AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN
Rejection of all Tory policies by the SNP is as predictable as the Scottish rain, but the party’s quick dismissal of Boris Johnson’s EU agreement as a “hard Brexit” and for short-changing Scotland’s fishing communities really beggars belief and prompts questions about what sort of relationship it really wants with our European neighbours.
Take the fishing settlement. Mr Johnson has cut the amount of fish that EU boats can plunder from British waters. It’s not on the scale he had demanded, but like all negotiations he’s had to compromise to get a deal.
However, The agreement will mean Britain claws back 25% of the bloc’s existing catch over the next five and a half years and the PM said it will regain complete control of the fishing stocks once that transition period ends.
In the face of months of intransigence from the EU, it would have been foolhardy for the UK negotiating team to have held out for something better, risking the prospect of losing agreement on the entire £660bn trade deal.
Yet even though it will mean a bigger share for Scottish ports the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Prime Minister of agreeing a “bad deal on fishing”.
Think about that for a moment. The party that wanted to remain part of the EU either preferred to continue with the current quotas that Scottish fishing communities do not want, or else it believes Mr Johnson has not grabbed enough fish from the EU. Put simply, it is opposing the Prime Ministers’s deal even though it makes Scotland better off, however marginal that may be. A correspondent (below) reminds me that the SNP would renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy. Really? If it had a better solution to the one that took months of tough talking with the EU please can we hear it.
Aside from fish, economic forecasters are now saying the UK will remain close to the top of global growth league tables right up to 2035. The Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts a 23% gap over France as the UK’s tech sector soars.
So much for the warnings from the SNP’s chief gloomsters Michael Russell and Ian Blackford who repeatedly tell us that the Scottish economy will be doomed to failure and an unemployment nightmare once Britain has left the so-called comfort of the EU.
So what exactly does the SNP want from a future relationship with the EU?
Earlier this month the Scottish government forced through parliament the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill (2020). In short it aims to make sure that Scottish law can continue to align with EU law after 31 December.
It will also allow changes to be made to EU laws which are already operating in Scotland. This could apply to areas that are devolved to Scotland, like the environment, agriculture – and fisheries. It gives Scottish Ministers power to keep devolved laws similar to EU laws.
Ostensibly, the Continuity law intends to protect powers devolved to Scotland from any “power grab” by Westminster once EU laws are transferred to the UK.
However, constitutional analysts say it is also part of creating a foundation for independence. The SNP may be seeking to keep European rules so as to meet the conditions for it to rejoin the EU after a successful independence referendum.
Michael Keating at the Centre for Constitutional Change at Edinburgh University adds that it may even want Scotland to remain aligned in the hope of a future special relationship without independence, perhaps on the lines of the Northern Ireland arrangement.
Whatever motives are driving the SNP it has still not adequately explained how it reconciles its desire to remain a paid-up member of the Brussels-controlled EU trading bloc with its desire to leave the Westminster-controlled UK trading bloc. Arguing over percentages of trade are secondary to the basic principle over where control lies.
The SNP says it is vital for Scotland to be part of the EU single market, but it wants to disrupt the UK single market. It complains that Brexit creates more bureaucracy and cost for UK businesses now dealing with the EU, but conveniently ignores the extra bureaucracy and cost that it would create by splitting Scotland from the rest of the UK.
‘In the end, it was the Germans who were at the forefront of ensuring that Britain got its deal’
The party’s reaction to the Brexit deal highlights the hypocrisy at the heart of its thinking on international trade – complaining that Mr Johnson didn’t grab more fish for Scottish ports when their rejection of Brexit means they should have preferred he left the existing quota untouched.
More details in the Brexit deal are now emerging and showing there were compromises in many areas, as was inevitable. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
That includes the First Minister who is now erroneously claiming in a column in a national newspaper that Boris Johnson has delivered a “hard Brexit”. Wasn’t a hard Brexit defined as No Deal?
Her party will now vote in the Commons against the deal, effectively endorsing No Deal. This by a party that took the Prime Minister to court to stop him pursuing such an outcome. It claims it could not, in principle, vote in favour as this would contradict its opposition to leaving the EU. So why not abstain?
In the end, and as I predicted back in July 2019, it was the Germans who were at the forefront of ensuring that Britain got its deal. As Europe’s biggest economy it simply had too much to lose by allowing Britain to leave without the EU having some say in its future.
Bild columnist Alexander von Schoenburg now concurs in his analysis of the deal. He writes: “In the Bundeskanzleramt – Angela Merkel’s chancellery – and in the foreign ministry, the view was that to isolate Britain in its hour of need – when the situation due to Covid is so dire – would be very unwise.
“Between them, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW sell hundreds of thousands of gas-guzzlers to the Brits every year.
“A failure to reach a deal, ran the thinking in Berlin, could have had massive repercussions and might even have escalated into an economic crisis for Europe on a global scale.”
It explains why the anti-secessionist Michel Barnier was effectively sidelined at the 11th hour of the talks and replaced at the top table by European Commission president (and a former German minister) Ursula von der Leyen.
As Mr von Schoenburg concludes in his assessment of Boris Johnson’s efforts: “Your Prime Minister has achieved a deal which is nothing short of sensational: Legally out of the EU but with full economic access to it – which is the best possible news for the members of the EU, too.”
None of this realpolitik appears to have dawned on the rulers at Holyrood whose real hope was that the UK would crash out of the EU without a deal, giving them the ideal platform on which to campaign for separation.
They will use the Brexit deal to argue that every sector faces higher costs, every industry will become uncompetitive, and that only independence and re-admission to the EU can save the nation. Seed potato production, mentioned by a correspondent, was another cause of SNP apoplexy after the EU said it would not accept them as part of the deal. It turns out that only 5% goes to the EU, most of it to England and Wales.
As each new arrangement in the agreement is revealed it will present more opportunities for political acrobatics from the SNP who are more interested in re-interpreting the story from their own perspective of a northern outpost being bullied by the big boys at Westminster. Too much, too little, broken promises, a sell-out, letting down Scotland… expect nothing less from the grievance party.
- Updated on 28 and 29 December