First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrives to give a speech on the European Union to the Resolution Foundation at St John's Smith Square in London. ©Anthony Devlin/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Brexit won't mean Scottish independence

The Chair of Labour Leave makes her case for leaving the EU—and against pessimism
March 11, 2016
Read more: Twelve things you need to know about Brexit 

Fortunately, I do not take much notice of all of the scaremongering about Brexit that comes from Downing Street, Holyrood, Paris and Brussels, or I would be spending a lot of my life behind the settee. You do not have to love the UK as much as I do to see that the arguments made by “Remain”—also known as “Project Fear,” are weak. The sensible thing to do, based on an assessment of the strength and resilience of the UK economy, is to reject most of the arguments against Brexit on account of the pessimism built into them.

As part of this, we should reject the Cabinet Office’s recent findings, which are relentlessly pessimistic. They make no allowance at all for the strength of the UK economy—or its global importance. The report shows no expectation that in the eventuality of Brexit, the EU would adopt rational self-interest to protect its own huge £290bn per annum trade with their largest trade partner, the UK. This trade is particularly important to Germany, the EU’s chief paymaster, and yet the Government talks as if the EU will treat the UK like tiny Norway.

The June referendum is in many ways a rigged exercise. No serious contingency plan has been made by the government to negotiate potential new trade arrangements for if we left the EU—or to map out alternative migration rules, or to say how industries like agriculture might be supported. This is because no serious engagement with EU policy-makers on post-Brexit arrangements can be expected until after the referendum. But in making its case for “Remain,” the Government relies on accusations that its opponents have not established an alternative to life inside the EU.

Furthermore, in an implicit admission of the weakness of its economic case, the Government has attempted to switch attention to the supposed security advantages of EU membership. With Aegean immigration operations having to be organised by NATO under an American General, and eurozone austerity policies actively promoting the rise of far-right parties across Europe (just as they did in the 1930s) the EU’s role in our security is hardly one to bet on.

As the “Remainers” thrash around for arguments, they have decided they have a trump card: Brexit might mean the breakup of the United Kingdom. The wonderful red herring of a second Scottish independence referendum appears in every pro-EU piece of journalism. The argument runs that if we voted to leave the EU, the Scots would demand another referendum and vote to leave the UK, as Scots are far more pro-EU than the average Brit. Yet the 2015 Social Attitudes Survey shows that Scottish attitudes to leaving the EU differ rather little from those in the rest of the UK. Whilst 23 per cent of people in England and Wales told the Survey that they wished to leave the EU, the figure for Scotland was 17 per cent. A further 39 per cent of Scots wished to stay within the EU but reduce its powers. The figure for England and Wales was 40 per cent.

The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey also suggests that support for Scottish independence falls to only 15 per cent if splitting from the UK were to reduce incomes by as much as £500. This is the key point since Scottish independence would now cost very much more than £500. When the independence referendum was held in September 2014 the world oil price was $100 per barrel. Now it is $40 and has recently been below $30. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility expects its price to remain below $60 up to 2020, and many think that the low cost of US fracked oil will set a permanent ceiling of $60 on oil. The OBR then predicts that UK tax revenues from North Sea oil and gas production will be essentially zero for the next five years. This means that Scotland’s share of oil and gas revenues would fall from £10bn in 2011/12, and £5.6bn in 2012/13, to zero for at least the next five years. This loss would be equal to £1000 per head: £4000 for a couple with two children. The figure is also equal to around three-quarters of Scottish education spending.

During the 2014 referendum the SNP said that Scotland would rely on oil revenues if it went independent, but the voters knew better than to turn their country into an oil-state, which would mean them relying on a volatile natural resource. Scots will certainly resist independence now, and as oil runs out, probably forever.

The UK will stay together if we leave the EU. It is a successful union, built upon a long history, a common identity and constitutional development. I support Brexit because we must make our own political decisions within the UK, with elected representatives close to the people. As a Labour MP I particularly value the way that UK voters support benefits for the disadvantaged and for poorer regions. The EU will not provide them. Germans will not support poor Greeks. Nor will it prioritise balancing the economic growth of different EU economies. Italy has had almost no economic growth at all since it joined the EU in 1999, and not enough has been done to help it. The UK has been wise to stay clear of the euro, but would be even wiser to detach itself from the EU as a whole.

Now read: The SNP's economic case is draining away