All quiet on the Brexit front

To judge by the silence in the media, Brexit is done and dusted, and the country has already moved on. Or perhaps it was all a bad dream and never happened.
Of course, the covid-19 pandemic has eclipsed much of the other news, but this is not entirely explained. There have been plenty of problems: mountains of red tape that never perished in any bonfire, failed deliveries, cargoes of rotting fish. Of course, the Government has played these minor irritations down, no surprise there. But more puzzlingly, Kier Starmer has staged a judicious retreat from the Brexit battlefield, fearful no doubt of being castigated as a bemoaner stuck in the past.

Whipping his MPs to support the new trade deal, overlooking its failure to meet the six tests he previously said such a deal would have to pass, and ruling out any ambition to change or improve it, let alone rejoin the EU, he appears determined to be even more accommodating than his predecessor, in allowing the Government of the Brexit hook.

Can this be the same Kier Starmer who announced to loud applause that his party would support a people’s vote? Has he now given up the struggle and converted to Euroscepticism?

Unlikely, I think. More probably he feels that the British public has decided in favour of getting Brexit done, and that must be respected. However misguided, that is their decision, and there is no point in telling Leave voters they have made a mistake. They have to reach that conclusion for themselves.

At present, any serious proposal to rejoin would, in any case, be steamrollered out of existence by the right-wing media, who dominate all discourse in England.
Contrast that with the situation in Scotland. The impassioned speeches against Brexit being made in the Scottish parliament are an inspiration to listen to, for any Remainer. The prospect of rejoining the EU has radically increased the desirability and demand for independence among the Scots, the majority of whom are Remainers.

So why don’t the Scottish Lib Dems support Independence? That was the question posed by Maurice Leeke, writing in Libdemvoice at the beginning of this month. We have a Prime Minister who dismisses out of hand the right of Scots to decide their future. Is that in any way justifiable?

Of course, we would be sorry to see them go. Our beloved Union, Jack, would never be the same again. But surely as pro-Europeans, we should be thinking of what is beneficial for Scotland and Europe, rather than just our narrow interests?
As the Holyrood elections approach in May, it may well remain all quiet on England’s Brexit front. But north of the border, it is about to get an awful lot noisier.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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23 Comments

  • Paul Barker 20th Jan '21 - 1:25pm

    His position on Europe is Starmers first really big mistake, lets not follow him.

  • Starmer is only doing what he has to do-win back the red wall. Bojo will run the next campaign on two messages-Levelling up and KEEP BREXIT DONE. Starmer will not do what his opponent wants him to do. As for Scotland indyref2 will happen at some point and it will be for Scoxit. Only then will our party return to thirdplace, We have our own direction to go in-Rejoin in the long run and return to single market and customs union as soon as possible.

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Jan '21 - 2:35pm

    I will be very interested to see whether the EU will follow precedent and demand a supermajority and minimum turnout should Scottish hold a further independence referendum.

  • Daniel Walker 20th Jan '21 - 3:29pm

    @Little Jackie Piper “I will be very interested to see whether the EU will follow precedent and demand a supermajority and minimum turnout should Scottish hold a further independence referendum.

    The EU has no power to insist on referendums in member states for any reason at all, never mind constituent parts of non-members, so I am not sure what precedent you refer to.

  • One good thing about Brexit is that the Leave team are in government, and will have to keep trying to show what a great thing it is. Perhaps this is motivating Gove in his efforts for farmers and the environment. I don’t see that as bad, despite having voted Remain and having campaigned on the streets in South Gloucestershire for a second vote. ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a successful strategy for the Conservatives in December 2019, and despite the absurdity of it (“we created this mess, so vote for us to try to clear it up – as best we can”) we can’t do much about it now. I secretly hoped for more of a disaster on Real Brexit Day (this January) but that wasn’t really a good thing to wish for. It is also completely out of the question to campaign to re-join. We need to make the best of our ‘independence’ and think about the EU again in about ten years time.

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Jan '21 - 4:18pm

    Daniel Walker

    1 – UK isn’t a member state.
    2 – Montenegro 2006 independence referendum.

  • Daniel Walker 20th Jan '21 - 4:54pm

    @Little Jackie Paper (apologies for misspelling your name last time)

    1. Yes, that was my point
    2. Fair enough. I wasn’t aware of that, valid point. Although I note they *asked*, and it was agreed; the EU doesn’t have power to insist non-member states do anything (other than by trade sanctions etc. – I can’t see they would do that for a Scottish independence referendum)

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Jan '21 - 5:45pm

    Daniel Walker

    Montenegro is a really interesting example and it is by some way the closest analogue to what Scotland’s position would be on independence.

    As an aside Montenegro applied to join the EU in December 2008.

  • Scotland does not meet Eurozone entry criteria. The EU does not want more members that are outside of the EZ, especially when the Covid crisis provides the opportunity to demand financial and political integration in return for ECB funds. This the plan of Christine Lagarde and Macron. The French see it as an opportunity to lord it over the entire exercise while Germany merely pays for the whole thing. Merkel stepping down at the same moment is an interesting twist.

    Debt ridden Scotland is a complication that the EU can do without.

  • @Peter.

    Debt ridden?

    Scotland doesn’t have any debts. It has its proportion of UK debt.
    When the Treaty of Union happened in 1707, the speculators in the Darien Scheme were given the “Equivalence” or “Equivalent” by the English Government which gave them what they’d lost, plus 5%, if they voted for Union.

    By doing so, they agreed that Scottish taxpayers (not just the Darien entrepeneurs) would underwrite English debt.

