It is ironic indeed that Vince Cable heads this way today to warn of the dire consequences for business if Scotland votes yes to independence. Apparently, we’d “create barriers that would hamper trade with the rest of the UK“. Within the UK, “there are no internal barriers to the flow of goods, services, capital and people...” and we enjoy a “common set of business regulations; an integrated infrastructure… and a UK wide tax base...”.
For it is not Scottish independence which threatens these benefits, but Westminster politicians following the Tories, lemming like, over the cliff of withdrawal from the EU.
Shared membership of the EU would guarantee that after independence, there would not be barriers to trade nor barriers to anything else. Such barriers would only be erected if/when rUK votes to opt out of the EU. And the moves underway to obtain such a referendum could give the Scottish Government and Yes Scotland added impetus, but only if they are willing and able to exploit this faultline and align themselves with some unlikely allies.
You’ve probably never heard of James Wharton MP but he could be about to make history. On Friday, the House of Commons votes on his private member’s bill to allow a referendum on EU membership. He is a Conservative and the Tories have already indicated they will vote in support: Cameron’s hands are tied on this one, for to whip his party against voting for it would ignite civil war. The Lib Dems might not vote for the bill, and many won’t bother turning up for the 2nd reading vote, but apparently the party has conceded the need to offer a referendum pledge in its manifesto for the 2015 UK elections.
Labour is dithering, as well it might. The party is gamely trying to dismiss the bill as a distraction from the real business at hand of fixing the economy and will try to keep its MPs away from the vote. But it too is likely to be forced to concede a referendum as a manifesto pledge.
Whoever wins the UK election in 2015, there will be a referendum on maintaining membership of the EU. And it is this shift which the SNP needs to start exploiting.
If such a referendum went ahead, England would probably vote to leave; based on current opinion polls, Scotland would narrowly vote to stay. And while Scots’ support for EU membership appears to be drifting, no one is making much of a fist of the case to stay – either as an independent nation or as part of the UK. If that happens – if the two dominant parties in Scotland, the SNP and Labour, who both support EU membership, start making the case – then surely support would increase?
Yesterday, Croatia became the 28th member state of the European Union. The SNP and Yes campaigners were quick to acknowledge this development, but they also need to point out how different it would be for Scotland. Forget the scare stories promulgated by Better Together (ha!): Croatia took years to satisfy the joining criteria. The process of assuming membership took a long time for this country to complete because it had to make ready its ability to satisfy those criteria from a less than standing start. Scotland already satisfies most. The EU is not going to keep a willing state which meets the conditions of membership out because it makes countries like Spain uneasy.
And if Croatia hasn’t had to join the Euro to become a member, neither would we.
Yesterday also saw the launch of a Business Manifesto for Europe. European Union membership is in Britain’s interests, it argues, and calls for an enhanced single market to include digital, energy, telecoms and transport, as well as a focus on free trade with countries outside the EU and measures to create smart regulation and a European venture capital market. Who was launching this manifesto? Vince Cable, of course.
There is much to like here, as well as plenty to quibble with, but the point is that there are the stirrings of a fight back against the relentless appeal of UKIP’s dog whistle. Despite what the right wing press would have you believe, not everyone down south is anti-Europe and the Scottish Government needs to join forces with the pro-Euro forces to help win a yes vote in the referendum.
All the benefits campaigns like Business for a New Europe point to for the UK apply equally to an independent Scotland. Take energy: reforming this market could open up trade routes for our huge fossil and renewable energy capacity, enabling us to reduce our reliance on rUK as our main export market and grow other export business. Reforming telecoms would help reduce costs for Scottish citizens and businesses – just as the removal of roaming mobile phone charges has done.
What threatens future Scottish prosperity is staying within the UK and risking a no vote on continued EU membership being imposed on us. Voting yes to independence offers EU membership and all the benefits that brings – and the Scottish Government should rebuff robustly the nonsense claims Cable is making today. British Influence is the umbrella campaign to keep Britain in Europe: the SNP should create an offshoot Scottish Influence to work alongside and make the case for Scotland staying within the EU.
Not everything British needs to be bad for Scotland or a malign influence on the independence referendum.