All Commentary
Monday, February 5, 2018

The EU is No Friend to Scottish Independence

The Scottish National Party needs to end its love affair with the EU.

It is no myth that the Scottish National Party’s pro-European stance has caused them a tragic host of problems over the years. The pro-independence party’s inconsistent view on the European project has split the party various times in its history, but since their leader Nicola Sturgeon now forges a weekly attempt to keep Scotland inside the European Union after Brexit, the issue is now more of an annoyingly hot topic. The SNP began its grassroots drive for independence without the EU, yet Europe has done nothing but hinder their dreams ever since.

The EU itself has very little concept of limited government, meaning that the bloc has snowballed into one of the most over-regulated economies in the modern world. This has caused a real surge in skepticism of the European project in Scotland, costing the SNP many voters from the more libertarian wings of secessionism.

The former SNP leader Alex Salmond once said that many “no” votes in the Scottish Independence referendum were just “deferred yes votes.” He is probably right; many people in Scotland are not, in principle, against the idea of an independent Scotland. But the SNP’s anti-Brexit tactics have left conservative-minded voters disenchanted, many of them seeing no option except to vote for the Unionist Conservative Party since that is the only party willing to go forward with Brexit and maintain a more economically liberal platform.

Not Quite a “Romeo and Juliet” Story

The flirtationship between the European Union and the Scottish National Party is both historic and stormy. Their romance began in the 50s when party members became intrigued by the prospect of Scotland being integrated into the European Community. The SNP, still quite young at the time, began to romanticize the idea of Scottish membership in the European Community. Many in the party believed that such a prospect was far less invasive to the Scottish identity than the British Union had been in the past.

Of course, it is well known that the SNP’s origins were rather Conservative, and so the party started to drift away from the idea of European integration in the 60s and 70s. By this point, the SNP did not want to have to fight an imperial force in Brussels when they were already fighting another in London. The party started accusing the European Community of being centralized, elitist, and bureaucratic: the very same slogans used by the Leave campaign to criticize the EU today. A 1974 SNP electoral leaflet even described the European project as being a “dangerous experiment in gross over-centralisation.”

A whole host of EU technocrats betrayed the SNP by coming out against Scottish Independence. In fact, history seems to be repeating itself if we look at the campaign tactics used by the SNP in the past and their tactics today. In the 1975 referendum on British accession to the European Community, the SNP had hoped that Scotland would vote against European membership so that Scotland would produce a different result to the rest of the UK and thus create a key point of division. This would have given the SNP an opportunity to argue that Scotland should have its own referendum to decide whether it remained in Europe as part of the UK or if it should leave the UK and become an independent sovereign nation.

The irony is that this situation is more or less inversely parallel to the tactics that the SNP employed in the recent Brexit referendum, in the way that they wanted Scotland to vote against Brexit so as to create a point of division with the rest of the UK. This time around their plan to create division worked, and many SNP politicians are now demanding that Scotland be given a second independence referendum, simply because Scotland voted against Brexit whilst England and Wales voted in favor of it.

Attitudes toward the EU began to change in 1988 when the SNP adopted an “Independence in Europe” policy which remained throughout the years. However, this honeymoon period did not exactly last. In the run-up to the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, a whole host of EU technocrats betrayed the SNP by coming out against Scottish Independence, saying that if Scotland wanted to rejoin the EU after independence, they would have to join a queue. This was the first sign of modern tension between the SNP and the EU, which also prompted the Euroskepticism of some SNP politicians.

The final straw seems to be the recent events in Catalonia, a region which the SNP have always viewed as a sister in the secessionist movement. Many members of the SNP caused quite a raging cacophony over the EU’s lack of response to the situation in Catalonia. The signs at this point are clear that the EU has neither regard for any moves towards secessionism or self-determination, nor regard for any movements that want to create further separation in Europe. Yet even though the EU are essentially not interested in the SNP’s secessionist motives, the party continues to hang on to their dalliance with Europe.  

Independence Is a Broad Church Movement

The SNP’s Europhilic obsession has essentially caused the party to conveniently forget that the Independence movement is meant to be a broad church; Scottish secessionism was not meant to be confined to the left, and it certainly was not meant to be confined to those with an unconditional love for the European Union.

It is only to be expected that the elite figures of the EU would want to quash any sentiments of separatism or localized decision-making. At the moment, the SNP’s compulsive obsession with the EU is problematic for practical reasons. In the last general election, the SNP’s rigid anti-Brexit crusade resulted in the party losing many seats to the Conservative Party, simply because there were actually quite of lot of Scottish Nationalists who were in favor of Brexit. The SNP needs to make room for more conservative voices if it wants to achieve its goal.

Small States Contribute to Globalization

If the EU is constantly pushing for more integration, more centralization, and the abolition of localism, it is only to be expected that the elite figures of the EU would want to quash any sentiments of separatism or localized decision-making. By making the case for true independence from both the United Kingdom and the European Union, we could seize an opportunity to make Scotland one of the greatest liberal strongholds of the world once again, stabilized by free trade and a thriving open market economy.

After all, small states cannot afford protectionism: they rely on trade and interaction with the global market. Given that the SNP is gradually playing to a sort of center-left populist tune, perhaps independence is the only way to stun Scotland’s decline towards champagne socialism.

It is high time for the SNP to end their European fling, and instead pave the road for a Scotland that is truly independent — from both Brussels and London. If Scotland wants to be truly open to the world, we cannot be chained to the protectionist shackles of commercially restrictive political unions. We have to be open for business to the entire world and not just to a mere continent.

  • Jamie McGowan is a Legal Researcher from Scotland. He studies Law at the University of Strathclyde, taking interest in International Trade and Human Rights.