Jeroen Jans: Can more devolution offer a solution to Brexit in Scotland?

Flemish christian democrat and Blue Labour blogger Jeroen Jans says Scotland has other options besides independence

THIS blog was inspired by the conversations I held with my friend, Ross Ahlfeld, who regularly writes and debates on federalism, the reading and discussions on Blue Labour and Philip Booth’s 'Federal Britain', but the specificalities and motivations in my blog might be different.

In my blog, I will argue that the answer to the question of whether more devolution can offer a solution to Brexit in Scotland, is 'yes'. But first, let me be clear. Although I was in favour of Remain, I wholeheartedly agreed with Theresa May when she said that 'Brexit means Brexit'. 

In my opinion, a new referendum can only be justifiable when the deal with Europe is in its final stage. If one chooses to follow this path, it is important that Brexiteers make the fundamental decisions, since another referendum will otherwise be interpreted as a coup by the Remainers, leading to an even more hardened stance by the people who voted Leave.

Just like I’m not in favour of a second EU referendum, I’m opposed to another referendum on Scottish independence in the near future.

Just like I’m not in favour of a second EU referendum, I’m opposed to another referendum on Scottish independence in the near future. That is not to say that it cannot be justifiable in, for instance, 30 years’ time. 

However, my argument for rejecting both referenda in the near future is threefold: 

1.) as I argued in my Blue Labour blogs, holding many referenda on fundamental issues can lead to enormous economic damage, since business hates insecurity and instability. This is a time to focus on calming the markets, because they are responsible for our jobs and wages. 

2.) It further damages the credibility of the people who ought to represent us. Both Alex Salmond and David Cameron promised that their referenda would be a one in a lifetime event. It is important that such promises are respected and don’t vary with every new leader. 

3.) You need to respect the will of the people, meaning that you can’t keep on calling referenda until the outcome is the one you desired in the first place. When you come to the phase that you call a referendum, than you need to respect its result, whether you like the outcome or not, even when you were opposed to the referendum in the first place.

One of the most toxic discussions in these debates is immigration. In some regions in England and Wales you are no longer trusted in politics when you are unwilling to restrict migration, while in Scotland some will brand you a racist when you do want to limit the number of immigrants. 

In my view, an alternative might be found in the principle of subsidiarity, which means that powers rest at the lowest possible level. 

This has, of course, to do with the different needs of different parts of the country. When homes are expensive and jobs scarce, immigration is considered a threat to one’s own means. However, when there is a shortage of workers and houses are relatively cheap, immigration can be a need. This is simply basic economics.

Nevertheless, most EU leaders have made it very clear that access to the single market is only possible when the freedom of movement is respected.

So, is there an alternative to Scotland "being dragged out of the EU against its will", as Nicola Sturgeon puts it? And is it to be found in the breaking up of the UK? In my view, an alternative might be found in the principle of subsidiarity, which means that powers rest at the lowest possible level. 

Some countries, like Belgium, have interpreted this principle in terms of federalism. In the case of Scotland, it could at least mean a devolution of those powers, which would allow Scotland and Northern Ireland to have a closer relation with the EU than England and Wales.

One way of doing this, is devolving (some) powers related to trade and migration. With the right arrangements, Scotland and Northern Ireland could be allowed to stay in the single market in return for the free movement of EU citizens. 

One could, for instance, think of a free visa for EU citizens who want to live and work in Scotland or Northern Ireland. But this visa would not be valid to live and work in England or Wales. 

This policy could further strengthen the trade position of Scotland and help Edinburgh or Glasgow to become a London of the north, balancing economic prosperity between north and south of the UK.

This has nothing to do with valuing one country less than the other, but everything with acknowledging the different needs of the countries that together form the UK. In return, Scotland and Northern Ireland would have access to the single market, England and Wales wouldn’t. 

This policy could further strengthen the trade position of Scotland and help Edinburgh or Glasgow to become a London of the north, balancing economic prosperity between north and south of the UK.

Regarding education, one might think of advantages for EU citizens at Scottish universities, and Scots at EU universities. Scotland and Northern Ireland could also benefit from participating in EU-funded academic projects. 

It could even be an option for Scottish and Northern Irish farmers to receive subsidies from the EU, because Scotland and Northern Ireland would contribute more per capita to the EU budget than England and Wales. Of course, these are just some examples of a wide variety of options.

So in short, a further devolution could both avoid the instability caused by constitutional referenda and allow Scotland and Northern Ireland to have a different relationship under different conditions with the EU than England and Wales. 

As I argued, the only reasonable timetable for another referendum is after the deal with the EU is known. However, if at that stage Brexit really means Brexit, Scotland must have a plan at hand to position itself in the UK and the EU. 

And, one might ask, in line with Philip Booth, why not write a complete federal plan, instead of just filling the holes along the road?

Picture courtesy of MPD01605

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