By Russell Bruce
So May got a deal through the House of Commons. It wasn’t her deal, it was a DUP deal that Rees-Mogg’s ERG found some unlikely common cause with. There is little real concern in England whether N.Ireland remains in the UK. It is an outpost with no real sense of connectivity for the majority of people in England. The numbers for which it has totemic significance are small.
This was more about Scotland and the danger we might chose to leave the UK as May’s government stumbles from farce to incompetence to international distrust and plays it all again on a never ending roundabout.
May’s implied threat of trade disruption to an independent Scotland is grist for May’s derelict mill. When she pointed out to Ian Blackford that Scotland’s exports to England amount to 60% of total exports she omitted to mention the amount England sells to Scotland.
The accuracy of data on cross border trade leaves much to be desired but what we can glean from the information available is the significance of what Scotland sends south of the border and the inevitable flow of goods and services coming north.
England cannot feed itself, it does not produce enough energy to keep the lights on, or gas used for heating the vast majority of homes. Scotland produces 63% of natural gas from Scottish waters and with the latest discoveries can comforatably ensure Scottish homes are well heated with issues around fuel poverty addressed north of the border.
Scotland: fuelled by gas
Scotland has made great strides in the production of renewable energy. Yet this is only a small part of the story although electricity exports are a major source of income. Most energy is used for heating and 79% of homes throughout the UK are heated with natural gas that Scotland has in increasing abundance. The Culzean field East of Aberdeen will come on stream this year. Glengorm, in the same sector, is described as the largest find since Culzean. Glendronach, a new major find West of Shetland, contains a trillion cubic feet of gas, equating to 176 million barrels of oil equivalent. All three finds are close to existing pipeline infrastructure making the low cost of production attractive to field operators.
Scotland would have no difficulty finding European markets for our excess energy but it would not be denied to our southern neighbours as we have no wish to see people suffer from lack of heat, light or fuel to keep the country moving. Any future trading relationship is likely to be based on how rUK trades with the EU, and how that might differ from an independent Scotland’s relationship with the EU.
Scotland will still need to buy the items it currently sources from or through England. Currently a manufacturer or distributor of imported products in the English Midlands can sell without restriction to any EU country. That is going to change, big bang exit is 55 days away and nobody has the slightest idea of what May hopes to achieve.
May: a clarity deficit area
May is very, very clear – she does not do clarity – cannot do clarity, partly because she is not programmed that way but mainly because confusion and blurring enables her to hold off the time when the ERG irreconcilables and the DUP blow her party to smithereens.
Businesses in England will move north or to Ireland to ensure access to Scottish and European markets whilst retaining an English base to service their increasingly isolated home market. England wanted Brexit but the dire consequences are mounting.
It is not for Scotland to tell England what it should do but there must be an end to Westminster insisting Scotland does what Scotland does not want to do.
DUP: nostalgia for a war zone?
DUP determination to remain British whatever the cost makes no sense for the people of Northern Ireland, dragging the other nations of these islands -yes that includes you England – back to a past mired in old conflicts and marred by an inability to play a part in the actual governance of this long troubled outpost.
Dearbhail McDonald, group business editor of Independent Newspapers (Ireland), wrote in the Guardian about how the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) had changed Ireland. For those wittering on about removing the backstop as a priority, Ms McDonald explains the transformation the GFA made to every day life, bringing a new sense of security. For those who have lived in a war zone, never knowing what they might encounter as they crossed the border, a return to that past is inconceivable.
There is no question the people of Northern Ireland want stability, to move freely across the border, to continue to cooperate with Ireland on energy, tourism and the other joint initiatives that have lessened tensions since the Good Friday Agreement. Unfortunately they keep electing DUP members. The backstop is a replacement for a customs union with the republic that the DUP scuppered because it meant a border in the Irish Sea. They would be less British, whatever that means in the contorted mind of the DUP body politic.
