Bordering On Ridiculous
Posted on September 11th, 2016
by Rab Bruce’s Spider
Ruth “Don’t Talk about a 2nd IndieRef" Davidson has been … er, talking about a 2nd IndieRef while assuring us that we don’t need or want one. She has a strange obsession with this topic but that’s probably because she’s trying to divert attention away from the Tory-engineered brexit fiasco. Devoid of any ideas, her only tactics are to bang on about an IndieRef and to laugh while her Press Office issues xenophobic comments about EU citizens who reside in Scotland. Her refusal to apologise for claiming that an EU citizen has no right to comment on political matters in Scotland shows just how the Tories intend to treat EU nationals once the UK formally leaves the EU.
An independent Scotland could avoid this fate but Ruth, while insisting we don’t want a second IndieRef, is nevertheless going out of her way to fight that referendum already. As part of this campaign which she says we don’t want, she’s recently made a bizarre point about trade and borders and, as you’d expect, the media has simply repeated her assertions without bothering to apply even the most basic journalistic scrutiny. So, since the media won’t do it, here’s a quick look at the issues.
The Ruth Davidson Party is pushing the line that an independent Scotland which remained a part of the EU would face enormous difficulties trading with England since a hard border would need to be imposed, with all the difficulties that implies, along with trade tariffs which would present hassle and increased costs for Scottish businesses.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same claim that was made during the first IndieRef but with the positions reversed because, at that time, we were assured that Scotland would be kicked out of the EU while England and the Rest of the UK would remain members. How times change! Yet note how the Unionist arguments remain unaltered.
But is there any chance of this happening? Well, yes, there is a chance but there are a few things Ruth is not telling us.
For starters, the UK’s Brexit Minister, David Davies, has been assuring people in Ireland that the border will remain open whatever happens with the brexit negotiations. Now, there is a chance there will be no Irish border if Northern Ireland decides to become part of the Republic but it seems unlikely a Tory like Davies would be contemplating that scenario since it involves losing a part of Westminster’s dominion. Which leaves the situation that either Davies or Ruth Davidson is talking a load of rubbish. Either there are hard borders or there are not. The only justification for keeping the Irish border open and imposing a hard border between England and Scotland would be sheer perversity which would harm English businesses as much as it would harm Scottish ones. Can you imagine how English Pubs would cope if their supplies of Scotch whisky were interrupted or became suddenly more expensive?
Not that a hard border is impermeable. Trading would continue, it would just mean people adjusting to a new regime of paperwork and potential delay. But nations trade with one another all the time and, in practice, the biggest issue is likely to be tariffs which would probably be applied to imports and exports between an EU and a non-EU country, thus increasing costs for businesses and consumers on both sides of the border.
But the really big thing Ruth ignores is that the EU is not likely to play ball with RUK. Westminster politicians fondly believe that the UK (for which read England in their minds) has only to tell the EU what it wants and the EU will gladly cooperate. That is sheer fantasy. Most Tory politicians and journalists don’t seem to understand that access to the European Single Market requires allowing the free movement of people and capital as well as goods. Since keeping foreigners out of the UK was one of the prime motivations behind the brexit vote, it is impossible for the Tories to negotiate any alternative method of accessing the Single Market since the EU has repeatedly said this is non-negotiable.
Which means that either the Tories will back down and allow free movement of people in order to retain open trading or they will stick to their guns and lose free access to the Single Market in order to satisfy the xenophobic demands of their voters.
In the first scenario, open trading will continue and there will be no hard border between Scotland and England because the EU won’t allow it. In the second scenario, there would indeed be a hard border but there would also need to be one between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, as well as England and Wales finding they had hard borders in terms of trade and travel with every other EU member State. So, while Scotland might have a problem until it adjusts its economy to increase direct trade with the EU, it is England and Wales which would face the far larger problem of having no open trade borders with any of its neighbours.
What Ruth Davidson is effectively telling us is that, if Scotland votes to become independent in a 2nd IndieRef and remain in the EU, the RUK will cut off its nose to spite its face and enter a phase of economic and trade isolation. The BritNats fondly believe it is Scotland that will suffer the most from this because they are convinced RUK will be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries very swiftly. However, comments from several officials from other countries, notably Australia, have strongly suggested this is wishful thinking on the part of the UK Government. Formal trade deals aimed at reducing tariffs and bureaucratic barriers can take several years to negotiate. This means that RUK businesses will face issues with all imports and exports while an independent Scotland will face similar issues if trading with England and Wales but will find no such issues in its trade with the rest of the EU. Indeed, since the EU has already negotiated trade deals with other countries, Scotland’s international trade will continue as normal with every country in the world except England and Wales.
In practice, of course, hard borders are not insurmountable. Switzerland is not in the EU but manages to trade with other EU nations without too many problems. The border between Canada and the USA is a hard one but the two countries carry out a huge amount of trade. Having hard borders probably won’t affect either Scotland or England as much as the Project Fear mongers like to make out. An open border would obviously be preferable in terms of trade but a hard border, while presenting some potentially serious obstacles until a formal trade agreement is reached, won’t be a catastrophe. It certainly won’t be as bad as remaining in a post-Brexit UK and having your Human Rights abolished, having Workers’ Rights abolished, living under a Government committed to perpetual Austerity economics, having the NHS privatised (and that will come to Scotland as the funding from Westminster dries up), seeing the imposition of the Investigatory Powers Bill, seeing foreign nationals, including EU citizens, expelled, and seeing Scotland’s economy held back while our elected MPs continue to be ignored by the ruling Westminster Government. Quite frankly, I’d be happy to have border controls between Scotland and England if it meant being freed from that lot.