Immigration:- putting the cart before the horse?

Last week, the Guardian published a leaked draft of a Home Office document entitled  ‘Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU’

It contained the welcome news that the Government is determined to bring immigration down and intends to use the opportunities presented by Brexit to honour – albeit rather belatedly – its pledge to bring net migration down below 100,000.

Given the high profile of the immigration issue during last year’s referendum campaign, it is the least the government can do. In summary, free movement will come to an end on Brexit day. A scheme for seasonal workers will allow our fruit to be picked, but work permits will be time-limited, with those for low-skilled workers lasting only two years, with no right to settle. For all new EU workers, the right to bring family members will be significantly curtailed. UK companies will be encouraged to take on UK workers where possible.  Though it does not give precise details, the document says the UK is minded to introduce an income threshold for some EU citizens before they will be allowed to reside here.

It all sounds good in theory. There are good,sound reasons for slashing immigration. The pressure exerted by migrants is making it harder for native Brits to get onto the housing ladder or, in some places, to see a GP or find a place for their children in a local school. The use of short-term work permits will give the government  – and indeed, business – greater flexibility, especially as advances in robotics will drastically shrink the numbers of low-skilled workers required. Some experts suggest that we will have problems finding work for all the current UK working age population within 30 years. We certainly don’t want to saddle ourselves with lots of migrants whose jobs have been taken by machines but who have a right to stay here.

Of course, a Tory party which has found itself on the back foot since the General Election will be keen to do all it can to rebuild its support and there are plenty of voted to be garnered by being tough on immigration.

Yet the welcome given to this document must be tempered with a feeling that the Government is rather putting the cart before the horse. We know what it wants to do about immigration but very little about its proposed relationship with the EU. We would probably be able to implement most these restrictions as a member of EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement and applying restrictions in the same way as Liechtenstein, in spite of claims by one EU official that  “Limits on numbers of people or categories of migrant worker are incompatible with single market access.” They seem to have forgotten this small Alpine country which invalidates their argument.  Likewise, we would certainly be able to restrict migration if we stormed out of the current negotiations and left the EU in March 2019 with no agreement and some commentators are suggesting that this is seriously being considered.

The EFTA route has thus far not been in favour while walking out would be foolish and lead to the “cliff edge” which we are repeatedly being told the Government wishes to avoid. So what, then, is the Brexit framework into which these immigration proposals will fit?

Furthermore, if the Government is serious about reducing net migration below 100,000, what about immigration from outside the EU? The most recent statistics did record a drop in arrivals from EU-27, but arrivals from the rest of the world stood at 266,000 during the same period. The government could act here and now to stem the flow if it so desired. Then what about illegal immigrants? Will the Government finally get serious and deport them?

So while this document is a step in the right direction, a lot of questions remain unanswered.

 

Brexit: what we want and what we might get

The last week has seen the publication of a number of positions papers by the Department for Exiting the European Union, covering issues ranging from trade and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice through to the Irish border. You will find articles which review each position paper on the website.

Of course, what the UK government wants and what the EU will agree to may not be the same thing. Indeed,  at least one commentator is claiming that the position papers do not yet reflect a final government position but are but one side of “an internal debate within the Conservative Party.”

But what do UK voters want from Brexit? A survey by the London School of Economics and Oxford University asked more than 3,000 people for their thoughts – including both leave and remain voters.

The most interesting finding is the unity between remain and leave voters on a number of issues. Barely one third of those surveyed are keen on single market membership, ongoing EU payments, free movement and the jurisdiction of the ECJ once we leave. Significantly, this majority includes a number of remain voters.

Although there is widespread support for a free trade agreement with the EU (88%), 69% want customs checks introduced at the borders – some what contradictory stances!

What is more significant is that this survey offers little support for hard-core remoaners and remainiacs  who wish to stall Brexit. The referendum is now behind us; the majority of the population has accepted the result and wants to see the government make the most of the opportunity leaving the EU provides.

What sort of deal we will get, of course, is another issue. Analysis of the position papers published so far  do not give us any sort of detail about how deals on many areas are going to be concluded. We have seen what amounts to a UK wish list which the EU may well decide to refuse.

