I have done a lot of reaching out to Leave voters since the EU Referendum. Remember, Remain won, in every region of Scotland, but it was not unanimous and I have written extensively in this column about how and why. In my view, most folk who voted Leave did so on specific promises, be it public procurement, more powers for Holyrood, fishing, £350m a week for the NHS, or the prospect of giving the establishment a skelp.
First published in The National, 21 March 2018.
Well the promises are unravelling before your eyes. There will be no new powers for Holyrood, quite the reverse. There will be no bonanza for the fisheries catching sector (which is of course just part of our complex and crucial fishing industry along with fish farming and processing).
But one issue remains, especially for a lot of independence supporters. The simple fact that we want as much democracy as close to us as possible. Independence, nothing less. Why, they ask, swap London for Brussels?
I’m very happy to nail that argument. It is safe to say that sovereignty is close to an SNP member’s heart. We’ve thought about it quite a lot. The UK and EU are not like for like, even with our devolved Parliament in Edinburgh, we are a small minority within the UK, and as we’re seeing with the wholesale assault on that Parliament’s responsibilities, power devolved is power retained. I want to see Scotland independent not to be separate or apart, but to join the world speaking with our own voice, to work with other independent countries towards common endeavours.
The people of Scotland are sovereign. End of. But we’re also no longer in the 9th century. In the modern world nations recognise that no man, nor woman, nor nation, is an island. In our daily lives we voluntarily accept limitations on our freedom towards the common good. A red light at a traffic crossing infringes my personal liberty, but a society with rules we all stick to gives us all better outcomes, compared to the alternative.
The same works for countries. The EU is a project. A war avoidance project, and a very successful one (at a time when global tensions are rising, lets remember). A project which lets the people of Europe get to know each other by living working, studying, travelling across each other’s borders with a minimum of fuss. It is also a market, and all markets need rules so that commerce happens fairly and consumers are protected. We now agree weights and measures in concert with 500 million other people. Every single EU rule has been democratically agreed by 28 democratically elected governments, and the democratically elected MEPs on behalf of their citizens. Scotland is democratically represented at every part of the process.
Look at Ireland, right now. For much of its independent history it would be difficult to say Ireland was much of a success, but joining the EU gave it a wider platform on which to shine and a solidarity to fall back upon. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s continuing boom coincided with EU membership. It is not for nothing now that Dublin has the upper hand in dealings with London, the other 26 EU states have their back, because solidarity matters. Independence in Europe in action right there.
Yes, these rules limit our sovereignty. Voluntarily, for so long as we allow. We made them, agreed to them and yes, we all benefit from them, many times over. We can also get the sovereignty back any time we want so long as we are willing to suffer the consequences on our own sovereign heads.
And let's think of the consequences of other options, many of which are being touted as if they were somehow solutions. With Norway and Iceland near neighbours we know there are plenty other ways of interacting with the EU. They’re poor options for Scotland. Either would leave us obliged to implement all the rules, paying through the nose to do so, but giving up our say in their formulation.
Sovereignty is absolute, but if we want what’s best it can be shared too. In the EU we do, and benefit massively from that sharing. As an independent Scotland, we’ll have our seat at the top table alongside Germany, France, and indeed Malta, and all the rest. We’ll not be a small country, we’ll be part of the flotilla, able to make common cause on our priorities with like-minded states. It is not that there aren’t other options, of course there are, its that independence in Europe is by a country mile, or indeed kilometre, Scotland’s best future.