On the 16th of February, José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.
This is no surprise to anyone apart from diehard independence-seekers, like Alex Salmond and the SNP. Salmond, in particular, has gone on the attack after Barroso’s statements, claiming that Scotland could keep the pound and join the European Community. But, in doing so, he betrays the same lack of awareness of international realities as shown by many other independence-seekers throughout history.
The European Union (and the currency union) is fundamentally a political project. If anyone was in any doubt about it, they would be well-advised to consider the circumstances in which Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland were allowed to join the EU, adopt the Euro and then cause major financial problems that – because of the shared currency – were far from localised. Greece, in particular, should not have been allowed to join; indeed, the financial and political data from Greece and the other countries were carefully massaged to suggest that they were cleaning up their act. The financial problems that have bedevilled the EU since 2008 are proof that they failed to clear up their act.
And so, regardless of Scotland’s ‘right’ to be an EU member (and that is arguable), the decision about Scottish membership will be a political one. Why should the EU accept Scotland as a newcomer to the club?
I can give several reasons against it, if you like. Britain is hardly the only EU country with a significant nationalist movement seeking independence. Spain, for example, is facing comparable problems in the Basque region. Why exactly should Spain support Scotland’s passage into the EU when it will harm Spanish national interests? Instead, I would expect the Spanish to demand a high price from Scotland, purely to make it clear to their own separatists that independence would come with a very steep price.
Or, if you think that the EU wouldn’t be so spiteful, consider this. The EU took in members who literally could not uphold their commitments. Does anyone think that the EU would care to repeat the experience? I would expect the EU to be very careful about accepting new members in future, probably forcing Scotland and any other potential candidates to open the books and allow the EU to conduct a full investigation of Scottish financial affairs, just to make sure Scotland isn’t lying to them. I confess, given how poorly the Scottish Parliament has handled money matters in the years since it’s inauguration, I rather doubt it will pass with flying colours.
In short, we could expect to pay a heavy price for joining the EU. Our independence would be badly compromised. Would we really be independent at all? At worst, we would be trading dominion by London (never mind the fact that two Prime Ministers in recent years have been Scottish) for dominion by Brussels. And, of the two of them, I prefer London.
But there are other problems. Would we keep the pound? George Osborne says no – and Salmond seems to have no alternative in mind. Assuming we did keep the pound, we would be at the mercy of the English treasury, just as Greece was at the mercy of the EU after the financial crisis began.
Salmond’s attitude seems to be that everything will change, but nothing will change.
This is delusional. Scotland and England have been linked closely ever since King James VI and I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, uniting the crowns of the two nations. Politically, Scotland and England have been united since the Act of Union in 1707. Scotland and England have been linked so closely together that families such as my own include members from both Scotland and England (as well as Malaysia and Ireland). We have hundreds of thousands of ties from banking to the military and educational establishments.
Separating the two nations once again would be a divorce on an unprecedented scale, far outmatching the separation between India and Pakistan. It would be hideously costly – if nothing else, we probably couldn’t afford it. We would be paying the bills for Salmond’s desire to become President of an independent Scotland for years to come.
And do we really want to be independent?
Let’s be honest here. There are nationalities in this world that probably should be independent, because they are often abused quite badly by the nations playing host to them. The Kurds, the Sikhs, the Tibetans … but Scotland? Is our nation really an occupied state?
I don’t think so.
So let me pose this question again. Do we really want to separate ourselves from the United Kingdom?
In my view, the answer is no.