Still, amidst all the concerns about the lack of progress by the Department for Exiting the European Union, one good piece of news appeared today. Net migration (immigrants minus emigrants) has fallen by 81,000 from 327,000 to 246,000 in the year to March.  The number of EU nationals coming to the UK fell while over 33,000 more additional EU nationals left the country, including an extra 17,000 from the so-called EU8, the former Soviet bloc countries who joined the EU in 2004. 246,000 immigrants still equates to a city the size of Hull or Plymouth and is well above the Conservatives’ net migration target of under 100,000. This drop is nonetheless welcome. Many individual factors no doubt contributed to it, but Brexit would indisputably have been one of the reasons. Given that one  of the reason for the Brexit vote was a desire to end free movement and thus bring immigration down, it is encouraging to see that it has already had a benign effect – and without the Government even doing anything!

Photo by dullhunk

Re-taking our place in the world

At least a third of voters always planned on leaving the EU and were not going to be persuaded otherwise. This didn’t happen on the back of something written on a bus. This was cumulative. For many the final straw was the Lisbon Treaty which was in effect an EU constitution giving it a legal personality in world affairs.

For something that so radically changed our relationship with what was (and still is) viewed as a trade relationship, it should have been put to a referendum. That our political establishment set about ratifying it, using any means at their disposal to dodge a referendum, was evidence of a political establishment which had long since given up any sense of obligation to seek consent when acting in regard to the EU.

What compounds that act was the fact that those who voted for it had very little idea what they were agreeing to. Remainers often complain that there was no impact assessment for Brexit, yet where was the comprehensive national debate over ratifying Lisbon?

We leavers warned that Lisbon would make EU membership all but impossible to reverse – and to an extent we were right. Brexit is no easy feat – and to do it properly will take more than a decade. Our main concern at the time was that the EU is a long term project which gathers its powers by stealth, creeping ever more toward a federalist entity.

Where possible I have tended to avoid the term “European superstate” largely because that kind of terminology lands you in kipper territory where that kind of hackneyed rhetoric is an instant turn off. But that is exactly what the EU is and though remainers can nominally say that we retain our sovereignty, the question is over what? – and for how much longer?

In that regard you have to look up the chain to see how this affects the UK. As we continue to argue, the centre of the regulatory universe is increasingly Geneva, not Brussels – where the WTO TBT agreement provides the foundation of a global regulatory union.

Critics point out that implementation of this is hotly disputed and that its installation is piecemeal and subject to a number of registered exceptions, but like the EU, it is not the status quo that concerns us, rather it is the direction of travel.

While I have always been opposed to trade being an occupied field, the nature of trade agreements is changing, encompassing ever more regulatory measures extending far beyond what we would traditionally call a trade barrier. In order to eliminate distortions in labour, for example the shipping industry using Filipino slave labour, we increasingly adopt International Labour Organisation conventions in trade agreements.

Superficially there is no reason for alarm but what this means in practice is that for the EU to continue with trade exclusivity it must assume exclusive competence over areas not traditionally concerned with trade. In order to tie up these loose ends and overlaps there will eventually be a need for a new EU treaty which involves another substantial transfer of powers. But in the meantime, the ECJ will be the instrument of integration, confiscating ever more powers by the back door.

The eventual destination in this is the deletion of EU member states as independent actors on any of the global forums, with access to them controlled exclusively by Brussels. We would no longer have a voice in our own right and being bound to the EU customs code we would cease to be an independent country in all the ways that matter. This, to me, is why Brexit is absolutely necessary and the high price is one worth paying.

Remainers would argue that we still maintain significant influence by way of being an EU member. Superficially this is correct and Brexit will, temporarily, lead to a loss of influence. But whose influence is it anyway? We are told that the UK was instrumental in pushing for EU expansion. That remains a bad idea and accession states will remain in a state of limbo until such a point as there is a major political or financial crisis – or they leave of their own accord.

But this goes back to the opening premise. It’s no good to say that we have influence in Europe if we have no influence over our government. What remainers say when they say “we” have influence, they mean our permissive, unaccountable, political élites have influence – but actually only in those instances where their ambitions are in alignment with the ideology of the EU.

