, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What does Martin Schulz think about a Scottish pound? Where does Guy Verhofstadt stand on Scotland’s membership of the Common Travel Area? Of course, I am not going to insult your intelligence by assuming that you have never heard of these people. In common with every other devotee of Scottish politics, every bloated middle-aged nationalist who is glued to Wings Over Scotland, and every expert constitutional pontificator, you’ll know that when it comes to negotiating the future of an “independent” Scotland, these people matter. Even Enda Kenny might matter. For once President Jose Manuel Barroso’s second term ends later in the year, the standpoint of his successor will either lubricate or clog up an “independent” Scotland’s readmission to the European Union.

I have always imagined the European Commission’s leadership to be a sinister oligarchy of energetic, self-satisfied corporate smarmers. It is unnerving to see how second-rate they are in real life. The most exciting moments in the career of Martin Schulz, the current President of the European Parliament, include being compared to a Nazi on separate occasions by both the former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi and the British MEP Godfrey Bloom (and, in both instances, he had no comeback). Schulz is also a former alcoholic and as the mayor of Würselen (pop. 37000) he was once embroiled in a controversy about the building of an “aquatic leisure centre.” He is presently amongst the frontrunners in the race to become the President of intergalactic Europe.

Barroso yesterday appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, where he made one of his cuddly-malevolent, hugely-choreographed, off-the-cuff interventions into the Scottish independence debate. Our President announced that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an “independent” Scotland to join the EU. This was widely interpreted as news, when it was, in fact, the only thing that any President of the European Commission could have realistically said. Try imagining Barroso publicly entertaining the prospect of an existing European member state breaking up. Such is the stuff of summit walkouts and testy banquets.

It makes you worry about John Swinney though. The SNP finance minister’s ferret eyes darkened over a comparison which Barroso had never actually made (the viability of Kosovo and Scotland’s EU membership), when it is infinitely easier for Swinney to dismiss Barroso as a lame duck who will be quacking elsewhere by the time of the referendum. A new President will have the freedom to completely disown Barroso’s remarks.

The Westminster media are now gloating over a Scottish nationalist “meltdown.” The SNP’s plans for a “sterling zone” and automatic EU membership both supposedly lie in ruins. Yet if the SNP are honest with themselves, these challenges were wholly predictable, and we are still at the stage of only describing the prospective nation rather than analysing how it will function. An “independent” Scotland is just beginning to float out of the artificial reality of policy papers and into realpolitik. Moreover, the SNP, like the UK Independence Party, retains a merry anti-establishment appeal, and being admonished by graver and more professional-looking politicians may still help to roll some more of their scenery on to the stage.

Bizarrely, considering that the history of a three hundred year old political system and the sixth largest economy in the world is at stake, nearly a third of Scottish voters presently haven’t got a clue, or even couldn’t care less, about the future of the Union. EdinburghEye this week notes that, “Quite possibly the worst result for 18th September would be for fewer than 50% of the electorate to vote, but for Yes to win by a narrow margin.” This would result in a new nation being launched with barely a quarter of its population’s consent (and EdinburghEye can envisage even worse results). Not only would an “independent” Scotland be consigned to many years of embarrassing questions about its legitimacy, but it would be at a dire disadvantage in the subsequent negotiations with both Westminster and Brussels.

For me, the term “Euro-sceptic” has always been superfluous and often a sort of smear, with its connotations of bigotry and right-wing conservatism. I oppose the EU because I am a democrat. So far, the most attractive argument for independence is that the SNP might bungle their negotiations and exit the EU by accident.

Although I may remain Scottish nationalism’s most merciless satirist, I am undecided on the vote itself. I have voted in every election and referendum during my adult life, but this might be the first one in which I spoil the ballot. The existing shower with the Queen and the House of Lords is intolerable; the future one with the Queen and greater EU powers looks potentially even less democratic. Our difficulty is that the current scenario lacks even the clarity of “a plague on both your houses.” Perhaps never in peacetime have a people been asked to decide upon the future of their country with so little practical information to hand.

Yes Scotland’s Stephen Noon yesterday contended that, “To believe any nation would want Scotland removed from the EU requires us to suspend reality.” He has a point. Acutely risk-averse politicians in both Westminster and Brussels would never want to be viewed as being responsible for trashing Scotland’s economy and bankrupting its universities. For one thing, closing the border or disconnecting the currency would imperil the single, cherished idea which runs throughout British politics: The Recovery. Some warnings about an “independent” Scotland lean too heavily on the ludicrous, in presenting it as a desolate pariah state like Iran or North Korea. Scotland is, in effect, being dared to be independent. We have almost reached the point where the Yes box on the ballot paper will be accompanied by the same gory, manipulative little photographs that they stick on fag packets to frighten faint-hearted smokers.

So where should the democrat stand? We need more information, more choice, and more popular engagement. At the moment, there is a danger that the referendum will come and go with only passing democratic interest. Westminster might pounce upon a No vote to entrench the status quo; Brussels will be waiting with all sorts of exploitative terms and conditions if there is a Yes. Tychy is perfectly willing to sound a Yes, but it must be a Yes to something greatly more democratic than the compromises and copouts which are presently on the table.

[#1 is here.]