    Scotland wasn’t bankrupt. Some Scottish parliamentarians were
    Every time I receive a pay cheque, I’m paying off historical English debt.

    Comment please?

  • @Little Jackie Paper
    The EU proposed a sensible suggestion which was taken up by others – shame Westminster wasn’t and still isn’t populated by clear-headed thinkers… I can see how anything the EU says can be misconstrued to be a demand by those who wish it to be so. What is yet to be determined is whether Holyrood is also populated by clear-headed thinkers or whether, like Westminster, anything goes in the pursuit of personal political agendas.

    In either case, I expect the EU would require a supermajority and minimum turnout should a Scottish parliament wish to apply for EU membership. Just as they would if the UK decided to rejoin.

  • Thé reality is that we have not yet finally Jeff. For most people, they have enough problems thanks to Covid to think about what rules there are about sending goods – or people travelling between – the U.K. and the rest of Europe.
    The main thing that has in fact changed is that in the future there will be a lack of democratic accountability. But the dominant view in the U.K. has been that decisions in the EU have been made by a group of unelected officials in Brussels,
    In reality of course the degree of democracy throughout Europe. One of the least democratic is the U.K. The need for change in our country is clear, but there seems to me little chance of any real change.

  • Brexit ain’t over till it’s over. The trade deal outlined plans to set up a dialogue between the UK and EU to discuss future financial services arrangements, with March set as a rough deadline. Let’s see how quick the financial deal will be.

  • @Chris – If Scotland left the Union it would assume a portion of UK debt. If this was determined in proportion to population as in the Czechoslovakia divorce than this would amount to about 84% of Scottish GDP and this is based on pre-Covid economies.

    Scotland would have to Commit to joining the Euro and this would involve accepting severe austerity measures.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '21 - 11:40am

    @ Peter @ Chris,

    I would say the 84% figure is approximately correct. But even before the Covid problem it could have been more. It depends on how the portion of the National Debt which is held by the BoE is counted and if that is simply transferred across to Scotland’s own central bank after independence.

    The extent of the extent of the debt may be less of a problem than Scotland’s deficit which was close to 10% the last time I checked. EU rules require less than 3%. So a large measure of austerity will no doubt be prescribed to “cure” that.

    It’s not just about committing to join the euro after applying to join the EU. Scotland will have to go through the same exercise as Ireland did. ie Stop using the pound and use its own currency for a number of years. In Ireland’s case that was the punt which it had to show it had aligned to the rules set for the new currency. Scottish voters may be concerned that their bank accounts may be converted at 1:1 in the new currency which will then float to a new level. It go go either way of course. Do Scottish Nats have the courage of their convictions and will they bet on it going up?

  • @Peter @Peter Martin

    Sorry, Gents. I like your arguments but all you’re talking about is the debt – not how it is financed. You haven’t mentioned that Scotland also gets its population share of the assets (worth quite a lot, so I’m led to believe) and that, currently, under your system, the United Kingdom is incapable of financing its debt – as is the United States, Japan and others.

    All major economies run up debt. Lenders depend upon it. But thanks for the comments,

  • @Chris – I believe that Peter Martin and I are discussing the subject raised by John King, i.e. the possibility of Scotland attempting to join the EU in the event of leaving the UK. The EU has strict rules about that. In typical EU fashion they ignored their own entry rules once before but I doubt if they will do that again. The consequence is that Scotland would face severe austerity. Now, what point are you making?

  • @Peter Thanks for coming back, Peter.
    The point I’m making is that all countries have debt and that Scotland is not quite as cash-strapped as the two of you make out.
    Currently, Scotland has no say in how its economy is run (Rishi Sunak refused to allow Borrowing powers and then the Scots Tories said that it was the Union Dividend that allowed for furlough). Denmark has a population similar in size to Scotland and it managed a better system of furlough than the United Kingdom. Assets?
    Under the present arrangements, Scotland only receives 40% of its taxes back.
    The simple point I’m making is that the decisions on what to spend these taxes (100% taxes) will be different from those made by any Parliament in London.
    Going by your logic, in order to stop Scotland from leaving, all the UK Parliament needs to do is to run up further debt, thus increasing Scotland’s share. A fun idea, indeed.
    Thanks for posing it.

  • John Probert 21st Jan '21 - 6:32pm

    John King; “Our beloved Union, Jack”
    It isn’t really though, is it? How is Wales represented on the Union Jack?

  • John Probert:
    It’s undeniably a pretty flag and has proliferated everywhere amid the new nationalism. However if Scotland departed, followed by Northern Ireland, and equally attractive design could feature the lion facing the dragon. The new country comprising Wales and England would be called Wangland and its occupants would be referred to as Little Wanglanders. A splendid end to the Brexit saga!

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jan '21 - 8:58am

    @ Chris,

    “All major economies run up debt. Lenders depend upon it.”

    You’re quite right on that! I’ve lent, for example, the Government a few pounds with my collection of Premium bonds.

    “Scotland also gets its population share of the assets.”

    Yep. Right again.

    “….. currently, under your system, the United Kingdom is incapable of financing its debt”

    Here’s where you start to go wrong. This is obviously not true and neither is anyone suggesting otherwise. It would be the same for Scotland if it had its own freely floating currency.

    The problem isn’t in debts or deficits per se. It’s the EU’s attitudes towards them. The neoliberals/otholiberals would never express similar sentiments to yourself. To them they are a very bad thing! That’s why they have imposed an arbitrary limit on government deficits of 3% of GDP and on total debt at 60% of GDP. These are what cause big problems to the weaker economies of the eurozone and EU generally.

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