As much as Brexit is about severing the political integration of the EU, it is also a slapdown for our political class who have never had any intention of seeking consent – and where the EU is concerned, will tell any lie to that end.

In a lot of respects the classic arguments against the EU are legacy complaints where the damage cannot be undone. Leaving the EU does not reverse or remedy what was done to us and for the most part the UK has adapted to the new paradigm. What concerns us is whether there are the necessary safeguards to prevent yet more sweeping changes in the face of globalisation.

We are told that trade liberalisation is good for us – and on a philosophical and technical level I’m not going to argue, but on the human level, it has consequences that directly impact our lives.  This is something we should have a say in, be it opening our markets to American agriculture or letting market forces eat away at our steel industry. There are strategic concerns as well as the economic – and a dogmatic adherence to the principles of free trade is dangerous.

In recent times we have seen EU trade deals derailed because of concerns like chlorine washed chickens, but one suspects this is largely motivated by an inherent anti-Americanism, and were these topics included in any other trade agreement, nobody would have ever uttered the phrase “chlorinated chicken” – and we’d already be eating it.

The fact is that too much is going on out of sight and out of mind. Brexit is a remedy to that. We have already seen a robust debate on the shape of a future UK-US agreement and I fully expect other deals to come under similar scrutiny. I know the powerful UK agriculture lobby will be watching very closely indeed.

As much as Brexit is necessary as a defensive measure against hyper-globalisation, it is also about restoring the UK as an independent actor. As far as most people are concerned, foreign policy is just who we decide who to drop bombs on and who to dole out humanitarian aid. This is what happens when trade, a crucial element of foreign policy, is broken out of policy making and farmed out to the EU. It leaves all the strands of foreign policy happening in abstract to any coherent agenda while removing one of the more useful leverage tools.

Brexit is a means of reintegrating all of these separate strands so that we can have an effective presence on the world stage without seeking a convoluted compromise through Brussels – assuming we can get permission to act at all. The best part of it is that it does not preclude close cooperation with the EU. Obviously Brexit does not give us a free hand and our legacy ties with the EU will be a constraint, but it opens the way for more imaginative approaches than cumbersome EU FTAs.

One overlooked facet of the Brexit debate is that it gives us the opportunity to reconfigure a lot of the agreements we already have via the EU. In most respects, carrying over EU deals need not be a great headache, not least since we are maintaining existing schedules – but it’s the extras we can reappraise. In the EU-Singapore agreement there is a dedicated section on renewable energy – largely reproducing WTO tract. We could either enhance or delete these sections, establishing new joint ventures and working parities, including a number of sectors not touched on by the EU.

This need not happen in competition with the EU, rather it can be a complimentary strategy where one of Europe’s trading powers is free to explore avenues which could potentially benefit all of the EU. Having a major trading nation not bound by the bureaucratic inertia of the EU could well be a secret weapon for Brussels. That would make future EU-UK relations a strategic partnership rather than a subordinate relationship. There is no reason why Brexit cannot be mutually beneficial. All it takes is a little bit of vision.

Varadkar gets a caning from Lord Stoddart over Brexit comments

THE PRESS OFFICE OF

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (independent Labour)

News Release

8th August 2017

 

Comments from leader of “EU minnow country” go down badly with Brexit peer Lord Stoddart of Swindon

The independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has taken the new Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Leo Varadkar to task about his contribution to the ongoing debate over Brexit and advised the “stripling leader of a mini-state” to “learn his trade” before presuming to lecture the United Kingdom.

Lord Stoddart said: “The British people must be getting fed up with EU minnow countries telling them either to stay in the EU or agree to conditions like remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union, which would effectively keep our country in the EU.  The latest culprit is the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic (population 4.7million) Leo Varadkar.  He should be reminded that the United Kingdom is the Republic’s good friend and a substantial trading partner –indeed, such a good friend and partner that that it gave Ireland a loan of £3billion to save it from bankruptcy caused by its membership of the single currency, during the last recession (I wonder if they have paid it back yet?).

