The Scotland Office has been at pains to point out of late that, “c530,000 jobs in Scotland are supported by demand for Scottish goods and services from the rest of the UK.” What they fail to mention – leaving it to Scottish Government or SNP politicians to say – is that a similar number of UK jobs are similarly reliant on trade going the other way.
So why are Unionist politicians, David Mundell in particular, banging on about this figure, when it is a two-way street?
Well, aside from neglecting to mention half the relevant information, hoping that this will be the message digested, Mundell then goes on to add:
“As we leave the EU, it is vital we maintain the integrity of the UK market and prevent any new barriers to doing business across the UK.”
Later on in the same article, Tory MSP, Murdo Fraser, added:
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on the fact there are no trade barriers between Scotland and the rest of Britain…Yet the SNP wants to destroy this arrangement with its reckless gamble, making life harder for businesses and workers.”
Typically, The Scotsman used the more inflammatory remarks from Fraser to make its headline. I’ll come back to these comments…
The Scotsman isn’t exactly known for having sympathy or giving equal consideration to Scottish Independence or its proponents. Its web site comments sections are riddled with raging Unionist bile and hate, so anything pro-independence appearing on there will soon be smothered in such, regardless of what it says or how it says it.
Even so, within the article is some semblance of the Indy case (which no doubt the publication would point to if accused of bias). It does give the response about the job and trade issues going both ways and it does also mention an earlier report by the Fraser of Allander Institute (whose report is where this article stems from), when it stated:
“Scotland could lose between 30,000 and 80,000 jobs as a result of Brexit”
What is rather heinous about the article, aside from quoting Fraser for its headline, is that whilst it places Fraser’s comments after David Mundell’s (not in itself a problem), it places the response from Scottish Government Economy Secretary, Keith Brown, in-between them.
If you are wondering what is wrong with this, it is that Brown’s response is also effectively to Fraser as well. Placing Fraser’s comments after Brown’s makes it appear that Fraser is making a fresh point, when really, he isn’t. Aside from being a second Tory unionist to be quoted in the article, Fraser’s point was already countered by Brown when he said:
“It is quite simply nonsense to suggest that the rest of the UK would cease trading with Scottish firms if we were inside the single market but outside the UK… As we have consistently made clear, Scotland does not face a choice between exporting to the EU or the UK – we can, and should, do both”
OK, so Brown is talking about losing trade and Fraser is talking about trade barriers, but these things are interlinked.
Brown responded to the implication that there will be a substantial loss of trade between rUK and Scotland as a consequence of independence. Fraser and Mundell were talking about trade barriers arising because of independence, which would then cause any such loss of trade.
So why would anyone want trade barriers? Why would they suddenly exist because of independence? Mundell and Fraser are phrasing their argument as if they are.
But think about it. The trade goes both ways. Jobs in Scotland and rUK are dependent on trade across the Scottish border.
So why would anyone want trade barriers?
Now think bigger picture. If trade barriers are the consequence of Scotland leaving the UK (still don’t know why, but let’s assume it’s so for now), surely the same must be true of Brexit?
Or is it? What is the Brexit deal? Oh wait, we don’t know yet. So how the hell do Mundell and Fraser?
The current situation is that there is a Common Travel Area (CTA) across the UK and Ireland. This has existed since the 1950s and there was a form of it in place following the birth of the Irish Free State, up until the second world war.
Despite the advent of the EU, this remains in place. It is in fact Brexit that is jeopardising it, starting in Ireland, as the UK leaves the EU and Northern Ireland finds itself on an EU border.
There is understandable reluctance to have a “hard border” between the two Irish countries, given the long-standing history and benefits of not having such.
There were Customs checks as well as army and police check points in the past, all of which gave way to either the Single European Market or The Good Friday Agreement. However, the Irish Ambassador to the UK commented in February upon the task of introducing a hard Irish border:
“… I don’t think it is even remotely possible to think in terms of having a border that would really control every movement of goods and people across that border. This is a border that is invisible. It is different from most other borders that our European partners might be familiar with.”
