I’ve written a few times recently about the prospect of an in-out EU membership referendum for the UK. Opinions, even among large organizations, vary: the CBI very much feels we ought to stay in, whereas the Chief Economist of HSBC seemed, when I asked him, to be pretty relaxed at the prospect of the UK leaving.
But what do we mean by the UK? And what will it look like in 2017? Because there is of course another UK constitutional referendum coming up before then: the vote on independence for Scotland.
The ‘Yes’ (to independence) campaign is struggling in the polls as I write; and it could well have another issue to consider before polling day: EU membership. The SNP may want to be independent of London, but it absolutely wants to keep its place at the Brussels table. Indeed, one of the SNP’s main lines of argument has been that it is possible for Scotland to enjoy the benefits of being part of the European family without being hampered by the English.
It sounds plausible. Surely everyone knows that the English are the problem, with their Euro-scepticism, UKIP, and what not. The SNP expects a newly independent Scotland to inherit EU membership automatically – and not to have to join the Euro!
But the enemy of my auld enemy is not always my friend. Mr. Barroso, President of the European Commission, made a speech last year spelling out that the Scots could have to reapply for membership; and, the Spanish, fearful that a precedent is set for Catalonia, are expressing their discomfort and resistance. Legal opinions vary, but nothing is certain. You can understand the Commission’s worry: once people start seceding from unions, where will it all end?
Bonnie Scotland could, by the looks of it, quite easily become lonely Scotland. And costly, too. The Institute of Fiscal Studies, analyzing the economic prospects for an independent Scotland, has mooted the possibility of a 28% VAT rate north of the border! I wonder what that would rise to if Scotland lost its status as an EU member state?