“This stripling leader of a mini-state should learn his trade before presuming to lecture substantial and successful countries like the United Kingdom on how to proceed on Brexit, particularly after its people have voted in a democratic and free referendum to leave the European Union.”

Reflections one year on from the referendum

The morning of 24th June is a day I will never ever forget. By 4AM, I had given up any idea of sleep and was watching the results of the referendum on my computer as they were posted up on the BBC website. I had always believed that we could persuade our countrymen that we would be better off out of the EU, but David Cameron had gone for a quick cut-and-run campaign to minimise our chances of success. However, as soon as I saw the relative totals for leave and remain, my heart leapt. We’re going to pull this off after all! Less than two hours later, the number of leave votes passed the crucial 50% mark. “We’ve done it! We’ve done it, We’ve done it!” I shouted at the top of my voice. It was not yet 6AM and normally I would be much more considerate towards my neighbours, but after sixteen years of campaigning for our country to leave the EU, my overwhelming feelings of joy momentarily got the better of me.

Thankfully, my neighbours have never complained. Perhaps they are sound sleepers. Perhaps the soundproofing of our late Victorian semi is better than I thought. Whatever, I don’t think I will be giving a repeat performance!

I spent much of the rest of the day in a daze. We’re really going to leave! It was hard to take it in. This was the greatest day in our country’s history since the end of the Second World War and I felt a great sense of pride in having played a part, albeit only a very small one, in achieving this memorable result.

One year on from that incredible day, the memories are still fresh in my mind, as I’m sure they are in the minds of many other leave campaigners, but in the meantime, what a roller-coaster we have endured!  There was the court case brought by Gina Miller, the uncertainly about whether Mrs May’s European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill would make it unscathed through both houses of Parliament, the sense of relief when Article 50 was finally triggered in March as the Prime Minister had promised, the reluctance of the economy to tank in spite of the predictions of George Osborne’s “Project Fear” and most recently, the shambolic General Election which was meant to increase the Government’s majority but instead left the Tories turning to the DUP in order to maintain any sort of hold on power.

In spite of the chaos, the Brexit negotiations have started and we are still on course to heave the EU in just over 21 months’ time. Media reporting seems to have plumbed new depths since the election results were announced and it has been hard to distinguish the wood from the trees. Terms like “hard” and “soft” Brexit are bandied around often without any explanation, leading some concerned leave supporters to equate “soft “Brexit” with  not actually leaving the EU at all.

From what I can gather after reading complete articles, including actual quotes, rather than just the headlines, there are very few politicians who actually want to stop Brexit. Many more are concerned about the implications for UK businesses if we don’t end up with a decent trading arrangement. Such concerns are actually quite reasonable and do not in any way imply that they want us to stay in the EU.  Soundings from Parliament after last June’s vote indicated that the overwhelming majority of MPs accepted the result and would not wish to frustrate the will of the people. The General Election has not significantly altered this.

Of course, with David Cameron not having made any preparation for our voting to leave, the government and civil service are on a sharp learning curve and we still await evidence that they have got on top of the brief which the electorate gave them a year ago. Our biggest concern must surely be a chaotic – or more likely sub-standard – Brexit rather than no Brexit at all.

The main reason why I remain confident that Brexit will happen in some form or other  lies in the nature of the Conservative Party. The Tories were given a nasty shock two weeks ago. They went into the campaign expecting to flatten Labour. Instead, they only just limped over the finishing line. Most Tory MPs voted to remain last year, but the vast majority of the party’s activists and supporters are strong leavers. The Tories  hoovered up quite a few UKIP votes on a platform of leading us out of the EU. Given these issues, any backtrack on Brexit would precipitate the worst crisis the party has faced since 1846 when it split down the middle over the repeal of the Corn Laws. They dare not go there.

What is more, the party will be keen to renew itself well before the next General Election in 2022. While removing Mrs May now would only add to the sense of  chaos which has prevailed since the General Election, it is hard to imagine she will still be in power in March 2019, perhaps not even in March 2018. If the party is seeking a dynamic new leader to revive its fortunes, given the ultimate say will lie with its predominantly Thatcherite Eurosceptic activists,  Mrs May’ successor is likely to be an MP with proven Brexiteer credentials.  The party faithful will not make the mistake of choosing another Cameron.

