The long intervals between postings on this blog might suggest to my readers that nothing is happening to the relationships between Scotland and rUK, and Scotland and the EU. This is both true and not true. Plenty of stuff has been written and broadcast on hypothetical areas of conflict and whether or not Brexit will actually happen but until very recently there has been no real substance in these reports. So there wasn’t any point in repeating them.
The “Phoney War” was the 6 month period of relative quiet for the British Isles before Hitler unleashed his all-out attack during WWII. It has taken more than three months after Ms. May assured us that ”Brexit means Brexit” for a skeleton framework to emerge showing how she intends to proceed. Repeated claims have been made by the ”Three Brexiteers” Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davies that, in BoJo’s words, Britain can have its cake and eat it, i.e. continue as a full member of the European single market and still get the right to impose limits on immigration. The best response to this rubbish has been made by Mr. Tusk, currently President of the European Council. He advised : Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/full-hard-brexit-speech-european-council-president-donald-tusk-1586332). Mr. Junker, Ms. Merkel and M. Hollande have been equally clear that a compromise on the Four Freedoms is not up for negotiation.
Ms. May considers that Brexit negotiations are part of UK foreign policy, an area ”reserved” for Westminster under the terms of the Scotland Act (1998). This point of view does not take into account the enormous effects that any form of Brexit will have on the internal workings of the UK. The obvious compromise would be for the preparations for Brexit to be made by a cross-party committee, representing the major shades of opinion within the UK. Negotiations with the EU would then proceed on the basis of the committee’s conclusions, which would be its negotiating mandate.
This will not happen, because….
Ms. May has formed a Cabinet committe (The European Union Exit and Trade Committee, EETC) to handle the Brexit negotiations. According to the news website Politico, the EETC is made up almost exclusively of hard-line Brexiteers. It does not include the Attorney General, a significant ommission in view of the legal complexities of the task. Neither does the Scottish Secretary (Whitehall’s man in Holyrood, David Mundall) have a permanent seat. On this score Scotland is no worse off than Northern Ireland and Wales. This is not a committee to produce a result balancing as far as possible the national and regional interests that make up the UK. Instead it is a committee to deliver the result ”Out whatever the cost”, thus putting the politics of the xenophobic right wing of the Conservative party well ahead of the national interest.
There is a hope that Westminster can at any rate be given a scrutinising role in the process – a decision by the High Court is expected next week, though the decision will almost inevitably be referred immediately to the Supreme Court (http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21708649-government-faces-legal-well-political-challenges-triggering-brexit). There is also speculation that, if Parliament were to be given the opportunity, a coalition of Labour, SNP and Europositive Conservative MPs might be able to prevent the invocation of Article 50. This would certainly inflame many of those who voted for Brexit and would require substantial courage from Conservative MPs to go against the party line.
Meanwhile, in Scotland Ms. Sturgeon has been delivering a consistent and prudent plan on how to approach the challenges of Brexit. Although the media have been full of reports that she will announce a new review of the need for a ”Second” IndyRef (it would actually be the third but no one seems to remember the IndyRef vote in 1978), her main thrust has been to try to ensure that the needs of Scotland will be adequately represented prior to Brexit negotiations. The first and overriding need is to remain within the EU. The second is to protect Scotland’s interests within Brexit negotiations. Only if these needs cannot be met, argues Ms. Sturgeon, can Scotland then claim that the conditions relating to IndyRef in 2014 have undergone such substantial changes that a new Independence Referendum should be organised (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14801465.Nicola_Sturgeon_warns_Theresa_May__I_m_not_bluffing_about_independence_vote/). Holding another referendum would require permission from Westminster, something that is hard to imagine in the current political atmosphere.
Angus Robertson MP has done a good job as spokesman for the SNP in Westminster. At the recent SNP annual conference he was elected Deputy Leader of the party by a comfortable majority. Angus Robertson used his speech to call for immediate preparations for another IndyRef. This was injudicious for a number of reasons. Several opinions polls have shown people seem to be waiting for clearer details of what Brexit will mean before thinking about another IndyRef. Nor will a new IndyRef simply be a re-run of the 2014 campaign as the issues have changed. Furthermore no one should think that IndyRef could take precedence over Brexit in the timetable for negotiations. Whether one likes it or not, Scotland’s future hinges on the relationship of the UK, or the rUK, with the EU so this must take precedence.
Finally it is interesting to note the increasing presence of Nordic issues in the Scottish debate. Last week Ms. Sturgeon addressed the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik and underlined Scotland’s commitment to the Arctic region and to multilateral cooperation. Nordic Horizons is planning a Conference on ”Scotland after Brexit” on Saturday 29 October, at which a number of the speakers will be from Nordic countries (http://www.nordichorizons.org/2016/09/scotland-after-brexit-event-details.html): your correspondent will report in due course. And on a humbler level your correspondent has addressed, and will go on addressing, branches of the Norden Association on the historical ties between Scotland and the Nordic nations and the issues of Scottish independence and the desirability of closer ties with the Nordic Union , which is itself evolving towards closer political integration.