Agenda: Scotland's subservient status in the EU referendum must be challenged
WHAT is Scotland going to get out of the “Great British” referendum on Europe? Continued membership of the EU perhaps, but certainly no reforms or a push for Scotland’s claims during renegotiations for better national representation. The headline arguments are all English between David Cameron, who served a valuable apprenticeship on Project Fear during our referendum, and politicians such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson who have no Scottish relevance. This was a major opportunity, utterly lost, to exert Scottish pressure.
We can’t really blame UK politicians for making Scotland irrelevant during an EU referendum that is more important than the Scottish election itself. Why debate Scotland’s role at a UK level when political opinion here is so one-sided? This is hardly democracy’s finest hour.
Some 98 per cent of Scottish MSPs, MPs and MEPs support Britain remaining in the European Union. This is both extraordinary and unrepresentative. With more than 30 per cent of Scots likely to vote for a Brexit and 60 per cent declaring they are Eurosceptic, an almighty democratic deficit. What has happened to Scottish democracy? Surely all 98 per cent cannot be members of the political elite dedicated to European integration? Aren’t the Scottish electorate to be given a balanced view from their elected politicians? If they are all toeing the line out of party loyalty, Mao Tse Tung or Joseph Stalin would be proud, but will the Scottish public be served? Doesn’t anyone worry that the elected are so conspicuously detached from the views of the electorate on this vital issue?
Strong cases can be made for staying in or leaving the EU. In England, a full-scale debate dominates the headlines. In Scotland, it is as if politicians are hiding from the issue. Yes, there is a Scottish general election pending but the EU referendum must take priority.
There has been no projection of Scotland’s distinct position within the EU. If the Labour and Conservative parties want to make a political comeback, here is an excellent opportunity to take a pro-Scottish stance on either side of the argument. So far there is no sign of independent thinking.
For decades, the SNP has had as one of its chief objectives independence in Europe. Scotland has only six out of 750 members of the European Parliament. As a region of the UK, Scotland has no presence in the European Council or the European Union Council (formerly the Council of Ministers) where the real decisions are made. Scotland stands outside peering in, waiting to be told what to do. This is not good for our nation; our politicians’ collective silence is even more damaging.
In effect, by recommending the status quo of staying in without reform, Scotland will remain a region within a union of independent states. How does this square with independence in Europe? It doesn’t. When that policy was developed, it was designed to use Europe to accelerate independence. Europe was an instrument not a goal; a means not an end. It was about independence, not Europe.
The national movement has lost sight of this strategy. The message of independence has morphed into a policy of in Europe at all costs. Independence as a political objective has seemingly been dropped. Faced with a veto from the EU to Scottish membership, as in 2014, it leaves us in a quandary.
Even if the secret strategy was to seek independence (a dodgy prospect in present economic circumstances) through a second referendum on the back of England voting “out” and Scotland voting “in”, there have only been tantalising glimpses of what might be and no fixed promises.
It is time to wrest the direction of the EU referendum campaign from London. If it is too late for Scottish grandstanding, at least direct the campaign from British obsessions to Scottish objectives. Whether one supports the EU or not, Scotland’s subservient status needs to be challenged.
This close-run referendum is an opportunity to extract concessions from the UK Government to enable Scotland to have automatic co-representative status at ministerial meetings. The SNP Government should press the EU Commission for the same privileges given to the European Free Trade Association countries, such as Norway and Iceland, of early Scottish consultation over draft EU legislation and directives so that our unique national needs can be better served. To expend such vast quantities of political capital simply to achieve the status quo does beg the question: what’s the point of voting?
Gordon Wilson is a former leader of the SNP.