This will not make his (or her) task any easier, but still gives me hope that in March 2019, that historic vote which brought us so much joy a year ago will be translated into reality and we will finally achieve that goal for which so many of us have been striving for so long.

Scotland, Separation and the Brexit Question

The SNP has abandoned ‘True Independence’ and Sturgeon is forcing Scotland to choose between a more powerful Scotland inside a Federal UK, or a less powerful one inside the EU and most likely the Eurozone.

I remember the SNP’s 2015 manifesto commitment very clearly: the more seats they won in Westminster, the more powers they would get back for Scotland. It was not their most original manifesto commitment, but it was consistent with the main theme of Scottish politics for the past few decades: that devolution should bring power closer to the people of Scotland.

It is not an idea which most of us who support devolution tend to argue with, nor was it the majority of Scottish voters who, on 7 May 2015, returned 56 SNP candidates out of a possible 59 to the House of Commons.

It puzzles me therefore, in this Brexit age, why Nicola Sturgeon was so counterintuitively against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in the referendum last year, and why she is fighting so hard for Scotland to secure a bespoke deal on membership of the EU’s Single Market.

Of course, the First Minister is trying to manufacture a pretext for a second referendum in Scotland. Forget that for a moment: Nicola Sturgeon is playing political games. She has a ‘Party management issue’ following the influx of die-hard nationalists who swelled the SNP’s membership figures after their referendum defeat in 2014. Also, forget (but only for a minute) that since occupying Bute House the SNP has sought to find differences with England wherever there aren’t any; it’s all part of the drive towards so called ‘independence’.

I always imagined that the First Minister after a Leave victory would have been “champing at the bit” to empower her own office and Scotland. After all, she has a manifesto commitment to keep… Alas, no.

Constitutional observers will have noticed in recent years how the SNP has instead empowered the Scottish Government by centralising almost everything – from policing to planning for wind turbine projects – away from local government and into the hands of Edinburgh. Their attack on localism is an idiosyncrasy I fail to understand given their commitment to bring power “closer to The People”. But equally difficult to understand is the SNP administration’s shunning of the opportune moment that Brexit presents to “grab” yet more power.

Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon genuinely believes she can win the second referendum on so-called ‘independence’, despite recent opinion polls consistently showing Scotland would vote to stay part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson, in a recent interview in The Daily Telegraph’s Scottish edition, warned the SNP that they would lose a rerun of the 2014 vote by an “even larger margin”.

Yet, despite a recent opinion poll by BMG Research showing that only one in four Scots want a second independence referendum before Brexit talks are complete, the Scottish Parliament voted through a request for a Section 30 order from Westminster, giving the Scottish Government the power to hold a legally-binding referendum on so-called ‘independence’ between the Autumn of 2018 and Spring of 2019.

Theresa May is adamant that there won’t be a second referendum… at least not until after the Brexit negotiations have been completed, and the United Kingdom has left the European Union… So another referendum could still yet take place at some point in the future.

For the sake of this paper, let’s imagine Nicola Sturgeon eventually gets her way, and the UK Government grants the Scottish Parliament’s request for a Section 30 order. What would a second referendum look like?

Timing is everything… And so is the question…

Regardless of your views on ‘independence’, it must surely be fair to both sides of the argument, and most importantly to the Scottish people, that voters be able to make their choice at the ballot box based on full knowledge of how Brexit will work.

As First Minister Alex Salmond was more or less allowed to dictate the terms of the first referendum on Scottish ‘independence’ which was set out in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012.

I recognise that the Agreement was signed at a time when the SNP had a majority in the Scottish Parliament so it must have been hard for the then Prime Minister David Cameron to reject the Nationalists’ mandate to hold a referendum following the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2011. Two crucial things however did disadvantage the Unionist cause.

The first was effectively allowing Alex Salmond to hold a two-year referendum campaign which gave him the time he needed to build support for a Yes vote; a calculation which almost paid off.

