Market access

Johnson can thwart SNP if he gives Scotland single market access | Simon jenkins

IIn two weeks, Scotland will likely re-elect a government determined to dismantle the UK. It has been doing so, overwhelmingly, since 2007. Although the Scottish people did not say yes to independence in 2014, opinion polls from last year suggest they would now, with the margin in favor reaching sometimes 12 percentage points. The prospect seems to leave London frozen in inertia. Boris Johnson contented himself with creating and then sacking a “union unit” from Downing Street.

It was 300 years since Scotland was last independent, sold in union with England, wrote Robbie Burns, by “a bit of rogue as a nation”. The union has done good and bad, but it has clearly failed to freeze. Whether the English – or even some Scottish expatriates – are against independence is not the question. Self-determination means what it says. The 2011 census suggested that 83% of Scots feel some Scottish identity, while 62% identify themselves as ‘Scottish only’. If they want to rule themselves, England must eat a humble post-imperial pie and accept. It has nothing to do with the economy but, as Johnson said about Brexit, with sovereignty.

English conservatives are never more at a loss than with their Celtic neighbors. Imperial arrogance helped them lose Ireland. Northern Ireland could also slip away. For years, every political decision in London, from the voting tax to the sacrifice of fishermen to Brexit, further infuriated public opinion in Scotland.

There is, however, a halfway house that London could offer Scotland. It is clear that whatever the UK may gain from leaving the EU, the cost of exiting the single European market is crippling. The current disruption could fade away, but the idea of ​​an economic or commercial benefit from leaving the single market seems absurd. Not a week goes by without new madness over border controls, migrant workers, supply chains or bureaucracy. The ‘harshness’ of Brexit was a thoughtless gimmick by a group of cronies to take control of the Tories.

The highest cost was always to be paid by Northern Ireland, where the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 produced a regularly beneficial economic merger with the south. Building a Brexit border across Ireland would ruin this deal. Hence the protocol under which Johnson left the north into the EU’s single market, allowing the free movement of goods and people. Although he lied to the DUP and the companies that he wouldn’t do such a thing, it did mean he had to accept a hard non-tariff border along the Irish Sea.

This protocol made sense. Northern Ireland has everything to gain from remaining alongside the Republic in a collective bargain. Many of its citizens believe this and are gradually moving towards reunification, with the polls currently balanced.

If any imaginative thought could be found, perhaps a way to allay some of the discontent, then, would be for Scotland to join the two Irlands in this existing single market. He does not need to leave the UK or join the EU. It would form with Ireland an economic “Celtic crescent” on the other side of the Irish Sea. Belfast would trade freely with Glasgow, Edinburgh with Rotterdam and Hamburg. The Scottish economy would remain open to Europe and would undoubtedly attract new investment and business.

A price is obvious. There should be some sort of customs barrier north of Hadrian’s Wall. There would be controls and there would be bureaucracy – like now between Norway and Sweden. But it is England’s fault for rejecting single market status. The Cheviot Hills could be a more manageable border than the one still presumed to be the island of Ireland.

A lot of nonsense is said about the “costs” of an independent Scotland, as if independence was a static rather than a dynamic condition. When Ireland was the backyard of the English economy, it was the poor of Europe. Everyone thought he would fall apart after going it alone. It took half a century of difficult adjustment to finally thrive. But no Irish would vote today to join the UK. Small self-governing states work well. There is no good reason why Scotland should not be another Denmark or Norway.

But maybe things don’t have to go that far. Margaret Thatcher forced Scotland to play the role of “pilot” for her voting tax. The least Johnson can do is offer Scotland a ‘pilot’ for single market membership on the island of Great Britain. He granted it to Northern Ireland. It de facto offers unique markets to “free ports” in England. He can hardly argue that the proposal would be unmanageable or constitutionally inappropriate. For Scotland, this would be a step towards a more radical version of independence than greater powers vested in the Edinburgh parliament. It would make sense. England could even decide eventually to join them as well.


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