LibLink… Willie Rennie: The fear in a continental drift

Willie Rennie - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsThe last time I heard the phrase continental drift used was when I was half asleep in a Geography class more years ago than I care to remember.

Willie Rennie uses it in today’s Scotsman to talk about the problems which he thinks would ensue an independent Scotland joined the EU and the rest of the UK left it. I certainly have been susceptible to thoughts that, although far from my first choice, an independent Scotland in the EU would be preferable to a rest of the UK outside it. Recognising this, and aware of the Nationalists’ attempts to make that point, Willie seeks to tackle that perception:

He sets the scene:

I need you to now use your imagination. Just go with me. Scotland votes to separate from the UK – I’ve clearly not been reading the polls. Next, imagine the rUK puts its reasonable self-interest to one side and is willing to concede that every single one of Scotland’s demands should be met – so, for a moment, put to one side that the rUK may not play ball. Britain exits the EU – no matter how unlikely. Then imagine that an independent Scotland agrees terms of membership of the EU without a hitch – yes, you need a colourful imagination.

So Scotland is independent and a full member of the EU and the remainder of the UK is outside the EU. Even if all those high hurdles were to be overcome, the practical challenges would still be considerable.

All in the garden would not be rosy, however. Willie lists a number of ways in which Scotland’s relationship with its biggest and most important trading partner south of the border would be damaged, compromising the new country’s interests:

An independent Scotland could be subject to EU laws on the financial sector that the rUK would not. How would the financial sector that straddles the Border cope?

An independent Scotland may be subject to new immigration rules through the Schengen agreement that the non-EU rUK would not. What would that mean for travel across the British Isles?

The central bank for the British currency union would not only be run by a foreign government but by a foreign government outside of the EU. How would the markets react?

Scotland’s trading relationship with other parts of the UK is essential. With one in and one out of the EU trading block, what kind of impact would that have on Scottish businesses?

Persuading a foreign UK government to form partnerships in all these areas, even if they are against the rUK interest, may be the easy part. Forming all these partnerships with one partner out of the European Union may pose insurmountable obstacles.

The prospect of Scotland being inside the EU and the rest of the UK outside it is not in any way desirable. Ideally, as Willie says, we need to keep the UK together and stay in the EU together. Perhaps people south of the border should be aware of the problems for both sides if things change.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Just one small correction to make here: if Scotland declares independence, the UK will still be called the UK, not rUK.
    Even if 8% of the population leave, I don’t think the remaining 92% are going to be bothered to change the name of their country just to please the part that has left.

    Anyway, Scotland is not going to leave the UK, the UK is not going to leave the EU and in five years’ time everyone will have come to their senses and will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jun '13 - 5:32pm

    Caron, you may be old enough to have been told that continental drift (first invented as a concept by a man called Wegener) was a good idea but since there was no mechanism to cause it to happen, it must be wrong. (Even though it was fairly obviously right).

    Then the tectonic plates were discovered and everyone was taught that it happened.

    Or you may be young enough to have learned that from the start! I always wondered if they had by-elections in Gondwanaland South East…

    Tony Greaves

  • Hopefully, Caron, you heard about continental drift (a phenomenon now usually included under the broader heading of plate tectonics) in geology class (where it is necessary knowledge), not in geography (where it is more or less irrelevant).

    And Tony, Caron went to school, like me, in the late 70s to early 80s, by which time the tectonic mechanisms for continental motion were well established.

  • Without Scotland, the United Kingdom may still be the UK, but it can’t truthfully be called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I suppose it might be the United Kingdom of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. But I agree that it’s not going to happen, so it’s all fantasy nomenclature anyway.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jun '13 - 10:17pm

    These young kids!

    But how the disposition of the continents is “irrelevant” in geography is a mystery to me.

    As for Scotland voting “yes” in the referendum, I agree that it’s not going to happen this time.But it might next time if England goes steadily more right wing.


  • The “disposition” of the continents is relevant to geography of a basic sort — but knowing all about plate tectonics won’t teach you anything that will help you remember where North America is relative to Asia, or Africa to Antarctica, and you’ll have to memorize that “disposition” just the same whether continental movement is brought up or not. About the only thing it might be useful for is answering some clever pupil’s question about why the east coast of South America looks so much like the west coast of Africa. And that’s unlikely to be an important question in a geography curriculum that emphasizes economic, cultural, linguistic, religious, environmental and historical geography. In the near term, the relevant auxiliary study that will be of most value to students of geography is likely not to be geology (barring the occasional Parícutin or Surtsey) but meteorology/climatology.

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