The current occupier of Bute House is presumably pushing so hard for a second referendum now because she hopes to benefit from a similar time advantage. Sturgeon has an enthusiastic base of core supporters left over from three years ago, and she no doubt wants to put them to good use instead of waiting, possibly beyond 2020, for her second bite at the cherry.

This time the Nationalist calculation is that a snap poll in the middle of what will of course be challenging Brexit negotiations can exploit apparent ‘uncertainty’ and deliver them victory – before Scotland is ‘dragged out’ of the European Union ‘against her will’.

The UK Government’s position is therefore right. It not only takes away the initiative of the SNP to ‘gerrymander’ the timing in their favour, but it also ensures that any second referendum in Scotland is based on fairness and experience of an independent United Kingdom after Brexit.

The second crucial thing was the question; ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The very word ‘independence’ has a positive and proactive meaning which handed the argument to the Nationalists.

Objectively, few of us would ever choose to be ‘dependent’, and yet as you will read later, it was completely disingenuous for the Yes campaign to argue in the positive that Scotland would have been ‘liberated’ or ‘emancipated’ when ‘true independence’ was never actually on offer.

Undoubtedly, the question handed Nationalists the advantage. Voters were given a binary choice between another Nationalist positive, and a Unionist negative: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. It was a loaded question, which is exposed as such when compared with the process undertaken to compose the question for the EU referendum.

After much debate, and representations from all sides, the UK’s Electoral Commission ruled that a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote would not be fair, nor indeed suffice, in a complex and multifaceted debate on whether we should ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ the European Union. In the end, they came up with a neutral, unemotional question which handed neither ‘Leave’ nor ‘Remain’ the advantage.

And so it must surely be right that if Scotland does hold a second crucial referendum on our constitution, the UK Electoral Commission be handed the responsibility again of writing the question.

The situation is now different from that in 2011: the SNP has no mandate to pursue another referendum, nor a majority in Holyrood. This time, Downing Street is just as entitled to have a say on the timing and question as Bute House.

The UK Government should make it clear that Scottish voters have a right to experience life in a truly independent United Kingdom, both the pros and cons of life after Brexit.

If there is to be a second Scottish referendum, it should only be held two or three years after the United Kingdom has left the European Union. And only then!

But whatever decision the Scottish people make in that ballot, the choices before them will be much more nuanced than last time.

The choices before the Scottish people

At this point it is important to clarify what the SNP mean by ‘independence’. Cast your mind back to the Scottish Government White Paper in 2014 and you will remember that they proposed a formal currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.

This was soon rejected by the then UK Chancellor George Osborne, forcing the Scottish Government to propose the ‘Sterlingisation’ option which meant unilateral use of the Pound, but with the disadvantage that Scotland would have no control over monetary policy, nor have a Central Bank which could act as a lender of last resort.

In short, what the Yes campaign proposed on the ballot paper was separation, with dependency on the impulses of a foreign power Scotland would have spurned.

Scotland would have been unable to set interest rates, print money, or devalue. Ceding the fundamental levers of power which shape your economy does not allow you to claim true independence.

‘True Independence’, the preferred option of ‘more committed’ Nationalists who make up a significant tranche of the SNP’s grassroots, means full fiscal and monetary autonomy; a Scottish currency with its own central bank and interest rate; and the ability to levy taxes and borrow money.

A ‘True Independence’ supporter resists membership of global institutions such as the European Union, some even NATO, and demands a Scottish Armed Forces made up of whatever the UK Government agrees to share with Scotland once she has left the Union. For them her own territorial waters, including the much-discussed North Sea oil and fishing, a land border with the UK and her own immigration policy, are an important part of reclaiming Scottish sovereignty.

Without EU membership, a ‘truly independent’ Scotland would of course not be part of the EU’s Single Market to which she exports £12.3bn of goods and services, but free from the rulings of the European Court of Justice. Perhaps more crucially in financial terms, she would no longer be a ‘member’ of the UK’s ‘Single Market’ where her exports are worth £49.8bn.

The path to ‘true independence’ is rocky, and the SNP know this!

