Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon will be heading to Brussels this week to voice concerns for the possible failure of Brexit negotiations while making clear that independence remains a viable option.
Customs Union or independence
Addressing an audience in Lisbon on Saturday, Sturgeon expressed her desire for the UK to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market and expresses frustration with the “hide-and-seek” tactics of the British government. “Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we are committed to continuing our collaboration, our friendship and our partnership with other European countries,” Sturgeon said, according to the Herald of Scotland.
The Scottish government is also entangled in a constitutional row with Theresa May’s government, demanding the devolution of powers repatriated from Brussels, calling the Brexit bill an indirect “power grab.”
Meanwhile, Sturgeon is also on a European tour to promote the vision of an independent Scottish economy. While in Brussels, Sturgeon will be opening the expanded Scotland House, an institution with offices in London, Dublin and Berlin; another office is planned for Paris.
This makes part of an effort for Scotland to bolster its profile as an economy that can go it alone.
In 2017 Sturgeon temporarily shelved the question of independence, pending the negotiation of the Brexit deal. She was forced to do so after a significant electoral setback in June 2017, when unionist parties eroded the almost unchallenged majority the Scottish nationalists enjoyed.
However, the prospect of “no deal” in Brexit negotiations bolsters the case for Scottish independence.
Blueprints for economic independence
Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) “Growth Commission” report was published on Friday, May 25, outlining a 354-page vision for an independent Scotland.
Leaving the UK, joining the EU but holding on to the pound for more than a decade is the nationalist plan for an independent Scottish economy. The weakness of the economic argument for leaving the UK cost the SNP a remain vote in 2014.
The SNP wants to address this weakness head on.
In outlining a growth vision, the report is founded on a comparative approach, picking up elements of economic development from small countries around the world, with an emphasis on the Nordic model, but also New Zealand. In doing so, it deviates from central British options as reflected on the EU referendum campaign.
For instance, the plan calls not only for freedom of movement for EU workers but for the active promotion of immigration. The programme would offer tax relief to encourage highly skilled migrants and graduates to increase the working population.
This alludes to a growth model that will be knowledge-intensive, rather than resource-driven, since the international price of oil has dropped significantly and Atlantic reserves are well past their peak time. Renewable energy still features prominently. Still, the current resurgence of oil and gas in Scotland – as long anemic international prices have recovered – are bolstering the independence argument by limiting Scotland’s deficit.
The deficit question
The weakest dimension of the SNP argument has been the annual €10bn Scottish deficit, currently bridged by English transfers. If Scotland were to secede, it is argued that this would automatically cause a period of extreme austerity as the economy struggles to adjust.
That is why the decade of transition with the pound is crucial to the nationalist programme. In time, Scotland would introduce its national currency. Interestingly, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, noted that a currency union between the two countries would be a viable option, lending the Scottish plan with some institutional credibility.
Another gift by Mr. Carney for the nationalist cause was his observation that Brexit is already costing each family in the UK £900 a year.
The conservative opposition is calling for a bottom-line focus on economic growth within the UK framework, while Labour calls for a nationwide alliance for redistribution of wealth.
Liberals, Conservatives and Labour made inroads in the June 2017 elections, reflecting heightened support for unity with the UK. Currently, however, both the Labour Party and the Conservatives are deeply divided over Brexit, bolstering the nationalist argument.