11 November 2015

Chris Deerin is wrong. Scotland should vote to leave the EU


My old friend Chris Deerin keeps having a go at me about the coming EU referendum – most recently, here on CapX. Chris is finding it hard to move on from last year’s Scottish referendum, in which he and I campaigned on the same side:

“When I read a tweet by Dan Hannan saying ‘How is restoring our national independence – the normal condition for an advanced democracy in the modern world – a “leap into the unknown”’, it is like Alex Salmond has risen from his indyref grave.”

I can just about see his point. Two sets of campaigners, separately contending that one entity should break away from another, are bound to use some overlapping arguments.

Still, the parallel is a weak one. The EU, much though it would like to be, is not a single country. It doesn’t have a common identity, resting on a mutual language, shared mores and 300 years of united history. When Alex Salmond argued for rupture, he was proposing a revolutionary change: separate embassies and armed forces and coins. A withdrawal from the EU, by contrast, would mean the recovery of freedoms enjoyed in recent memory, such as control over our own welfare, taxation and borders.

Still, in politics, prejudices shaped by one issue can inform attitudes to the next. Some Scottish Unionists, having spent years arguing that we are “Better Together”, are now emotionally invested in a series of assumptions that – quite illogically – they transfer to the EU debate.

It’s true of the other side, too. When Alex Salmond was interviewed on Newsnight about the Brexit referendum, he began with an eloquent attack on his fellow Inners: it was idiotic, he said, to suggest that Britain would suffer economically as a result of separation, or that it would lose influence. Then he realised what he was saying, swerved, and wound up by lamely asserting he had always been “a pro-European to my fingertips”.

The SNP, although impelled by the logic of its own instincts toward Brexit (which was for a long time its policy) is now pro-EU for largely tactical reasons. It hopes to engineer a situation where Scotland and England vote differently, so giving it an excuse to hold a second referendum.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that tactic can possibly work. Even if England and Scotland did diverge (which is unlikely) and a second referendum were held, why should Scots shift their votes? Can you honestly imagine anyone saying, “I voted ‘No’ in 2014, but I’m so desperate to join the euro that I’m ‘Yes’ this time”?

Still, you can’t blame the SNP for trying. Its supporters plainly don’t care as much about the EU as they do about Scottish statehood. When statehood meant urging Scots to leave the EU (which would have followed a vote to leave the UK), they did so. Now, they want to stay. EU? Meh.

What I find harder to fathom is the attitude of those like Chris Deerin and Alex Massie, who keep assuring us that the UK matters far more to them than the EU does. If their main concern is to avoid a differential vote, and thus a second independence referendum, then, logically, they should be urging other Scots to vote to leave.

To repeat, though, the two unions are not analogous. Britain, unlike Europe, can draw upon a measure of shared patriotism. As James VI & I put it in his first speech to England’s MPs as their king in 1604:

Hath not God first united these Two Kingdoms both in Language, Religion, and Similitude of Manners? Yea, hath he not made us all in One Island, compassed with One Sea?

The same is not true of the EU. Its supporters are giving it all the attributes and trappings of government without any underpinning sense of nationhood. That’s the whole problem. That’s why we should vote to leave.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament and blogs at www.hannan.co.uk.