It is why when a Currency Union and then Sterlingisation was rejected by the UK Government in 2014, they announced that the latter would be a transition currency. But a transition to what? Official SNP policy up until the 2008 Financial Crash had always been for an ‘independent’ Scotland to join the Euro.

The SNP has rather bashfully always put great faith in the idea that the best path to ‘freedom’ is to separate Scotland from the UK and join a Federal United States of Europe. Its belief has always been that the rights of its citizens, security and economic future can be protected inside a Federal Europe, but you could be forgiven for not knowing this. It’s not a policy they advertise with any great enthusiasm.

In fact, since the then First Minister Alex Salmond was forced to drop his much-vaunted idea of an ‘Arc of Prosperity’ (the proposed economic and trading alliance between Ireland, Iceland and Norway), and then subsequently drop formal plans to adopt the Euro, the SNPs silence has been deafening.

Before a second referendum takes place in Scotland, the SNP will need to come clean. If ‘True Independence’ is left off the ballot paper again, then they need to be clear what exactly it is they will be asking the Scottish People to vote for.

To me the choice they want to offer Scots is becoming more and more apparent:

–       Separation from the UK and dependency on the EU

A second Scottish referendum could end up being a hybrid plebiscite, not so much debating ‘independence’, but answering a refined Brexit question. And that is no bad thing for Unionists.

Assuming the Scottish Government were successful, and Spain did not veto their membership, re-entering the EU would mean adopting the Euro – taking the SNP back full circle to 2008; a more honest time for manifesto promises.

There is no avoiding the fact that Scotland would have formally to adopt the currency. Scotland would be forced to inherit the European Central Bank’s interest rate, and a monetary policy geared towards maintaining the success of the German economy. Much like Greece, Scottish jobs and inflation would be secondary concerns.

But all this assumes that Scotland could meet the convergence criteria of a less than 60% debt to GDP ratio, and reducing the deficit to GDP ratio below 3%. Such a feat is likely to take the Scottish Government years. According to the TaxPayers’ Alliance in 2015/16 Scotland had a deficit to GDP ratio of 9.5% – the highest in the EU, twice that of the UK, and even higher than that of Greece. Scotland under the SNP is some way off meeting these targets.

If the timetable remains on track, in two years the United Kingdom will leave the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy, both of which have caused significant damage to Scotland’s fishing and farming communities. It is clear from reading the Scotland Act that competency over rural affairs and fishing, not to mention the environment, business regulation, and transport, rests with the Scottish Parliament.

There can be no doubt that powers and responsibilities returning from Brussels in these areas are going straight to Scotland. The UK Government is committed to this aim, and I am encouraged that it is right, and will happen.

Having already created the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, Brexit is going to make the Scottish Parliament even more powerful.

It seems extraordinary therefore that a Party which said in its manifesto, and has argued for decades, that it wants more powers for Scotland, is now committed to giving them away. At a time when the SNP could empower the Scottish Parliament, they are preparing the ground for a referendum which would see them giving newly returned powers back to Brussels. It is a bizarre paradox.

Make no mistake, ‘independence’ would not be on the ballot paper. A vote for the SNP’s interpretation of ‘independence’ would be a vote to make Scotland less powerful. Scotland would be anything but an ‘independent nation’, but instead a small separated one with hardly any voice inside the EU and Single Market, while losing access to the UK’s Single Market and the trade deals which the UK is seeking to sign with the more prosperous parts of the world.

It is why, following the EU referendum in which pro Leave SNP MPs and MSPs were allegedly ‘gagged’, Eurosceptic Nationalists are finding their voice. The SNP’s former Deputy Leader Jim Sillars has said he would not vote for so-called ‘independence’ in a second Scottish referendum if it meant re-joining the EU after Brexit. In a recent interview with The Herald newspaper he said he would abstain and believed many SNP supporters would follow suit:

“I do not want to be run by an unelected, self-serving elite… I, for example, could not vote Yes if on the ballot paper it said, ‘We wish the Scottish state to be a member of the European Union’, and I’m not alone in that… One of the biggest miscalculations by Nicola Sturgeon is to believe that the 1.6m Scots who voted Remain would automatically then vote to go back into the European Union… That means Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tory party, and all the Tories who voted to Remain, would in fact vote to leave the United Kingdom and take a Scottish state into the European Union. I think that’s fantasy.”

