“Remember, the EU isn’t as keen on “Special Deals” as it once was”, The Common Green, 11th February, 2017.
I’m always more than happy to be proven wrong especially when it’s in a pleasantly surprising manner.
This week saw the news story in The National that, contrary to my impressions up till now, that a report had been written by the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs recommending that the EU should indeed be considering some kind of “Special Deal” for Scotland which would allow it stay within the Single Market even if we remain within the UK after Brexit.
The report states that EU institutions “should be prepared” to deal with Scotland and that
“There are discussions in those territories [Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gilbraltar] regarding the possibility of obtaining differentiated status as compared to the rest of the UK in the withdrawal process.
“This would point to a possible differentiated territorial application of EU law. Moreover, there is a call from some sectors of those territories to listen to and accommodate the will of the majority of citizens of those territories to remain in the EU.”
Further, the onus and responsibility for initiating discussions on such a deal were placed firmly on the shoulders of PM May when the report states that: “Should such issues be raised during negotiations [by the UK Government], the [EU] institutions should be prepared for dealing with them from an EU law point of view.”
So it’s your move Westminster. You’ve stated repeatedly that you wanted to keep the devolved nations involved. You’ve even said that you wanted to reach the “best deal for the whole of the UK” but no-where have you stated that the best deal for the whole of the UK would necessarily be a monolithic deal covering the whole of the UK.
The Scottish Government has already published its own fairly commendable efforts to outline what a Scotland within both the UK and the Single Market would look like (click the image below or here for the report).
It is almost certainly the case that Westminster put about as much thought into the response to that report as they did the rest of their near-content free “White Paper” which they refused to publish until the day after they had MPs vote to trigger Article 50 and initiate the “plan” it was supposed to contain. Below, is the entirety of the response to the Scottish Government’s proposals printed in full.
The UK obviously must do better than this. It must start either representing Scotland and the wishes of the Scottish people or it must allow us to represent ourselves. It cannot hide behind the smug platitudes of those Tories who actively campaigned for Remain and the Single Market but have since had miraculous, almost Damascene conversions. They cannot even represent themselves, never mind our country.
I’m not going to pretend that a differentiated deal would be easy to implement. In fact, it would perhaps be more complicated to work out either than Scotland simply becoming independent and staying within the EU or Westminster stamping its great foot over our wishes and pushing a monolithic deal upon us. But it is Westminster’s duty to respect the “will of the people” and to find the “best deal for the whole of UK” and this demands that the requirements of this scenario at least be considered.
There are at least a couple of possible models for a differentiated deal. If we wished to retain the broad governance structure of the UK then we’d need to consider substantially more devolution to the Scottish Parliament particularly within but probably not limited to the areas of trade, foreign relations [even if limited to direct negotiations with the EU and related competences], employment law and other areas directly affected by EU regulation. This would be a substantial reorganisation of Scottish governance possibly larger than any previous power shift since 1999. It might even be that the idea of full fiscal autonomy comes up again which could, if implemented properly, result in Scotland’s relationship to the UK looking more like that of an overseas dependency or a Dominion where our relations with the rest of the UK are restricted to defence, aspects of foreign relations not linked to the EU and maintaining the right to appeal legal cases to the UK Supreme Court – something that New Zealand maintained for several decades between their being granted Dominion status in 1907 and their full formal independence in 1986.
The other option may, of course, be federalisation and the turning of the UK parliament into something more akin to the EU one whereby the countries of the UK are declared fully sovereign and independent members within it. With Scottish Labour now advocating something like this as their preferred option for the future of Scotland and the Lib Dems presumably still supporting it even though they haven’t really mentioned it since 2012 it may be something for those two parties to get some heads together and thrash out a joint proposal. But perhaps it’s telling that neither party has said much about this week’s offer from the EU.
So as the National says, the ball is now firmly in Westminster’s court. It is now entirely within their domain to decide if Scotland can get an EU deal which better respects the will of the people here or whether we’re just to be dragged headlong into the Tory/UKIP uncontrolled Dystopian Brexit we seem to be hurtling towards. It’s up to the moderate Unionist parties in Scotland to show that they still have some inkling of relevance in Scottish politics by showing us how Scotland within the UK can be better despite Tory rule. I’ve been pleasantly surprised once this week though. I’d very much like it if these parties could do it again and show that they are as serious about their proposals as I and the rest of the independence campaign are about ours.
If they cannot, could the UK’s EU staff please keep Scotland’s seat warm for us? We’ll be on our way just as soon as we’ve finished a bit of paperwork here.