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Best way to keep the UK together is to stay in the EU

by Nick Kent | 08.11.2019

Brexit makes the break-up of the UK more likely. But even if Scotland does choose independence, it would be less painful if we all stay in the EU.

Today the Scottish National Party launched its election campaign. Despite its then leader, Alex Salmond, declaring during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum that it was a “once in a generation” vote, the SNP now wants another vote next year. 

Labour and the Tories have taken different positions on whether they would permit “indyref2”.  Labour say they would allow such a vote but later in the next parliament, whereas the Conservatives (and the Lib Dems) say they would not allow one at all. If there is a hung parliament, the SNP have said a commitment to an independence vote will be its price to support a Labour-led government.

Membership of the EU was repeatedly cited in 2014 as one of Scotland’s benefits from being in the UK. It was suggested, including by the then Spanish government, that it would be hard for an independent Scotland to join the EU. But the 2016 Brexit vote swept away that argument. 

No Brexiter can claim that the break-up of the UK was part of the 2016 vote. It is only since then that we have discovered the full impact on Northern Ireland and the implications for Scotland’s position in the Union. The price of Brexit is not just a smaller economy and the loss of influence in the world; it threatens the very existence of our country.

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Scottish nationalists argue that the 2016 result changed everything because Scotland voted to stay in the EU while England and Wales voted to leave. Scotland, they say, should be allowed to stay in the EU and that means it should have another independence vote.

Rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall?

The trouble for nationalists is that a vote for Scottish independence is most likely after the kind of hard Brexit Boris Johnson wants. This means that the agonised debates about the Northern Irish border of the last two years would switch to the English-Scottish border. With Scotland in the EU and England outside, that would mean a hard border at Berwick. Time to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall?

Such a situation would be a nightmare economically and politically. 60% of Scotland’s exports go to the rest of the UK and only 22% to other EU countries. So Scottish businesses could face tariffs on exports to the UK plus all the other costs of customs and regulatory controls.

The human cost would be even worse. Families would be divided by a border, which would also separate people from their places of work, study and healthcare.

Disentangling the UK from the EU is a 10-year project. After the last three and a half years, no one can argue that breaking up the UK would be a simple task taking a mere 18 months, as the SNP claimed in 2014. Just think about the arguments over money. For example, who should pick up the tab for the £46 billion bailout of the Royal Bank of Scotland – Scotland where it is based or the UK because the Bank of England stepped in to save it?

The best outcome would be for the UK to stay in the EU. Independence would then be less likely as the SNP’s Brexit argument would fall away.

But even if Scotland voted to separate from the UK, it would be better if both countries stayed in the EU. Trade would be as easy as it is now and free movement of people would prevent bitter divisions. That’s why supporters of the Union should back candidates in this election who support a People’s Vote.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: Categories: Sovereignty, UK Politics

2 Responses to “Best way to keep the UK together is to stay in the EU”

  • Well, the realization that if Scotland leaves the UK and goes back to the EU a border of the deep old-fashioned kind is necessary between England and Scotland finally appears to break through in the English consciousness. Never in a million years could I imagine that the borders on the Continent would disappear due to the Schengen Agreement, only to be re-introduced between England and Scotland. And given the hopeless muddle that blundering Boris has got himself in re the border between the Republic and the six UK counties; I don’t think that the hard Irish border will materialize. At best the majority of Catholics will vote those counties to re-attach themselves to the Republic, at worst they become a separate Irish nation, capital Belfast, and like the Republic and Scotland EU members. Any border issue elegantly resolved through that EU membership. Perhaps Wales could do something similar, notably to keep Airbus building wings there. And the English rediscover the joys of crossing borders with the good old-fashioned passport checks and the odd look in the boot to see whether contraband is entering the EU. What joy!