Jim Sillars is not alone. Survation estimates that 34.9% of surveyed voters who backed the SNP in last year’s Holyrood elections voted to leave the EU in the UK-wide referendum, presenting Sturgeon with a difficult conundrum.

As a Leaver, I share Jim Sillars sentiments towards the EU, and as a Unionist I part company with him over ‘independence’. But as someone who fought hard in 2014 to preserve our precious 300-year-old Union I believe the UK Government must do all it can to find a new settlement that Scotland and the Scottish people can be comfortable with; a settlement that has broad support, and longevity.

This is where the second option on the ballot paper can play a significant part in answering the Brexit Question.

–       Staying in an independent Federal UK

This second option should be an invitation to Scottish voters to empower their Parliament through Brexit. Scotland is a divided country so this invitation needs to be open to both Nationalists and Unionists alike. With 45% of voters demonstrating very clearly in 2014 that they are not content with the status quo, it will be hard in the future to maintain the Union without reforming the way that it works for all its people.

The second option needs to say that if it is independence you crave then look no further than the United Kingdom which, having invoked Article 50 on 29th March 2017, is well on the path to regaining hers, and is committed to sharing sovereignty among the family of nations.

The UK constitution has undergone dramatic changes in the last twenty years which has seen the creation of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and since then further powers devolved.

The Scottish Parliament is the most powerful devolved parliament in the world. In financial terms, it is more powerful than most federal states with comparative legislatures, including Germany, the United States and Australia.

Brexit presents Scotland with an opportunity to repatriate to existing institutions even more powers over fishing, farming, the environment, business regulations, transport, and the law.

Should Scotland choose this second option she would naturally keep Sterling and continue to be part of the decision-making process which sets interest rates and determines money supply.

She would be protected by HM Armed Forces, remain a member of the Commonwealth, NATO and have access to the 30 or so trade deals on offer to the UK which amount to roughly 60% of the world’s GDP. She would also continue to benefit from the Barnett Formula.

But if Scotland is to benefit from Brexit by staying in the United Kingdom, then others within the family of nations should benefit too by having the same powers and responsibilities.

After years of patchwork reform, we have ended up with a constitutional ‘dog’s breakfast’; an unfair and unclear system where the West Lothian Question remains unanswered and political and democratic inequality exists between the nations.

In November 2014, the Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell sought to rectify this by introducing a Ten-Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons to create a federal United Kingdom, with separate parliaments for each of the four nations, leaving the UK Parliament responsible for defence, foreign affairs, national security, and the macroeconomy. Unfortunately, his Bill didn’t make progress.

Many nationalists in Scotland however, and not just those who voted Leave, would be attracted by a second option which incorporates this thinking. Federalism would constitutionalise the existing and newly repatriated powers of the Scottish Parliament, and further enhance its role in deciding policies which the governing party believes will directly improve the lives of the Scottish people.

The attraction of the second option to those who up until now have identified themselves as ‘Yes’ voters is an obvious one, as a federal constitutional arrangement inside the UK is a more empowering alternative to the emasculating option that separation and EU dependency offers.

Brexit and Federalism can save the Union

In a post-Brexit, independent Federal UK, the new beginning a second option offers would address the problem of our politics being far too centralised, and our country being far too divided.

Federalism would clearly set out in statute the powers and responsibilities of the Governments of each federal state, be it England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and of course the principle of pooling resources across the nations of the UK.

There could be no disputes from nationalist governments in the Celtic fringes playing a game of divide and rule with Westminster, and where there might be disputes, these could easily be resolved by The Supreme Court. We would move towards a more harmonious constitutional settlement.

Post-Brexit federalism would see off divisive nationalism and set the glue that would bind us together as one People sharing this new unique island at the centre of the world, and which we all call our home.

David Roach

This article first appeared on the Bruges Group’s website and is used with permission.