EU without offering workable solutions.”

No, the best deal for Scotland may be one which is distinctly different from that desired by the UK government, or more to the point from the eventual outcome the UK is prepared to accept following negotiations with the EU27. British nationalist commentators make much of the fact that it is the UK government who will be negotiating with the EU, and not the Scottish government. However, if Westminster is prepared to simply ignore or dismiss out of hand the legitimate concerns of the Scottish government, and the 62% of Scots who voted Remain, the damage to the union is likely to be terminal.

It is simply not good enough for those unionists who were formerly strongly pro-EU, to perform the ideological equivalent of turning on a sixpence and blithely assert that what is best for the UK is best for Scotland. Doing so exhibits not just an advanced state of intellectual laziness, it betrays a breath-taking lack of awareness of what has been happening in Scotland over recent years. There may have been a time where a “one size fits all” approach was sufficient; this is NOT that time.

“Trade Deals (Para 25)

With Scotland in the Customs Union/European Economic Area and the rest of the UK outwith, there would inevitably be a growth in non-tariff barriers as the regulatory regimes north and south of the border evolve and diverge. South of the border, the rest of the UK would be free to determine the rules that best serve its needs whilst north of the border Scotland would be bound in to existing rules without any means to influence their development.

The UK would be free to secure free trade agreements (FTAs) with nations outside the EU. Scotland would be bound by its membership of the EU/EEA, with any trade deals necessarily negotiated by the European Commission (as the only body competent to negotiate such deals), again without the involvement of Scotland in any of the fashion.

Eventually as the regulatory regimes diverge north and south of the border, checks would be necessary where the rest of the UK and the EU meet, i.e. the Scottish border.”

We do not yet know what the outcome of the UK/EU27 brexit negotiations will be. Largely this is because Westminster (unlike Holyrood) refuses to give us any information. In addition however, the Tory government is hopelessly divided within itself about what the vacuous “brexit means brexit” sound bite actually means, still less the “red white and blue brexit” they assure us will be achieved. We are perforce to take it on trust that “Dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles, tout est au mieux.” As an exercise in cake-having-and-eating this is truly breathtaking.

Even if the eventual outcome of the negotiations is that the UK decides to be outside the Custom’s Union/EEA, the UK government is on notice that it cannot assume passive compliance from the Scottish government, or those in Scotland who are determined to secure their place preferably within the EU, but as a minimum within the EEA.

The difficulties you propose are by no means insurmountable. It would make little sense for the UK to negatively impact its huge trade with the EU by having radically different regulatory regimes; it’s a straw man aimed at de-railing any compromise solution which accommodates a sensible (and eminently achievable) goal.


“Border issues (Para 119)

Under the Scottish Government’s plans, the EU would have no way of checking that the rest of the UK was not trading with the single market via the back door’ – e.g. via Scotland as a Single Market member. This is particularly challenging where component parts of a product have been sourced across the UK. Asking the EU to accept an open unchecked land border with a nation which has just exited the EU is a remarkable ask.”

Again, you construct a straw-man based on an outcome you don’t know will happen yet. Even if as you propose (or perhaps hope…?) rUK is outside the single market, and the parties negotiate a solution allowing Scotland to remain within it, are you honestly trying to argue that it is outwith the ken of man to work out a solution to this?

The most glaring flaw in your argument of course is the situation with regard to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If an open border is achievable there, then it must be possible between Scotland and rUK; if not the impact on UK-Irish relations and the Good Friday Agreement may be serious. As Lesley Riddoch argued recently in her article “Let’s Pick from a Smorgasbord of Nordic Delights”,


the shift in attitudes to Scottish independence in many European capitals owes much to their concerns about brexit and their exasperation at the way the UK government has handled the situation.


“Faroe Islands (Para 136)

Only a state may seek membership of the EEA. Whilst the issue of the Faroe seeking membership is interesting, it is important to note that the Faroe Islands are part of the Danish Realm, and Denmark is a full member of the European Union and the Single Market. There is no precedent for a state outwith the EEA, in the case the United Kingdom, to ‘sponsor’ associate membership on behalf of a part of its territory.

It is also worth noting that with a population of less than 50,000, no land border with any other state, and a relatively simple economy, The Faroe Islands are quite different from Scotland.”

The EU is nothing if not pragmatic. Prior to brexit, Greenland is the only “state”, to have left the EU. The fact that there is no precedent for something happening does not render it impossible, it simply means the parties involved need to negotiate in good faith to produce “new” outcomes. Few ever envisaged that one of the 28 would actually leave the EU, which may explain why the exit criteria are so badly drafted and lacking in detail.

The fact that Scotland is relatively much bigger than say the Faroe Islands, or other areas which have different status from their “parent” entity (there are after all many such Overseas Countries and Territories around the world) is really neither here nor there; the fact is there is a precedent for differential statuses being accommodated, and perhaps more importantly for our case, the EU has no interest in trying to make life difficult either for an independent or federal Scotland to forge a positive relationship with the EU, whether as a full member or not. There is no upside for them making such an outcome difficult, and given the UK’s lack of friends and influence in the EU, they are hardly likely to pander to any UK desire to spike a reasonable deal.

“Migration (Para 163)

The operation of differentiated migration systems for sovereign states – the examples of Canada and Australia are cited – are means by which individual provinces can attract migrants. They do so under a cap established at state (or federal) level. It is unclear how an open border system in Scotland (to allow for the EU’s freedom of movement of workers) could be accommodated under such a system, since by its nature it must operate without any such cap. It would also by necessity mean that EU migrants entering Scotland would not enjoy freedom of movement within the UK. How this could be enforced is not explored.”

All that is required is for Scots immigration policy to be fully devolved. Those EU migrants settling in Scotland would, as the SG stated, not be entitled to live and work in the rest of the UK. Developing a system to enact such a policy isn’t rocket science. Scotland would be free to continue with the free movement of labour, whilst the rest of the UK controls immigration according to its own priorities. Requiring proof of residence, passports, NI numbers, job offers etc. are hardly difficult measures to institute.

It’s difficult to see what your real issue with this is, other than an inbuilt desire to impose a solution on Scots they have decisively rejected. You make much of your desire to come up with a joint position, but in effect your “joint” position really just means the “UK government” position. You aren’t actually prepared to do the hard work and negotiate a mutually agreed position whereby the Scottish Government and people are given the kind of extensive devolved responsibility which could make a differential status work. Rather, you prefer to throw your hands in the air and declare from the outset that it is all too difficult, and actually Westminster knows best.