It is Christmas so it is not unreasonable for everyone to send their wish-list to Santa’s grotto and wait for the stocking to be stuffed full of goodies on 25 December.
Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to stay in the Single Market, maintain open borders for European citizens and generally keep Scotland going as an EU nation after Brexit.
This is sheer fantasy. No nation within a broader nation state anywhere in Europe has its own special EU status. For the time being Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and as long as Scotland is not an independent state then it is the UK, its parliament, and its elected government that will decide the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Like Sadiq Khan, Mrs Sturgeon set up a special council of advisors on how the Scottish government might handle Brexit. She put on it some of the brightest brains on Europe, including John (Lord) Kerr, the Scot state functionary (boss of the FCO, top Treasury man, EU advisor to prime ministers) who is generally seem as the smartest brain in Whitehall on matters EU. Another is Charles Grant, who heads the Centre of European Reform, the best-informed London think-tank on the EU. Grant travels regularly to Brussels and more important to EU capitals to interview EU policy-makers in national capitals instead of the London obsession with Brussels where Eurocrats carry out the wishes of national government heads like Angela Merkel and whoever is president of France.
Both of these have poured cold water on Sturgeon’s proposals and indeed it seems that the demands came rather more from the First Minister’s office and were not cleared fully with her European Standing Council or debated, discussed and agreed by all Council members let alone the Scottish Parliament.
This is gimmick government, not serious politics. The EU is not a pick ‘n mix outfit. It is an international treaty organisation. Only states can join it. They accept its rules and laws and, most importantly, agree that the European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of any dispute within the EU.
Scotland is not and never has been a signatory to any EU Treaty any more than Catalonia or Bavaria or Wales is. Even if the European Commission was sympathetic and their reaction will be of embarrassment at the sheer incoherence of the Sturgeon proposals, no-one in Brussels has any legal power to agree anything with Scotland.
For Scotland to stay in the Single Market and the UK leaves the EU Customs meaning it would mean every truck, car and lorry crossing south into England would have to checked for customs clearance. If Scotland says every EU citizen is free to travel to, work and live in Scotland and the House of Commons and Mrs May starts to impose visas and work or residence permits then that is a unilateral declaration of independence.
At the best least it would require passport checks on every road and rail crossing between Scotland and England.
Of course Brexit has breathed new life into the SNP. 23 June 2016 was Christmas Day for Sturgeon and her party as the English (other than London) voted to confiscate Scotland’s right to be a European nation. The Scottish economy and health services are underperforming since the SNP took power. The once fabled Scottish schools are revealed in the latest Pisa study to be badly letting down their pupils under SNP rule.
And now Scots have to pay higher taxes rather than reform public services. Little wonder that for the last six months the SNP and Sturgeon have spoken of little else than Brexit as a way of diverting attention from their very poor record in government.
Sturgeon is right to insist that Brexit will be a disaster for Scotland and the UK as a whole. But instead of making common cause with people like Kerr,Grant, or those political forces opposed to Brexit she has used Brexit for nationalist bang-drumming.
This reminds other EU member states with their own difficulties with devolved regions or nations like Catalonia and Belgium that if they offer a special deal or precedent to one nationalist outfit like the SNP then all the other breakaway politicians will demand the same.
SNP MPs have been loud in anti-Brexit rhetoric in the Commons but procedural games playing well in Parliament or the High Courts in London have no impact on the direction of travel of the May government on Brexit. Labour lawyer MPs claimed they had forced May to obtain a Commons vote on starting negotiations to leave the EU. Perhaps but as the Daily Telegraph front page headline noted: “May gets blank cheque from MPs on Brexit”.
The pro-Brexit Telegraph was right. Now a significant number of Labour MPs are calling for immigration controls to discriminate against EU. If May accedes to their demands that will be a provocation too far for the rest of Europe and almost certainly lead not so much to a hard Brexit but a complete rupture and train-crash as the negotiations simply fail – and all of the UK will be amputated from the world’s biggest market of 500 million consumers.
It would be more useful if Sturgeon could use the authority and reach of the Scottish Government to campaign effectively with business, banks, other economic actors and universities to explain to the broader British public what damage Brexit will cause to everyone in the UK, in Scotland and further south.
England, Scotland and the rest of the UK face one of their worst political-economic crises in peacetime history. The ruling Scottish politicians could play a major role in ensuring Brexit is as least damaging as possible and even delayed or attenuated. But this surreal Sturgeon proposal which will have zero impact in Brussels or any European capital shows that the SNP has yet to learn how to speak and act European.