The Scots Numpty Party (SNP) fondly imagines that an independent Scotland would continue to have free access to England. They recklessly assume Scotland’s position would be akin to that of the Republic of Ireland. However, that assumption rests on a number of dubious presumptions: (1) that an independent Scotland would be in the EU; (2) that the remainder of the UK (henceforth the UK) will remain in the EU; (3) that the EU will survive in its present form ; (4) that the UK will continue to have such generous welfare provision and (5) that the UK will play by the formal EU rules.
If either Scotland or the remainder of the UK was outside the EU, the rules relating to free movement of peoples across EU borders would not apply and the UK could restrict movement from Scotland to England at will. If Scotland was not in the EU (and the EU
might not welcome the idea of another potential Greece or Republic of Ireland or the Westminster government might veto their application to join ) but the UK remained in the EU, the Scots would be at a disadvantage in comparison with the continental EU states, because the remainder of the UK would be required to accept labour from other EU countries but not from Scotland. But what if both Scotland and the UK remained within the EU? That would mean there would be free movement between the countries. However, that presumes the EU will remain as it is. This is very uncertain. Should the Euro collapse that might cause such financial distress that the EU ceased to exist as each of the member states looked in desperation for their own salvation. That could leave an independent Scotland out on a limb, bankrupt and unable to export its unemployed.
Even if the EU did not break up, a the collapse of the Euro would could produce a lasting depression along the lines of that of the 1930s. This would reduce both the opportunities for employment within the EU and the ability of member states to meet their welfare obligations, which would dissuade people from moving to countries where the welfare benefits are highest.
As all EU law requires is that the same benefits that are offered to the citizens of an EU member are offered to any other EU members’ citizens, this produces widely varying provision in the various EU states with corresponding differences in their attraction to immigrants.
Welfare is particularly significant in the UK’s case because when everything is taken into account – unemployment pay, sick pay, working tax credits, housing benefit, council tax
benefit, free school education and (still) subsidised university education and the NHS (which is by far the most generous healthcare system in the EU – the UK has arguably the most attractive welfare package in the EU and one moreover which is very readily accessed.
If UK benefits were considerably reduced there would be far less incentive for foreigners to come. That would apply to an independent Scotland. In fact, Scotland could find itself in a situation where the welfare benefits they offered were more substantial than those of the UK and produced migration from the UK to Scotland to claim the higher benefits. As things stand with EU law, they would have to pay the higher benefits to all EU citizens who claimed them. The only way the Scots could prevent paying higher benefits would be to
reduce the provisions to their own people.
There is also the possibility that the UK could reduce their level of welfare provision even without a further great economic disaster. This is certainly the intent of the Tory Party and if they achieve a strong majority at the next general election this may well happen.
Another possibility is that the EU could re-invent itself in a number of ways. It could reduce its members to a core of stable, productive members. That would not include Scotland. A multiple layered EU with members having a different status is another with differing rules relating to free movement, the right to work and access to welfare. In reality this already exists with countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) such as Norway and Switzerland having free trade and free movement of peoples but not obligations such as welfare provision for EU state citizens (http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/if-we-leave-the-eu-we-mustnt-be-another-norway/). It is improbable that an independent Scotland and the UK would be in the same layer because of the great difference in size and wealth between the two.
As for free movement within the EU itself, it is noticeable how readily the Schengen Agreement was overthrown in May 2011 by subscribing states declaring they were suspending free movement because of the pressure of refugees from North Africa caused by the so-called “Arab Spring”. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/12/europe-to-end-passport-free-travel). The Schengen Agreement provides for the twenty five signatories (all EU members except for the UK and the Republic of Ireland) to operate a no borders regime for the subscribing members. This covers approximately 400 million people. Not only is free movement within the EU one of the four EU “freedoms”, but the Schengen Treaty conditions and the law evolving from them are now part of the EU’s acquis communautaire (literally that which has been acquired by the community) . This means that jurisdiction over the Schengen Area and any amendment to the Treaty provisions is now subject to the legislative process of the EU (the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament) rather than a negotiating free-for-all by the political heads of
each member state. Yet the decision of EU countries large and small – Italy, France, Denmark – to act unilaterally passed without any real opposition or action. The lesson here is that when shove comes to push national interests will predominate. Other examples are the flouting of EU rules on such things as competition and state subsidies. Often no action is taken and even where it is, the larger countries such as France simply ignore any fines or judgements from the European Court of Justice with impunity. Even if Scotland and the UK remained within the EU, the UK as one of the larger EU states could impose border controls against Scotland without anything dramatic happening. The same would apply with greater force if an independent Scotland became a member of the EEA or the UK left the EU and signed up to the EEA.
Scotland could in principle join the Schengen Area, although its fragility has been clearly demonstrated this year. But that would do them little good because neither the UK nor the Republic of Ireland are members. Thus Scotland would have no shared border with the treaty members.
If the UK left the EU, an independent Scotland would be utterly in the hands of the UK, which could not only stop human traffic over the border but legally prevent any goods traffic between the UK and Scotland. The same would apply if Scotland was not in the EU and the UK was.
Why would the UK not want to have an open border with Scotland? The Westminster government might wish to prevent free Scottish immigration for a number of reasons. The most obvious would be if Scotland was used as a conduit for immigrants from outside the British Isles to enter England in large numbers. (I say England not the UK because experience shows that immigrants to the UK overwhelming head for England).
Then there would be the risk that the resident population of Scotland would want to come to England in large numbers if the Scottish economy turned turtle. That could have considerable costs for England both in terms of competition for jobs, housing, public services and benefits paid to the unemployed.
There is also the strong risk for Scotland that a future Westminster government could be faced by an electorate, especially of those in England, which was hostile to Scotland because of their decision to leave the union and wished them to be denied any suggestion of special treatment such as continued free movement across borders.
If Scotland became independent that England’s already great predominance within the UK would become even greater with over 90% of the UK’s population and much more of its wealth. That would make the UK government give more attention to English interests. This natural tendency would be enhanced by the loss of the 59 House of Commons seats which are returned by Scotland. That would make a future Labour or even a Labour/LibDem government improbable because Labour and the LibDems hold all but one of the 59 seats. The likelihood would be a Tory Government at Westminster for the quite some time after Scottish independence.
There would also be the question of nationality at the time of Scottish independence. Alex
Salmond has the quaint idea that the Scots would have both Scots and British nationality. This is a very rash assumption. British nationality might not continue once Scotland was gone. The UK might opt for a confederal system with different nationalities for England,
Wales and Northern Ireland. England might decide to go for independence herself. More broadly, a Westminster Parliament dominated by English MPs and concentrated on English interests might refuse to share a nationality with an independent Scotland. An independent Scotland which did not have free movement between herself and the UK would be in a very perilous position, because she would be a small country on the very
periphery of Europe with no border with any country other than England. Scots should reflect on that inescapable fact.
But there would be a serious immigration problem if British nationality was shared by an independent Scotland and the UK , because Scotland could naturalise immigrants as Scots which would give them British nationality. That in turn would allow them to come to the UK. But even if British nationality is not extended to Scotland, if both Scotland and the UK remain in the EU, Scottish nationality would have the same effect because there would be free movement from Scotland to England. A fuller discussion of the difficulties of nationality in the event of Scottish independence is at https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/the-wages-of-scottish-immigration-nationality/.