May and Corbyn both want big bang Brexit
Somewhere in the Irish Sea might be the best place to dump, figuratively, the DUP, intent on dragging the rest of the UK into a hard Brexit and frustrating Scotland’s interests and ambitions to become a modern forward looking nation, European to its core. Scottish Conservative Unionism has been only too keen to make alliances with unionist extremism within Scotland and shovel money to the DUP to foster their own very dark blue Brexit ambition.
Any likelihood that we will finally get a Brexit decision from the House of Commons by mid February when May comes back with Plan A version 3 on the 13th looks extremely unlikely. Expect her to tell the Commons that discussions are ongoing. Mrs May is intent on dragging her feet and the clock to the bitter end when the only possible option is hers.
Labour and the Conservatives are is much the same place. Corbyn wants to leave and does not want a second referendum. He wants Mrs May’s government to take the blame for the disruption following the UK’s departure. Meanwhile May is buying off Labour Leave constituency MPs with pots of magic money to revitalise their areas. She appears to be seeking Labour votes for a deal that might enable her to dump the uncooperative DUP.
That doesn’t suit Corbyn who wants a General Election -just not now – especially as the most recent opinion poll puts Labour seven points behind the Tories. A Brexit deal carried by Tory and Labour votes is not in the Corbyn game plan, not that his leave plan has the support of Labour members. Something of a difficulty should there be a general election.
All parties are now preparing for a general election but the probable timetable looks to be slipping as any Brexit deal slips a few more weeks. To the razor wire she will go, dancing though fields of wheat. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has already warned Article 50 could be delayed to allow the necessary legislation for leaving to be passed, 600 pieces of legislation need to be rushed through parliament before big bang Brexit – impossible in the present timescale.
The Sunday papers were fed a story of a general election on 6th June. I think this is a deliberate hype by a Tory minister providing news diversion away from May’s negotiating problems over the backstop. The timing for a short election, one that comes during the period of this fixed term parliament, would not be hinted at this far in advance. There are local elections in England on 2nd May and the triggering of a 6th June date would need to be made days before the council elections.
May has three possible options as the EU will not play ball in removing the backstop. The first is most in character and that is to bring back her original deal and hope she can buy enough Labour votes to compensate for the loss of DUP and some ERG votes. The ERG has 110 members reportedly but around half will probably back May when it comes to the crunch. That suggests she would need around 65 Labour votes to compensate for the hard extreme ERG unionist core vote of around 55 on her own benches and 10 DUP votes. She will also bank on opposition to her deal folding as some MPs lose their nerve, opting for a bad deal to make no deal impossible.
Second option is to put back the original proposal to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union and parts of the single market. With a apparently toxic border in the Irish Sea this is probably too much of a political risk. John Lamont, member for Berwickshire Roxburgh and Selkirk, voted against May over the backstop with 2 other Scottish Tories when May faced her historic defeat. The Irish border has little relevance to the day to day lives of Lamont’s constituents and those in many other constituencies where tariff free access to the EU for farm and fish produce and continued free movement are the issues of real significance.
Third and most practical solution is to keep all of the UK in a permanent customs union. Contributes to solving the backstop and helps reduce the impact of rising costs in the UK from tariffs. Civil servants are looking at a customs union as a solution, but May says she has no interest in that outcome, at least for now. Her backbenchers might buy a temporary customs union to ease transition but the EU wouldn’t remove the backstop for a temporary customs union as the problem would return as soon as a more or less tariff free period came to an end.
It’s about DUPing the SNP, stupid
Dragging the EU negotiations out endlessly and hints at a general election have the additional advantage to the Tories that it holds back the time when the SNP can call for a second independence referendum. Independence offers most in the way of longterm continuity but only when the outcome of May’s endless prevarications are finally known.
Supporters of independence have much work to do, including fighting a general election which remains a distinct possibility in the weeks ahead. When the media play up stories of an imminent general election they have a historic habit of becoming a self fulfilling truth – sooner if not a bit later.
Westminster is making the case for independence for us, but there is much to do. Steady campaigning during the continuing Westminster meltdown is winning support.
Progress is coming for a’ that