Thursday, 24 July 2014

"Independent" Scotland and the EU

Readers of this blog will know that we do not consider membership of the European Union, whose legislative and regulatory rules, laid down often in opposition to the democratic wishes as expressed through elections (and we do not mean the farcical ones to the European Parliament, when 33.7 per cent of the electorate bother to vote), over-rule domestic legislation, to be synonymous with independence.

At present it looks like the SNP does consider those two political terms to be synonymous and talk airily of being independent of the UK this autumn and members of the EU on rather astonishingly favourable terms (do they really think Scotland will get some kind of a rebate?) by early 2016. At best this is moonshine or Scotch mist, at worst dangerous misleading of the electorate. Let's be reasonable: under no circumstances will the possible negotiation of Scotland's membership of the EU under Article 49 of the Treaties change the situation as far as the Common Fisheries Policy is concerned, that being part of the acquis communautaire or, as some describe it, occupied legislative territory, and not up for discussion while admission negotiations take place.

This paper, produced by the Centre for European Reform (CER) does not touch on the fisheries issue but is of interest, nevertheless, as it deals with the whole thorny subject of a putative "independent" Scotland and its equally putative membership of the EU. As we have pointed out over and over again, the subject of fisheries cannot be separated from the subject of EU membership.

The Centre for European Reform is not a eurosceptic organization. Far from it. It is one of the UK's leading europhile or, to be more polite, pro-EU think-tanks. Its original remit of proposing necessary and, if needs be, tough reforms has been abandoned some time ago in favour of cheer-leading with the occasional suggestion that not everything within the EU is completely wonderful but most of it is.

Neither is the author of the paper, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a eurosceptic. Indeed, he probably looks for his trusty cloves of garlic when any such person comes anywhere near him. His career has been entirely within the europhile establishment and like so many former Foreign and Commonwealth Office grandees, he finds it a little difficult to tell the difference between Europe (a geographic and cultural entity) and the European Union (a political construct) or to realize that the world is a little larger than either of them and Britain (including and especially Scotland) has historically looked to the rest of the world as much as it did to Europe.

So Lord Kerr's cautious admonitions are to be taken seriously. When he says that the path to EU membership for an "independent" Scotland is thorny, it is best to take note of it. When he explains all the difficulties that are likely to be encountered, including the undoubted fact that Scotland will cease to a member of the EU if it leaves the UK, Scots should pay atttention. When he then explains, quite rightly, that the membership negotiations will not depend just on Scotland, the remaining UK or Brussels but will involve all other member states whose vote will be needed in the final agreement, he shows up the superficiality of the SNP's understanding of the EU and its structures.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

About that reshuffle

The reshuffle is the lead story in the British media and has even appeared here and there in other countries. This is the last big one, we all assume, before the General Election in May 2015 (and what Scotland's position will be by then is unclear) so, give or take a change or two, this will be the team that will be leading the Conservative Party into that battle.

Some of the changes are not surprising. William Hague has been known as a part-time politician for some time and his departure was most likely suggested by him. He will earn a good deal more as a writer, after dinner speaker and general pundit than he does in Parliament even as Foreign Secretary though he might occasionally think back to the time when Margaret Thatcher mused about him becoming another Young Pitt. He did not. His successor, Phil Hammond, seems a little more aware of the reality of Britain's membership of the European Union.

From the point of view of the fishing industry the one departure, enforced, we are sure, that matters is of Owen Paterson from DEFRA. This is not good news. Mr Paterson made the odd mistake but he knows the countryside and refuses to go along with the fashionable views on the environment. He is also known as a man who is capable of holding independent opinions on various matters and of asking a large number of different experts on the subjects he had to deal with. His departure is seen as a sop to the Green lobby, which is rejoicing openly.

There is some silver lining for Mr Paterson: on the backbenches he will be able to speak out more openly. As a man who knows a good deal about the fishing industry and understands the pernicious and overwhelming nature of the Common Fisheries Policy, he will, we hope, make his views known in the future when he will no longer be hampered by a Cabinet position. It does not show the Prime Minister in a particularly good light, though.

Mr Paterson's successor is Elizabeth Truss, whose past experience tells us little about here ability to deal with DEFRA or with the various bits of EU legislation that her department is subjected on a daily basis.

So far as we can tell at this stage, fisheries will remain in the hands of George Eustice, a man who appears to believe in the teeth of all evidence that the so-called reforms of the CFP are genuine changes in a policy that cannot be changed without being dismantled. He also seems unaware of the fact that food labelling is wholly an EU competence. Maybe he is just pretending to b ignorant.