The SNP’s truth-avoidance on the EU insults our intelligence: a better path for pro-EU Scots is to work now to strengthen our ties with the continent
I have a lot of empathy for those who see independence as a route back to the European Union.
In an era where your politics is intrinsically linked to your identity, being part of the EU is much more than seamless trade and a stronger economy. It is about who you are and how you see the world. It is about being part of something bigger, forging connections with different cultures and expanding the horizons of opportunity.
So I understand the temptation to see independence as a shortcut back to the warm embrace of the EU. However, to be polite, the SNP are not being honest about the challenges an independent Scotland would face. They give the impression that with one simple cross in a box all will be restored with Ode To Joy blaring triumphantly in the background.
This week, the information commissioner ruled against the Scottish government, forcing them to release any analysis of how an independent Scotland would join the EU. Despite their confident words, it seems the SNP would rather not share their homework – if it even exists.
Why? Because any rational, real word assessment would contradict the vibes that the SNP have enthusiastically promoted; that it will be plain sailing, with Scotland even able to secure an opt out of the Euro. The waters of geopolitics tend to be a wee bit choppier than this fairytale. Look at the recent examples of Ukraine seeking EU membership and Sweden’s efforts to gain entry to NATO. If anyone thinks the EU is keen to open another border with a non member state (the rUK) and relive the last few torturous years then they must be smoking something the SNP want to decriminalise.
In a time of safe spaces and echo chambers it is always important to challenge ourselves. As pro-Europeans we are very good at calling out Brexit myths. However it feels like SNP claims on Europe are not held to the same scrutiny. Probably because we like what we hear. Yet simple answers are simple for a reason, whether spoken with a Scottish or English accent.
Last year Our Scottish Future held an event with Willie Rennie MSP and David Martin, former MEP, to discuss our relationship with Europe. It was a cathartic evening, but out of that catharsis a strategy emerged; uniting pro-European Scots around a plan to seek closer ties with the continent. It would in effect be aping the SNPs gradualist approach to independence.
I’ll admit it’s not sexy or flashy, but it is pragmatic and achievable, and in policy I’ll take the latter any day. It also has the benefit of being able to win the support of non hardcore Brexiteers who would like to see common sense solutions rather than sweeping ideological gestures.
We can start today. Wales has already established an alternative to Erasmus. Scotland could too, allowing students to experience the different cultures Europe has to offer. At the time of writing there is also hope among British scientists that the UK will rejoin the EU’s Horizon science scheme. Gordon Brown’s commission on the future of the UK, “A New Britain” would also give the Scottish parliament powers to join international agreements, enabling Scotland to have a unique relationship with the EU from within the UK if we so desired.
It is disappointing that the SNP, who have over the years banked enormous goodwill and political capital from progressive pro-EU voters, have relegated Europe to another battle in their larger war for independence. It is an issue that deserves much more than that. More deep thought, more serious policy and more cooperation across party lines. But of course the SNP’s attitude to Europe has always been one of political expediency. By voting Yes in the 2014 independence referendum I have to accept the fact I voted to leave the EU. Even though I arrogantly assumed an independent Scotland would be welcomed back to the club the next day, that’s the black and white on what my vote would have delivered. That’s what independence means: being independent in a modern world that requires interdependence. Sure, eventually Scotland would probably gain entry into the EU – though whether that would even be in our best interests with the rest of the UK still out is another matter entirely. But when? Five years, ten years? What would be the entry cost? It seems the SNP would rather we didn’t know the answers to these basic questions.
Rather than waiting around for the SNP, there is plenty we can be getting on with to build that stronger, closer relationship with Europe.