David Davis MP (the ‘Brexit Minister’) said in March:
“One of the plans being put together is how on earth we create an invisible, frictionless border between north and south, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.
There is considerable concern over the impact of the EU border that will exist in Ireland, after Brexit in 2019, and its effect on trade. It does however appear that the European Commission, The Irish and the British governments are seeking solutions that will satisfy all sides and cause the minimum of disruption.
So what of a potential rUK/Scottish hard border in the event of independence?
Perhaps more to the point, why wouldn’t there be a similar response to what is going on with the Irish border? Why wouldn’t all parties be looking to seek the best possible solution to any such issues, rather than there be the trade barriers that the Scottish Tories are talking about happening automatically?
Aren’t the Scottish Tories really just scaremongering on the issue by assuming that the worst possible case scenario will definitely occur?
Let’s not forget that Scotland is currently within the UK – and the UK is leaving the EU. In the event of independence, Scotland would, as Unionists are all too keen to point out, also be out of the EU.
However, having been taken out of the EU against its will, it is not a foregone conclusion that Scotland would reapply for EU membership, or obtain it. It may be SNP policy now, but policies and circumstances change.
If there was a referendum in late 2018/early 2019, and should there be a “Yes” vote, Scottish independence is not going to occur until at least 2020. Whilst the application process for returning to the EU is unlikely to be blocked, and Scotland, as a current EU member, via the UK, meets the requirements of being in the EU, meaning that an application to rejoin may be “relatively speedy“, it will still take years.
We could be talking about c2030 before Scotland rejoins the EU, although Scotland would be hoping for a timeframe shorter than that – say c2025. Put another way, Scotland is going to be out of the EU for at least several years.
Circumstances may have changed by then. Scotland may join the EFTA, perhaps as a stepping stone to the EU. It may do something else entirely, but the point of independence would be that it would be Scotland’s choice – and it hasn’t been made yet.
As of now, no one knows what is going to happen. It’s all a bunch of ‘whatifs‘ and theories. This begs the question, how does either Mundell or Fraser know that there will be trade barriers in place?
The simple answer is; they don’t. If anything, the reverse is likely.
Until such time as an independent Scotland rejoins the EU, which is years away, Scotland would be negotiating with the rUK for itself over trade. It would make no sense whatsoever for there to be trade barriers between Scotland and rUK.
As was said, it is a nonsense to believe that trade between Scotland and rUK will disappear because of Scottish independence. And no one knows what agreements will come in the future should Scotland rejoin the EU, or how Brexit negotiations will impact on this.
It is far more of a concern that these jobs may have disappeared already because of Brexit.
Whilst the jobs identified in this report maybe reliant on services in rUK, did anyone count how many of these jobs are with companies operating in the UK because of it being in the EU?
How many companies trade between rUK/Scotland for the purpose of exporting a final product to/through the EU?
Trade barriers between rUK and Scotland are only likely to occur at all if/when Scotland rejoins the EU. Even then, for Scotland, would any loss of rUK trade that might occur, be greater than the gains of returning to the EU? Greater than the benefits to the Scottish economy of free movement? Better than potentially getting back some or all of the 30,000 – 80,000 jobs that are going to be lost through Brexit?
How about maybe getting some of those jobs the UK has lost/will lose because of regaining access to the EU?
How about improving the prospects for Scottish businesses and the Scottish economy by having access to the EU?
And how about retaining those Human Rights that the Tories want to replace with a bill of British Rights?
Oh yes, let’s not forget either, that the argument for Scottish independence and being a part of the EU isn’t purely financial, even if the unionist arguments against indy almost always are.
Brexit has barely kicked-in and the UK is losing EU related jobs, banks are relocating to EU countries and the prospects of a timely EU/UK trade deal is starting to resemble a ship disappearing over the horizon.
So forget unionist claims about the possible impact of independence on jobs in Scotland, as they’ll never represent anything other than doom and gloom. Worry more about the actual impact on jobs of Brexit.