A distinctive feature of the EU referendum debate in Scotland is that … there isn’t one.
All five political parties are campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote, even though polls show about a third of Scots voters are Euro sceptic.
Last week I heard five party spokespeople at an election hustings competing to outdo themselves in their support for “Vote Remain”.
Was it really just two years ago that of those five party stalwarts for the EU, two were campaigning for Scottish independence and three were championing greater devolution from Westminster?
What happened to those ringing declarations about Scotland unbound by the shackles of union and free to choose its destiny in the wider world?
This is Reverse Ferret meets George Orwell: more EU integration Good, more UK integration Bad!
The “debate” on the pros and cons of EU membership in Scotland is now almost entirely refracted through the prism of a second independence referendum.
But Scots voters leaning towards a vote for exit are denied a voice in a political system that claims to be sympathetic to minorities.
Little wonder Scotland’s farmers and fishermen are forced to campaign outside the normal processes of parliament for their voices to be heard.
This is not good for Scotland.
Scotland’s fishermen have long had big problems with the EU over issues ranging from quotas to discards.
They protest at the unfairness of a system that bears down on small operators while giant factory ships continue to hoover up fishing stocks. A Dutch super-trawler, the Cornelius Vrolijk, gets 23 per cent of the UK fishing quota, with a typical 2,500-ton catch.
Small fishermen struggle to survive on the pittance they earn from the fish they are permitted to keep, with crews forced on many trips to throw back far more of their catch than they land.
Many are being forced to abandon a way of life followed by families for generations. The number of British fishing boats has fallen by more than a quarter in two decades.
The blame for this lies not with the owners of the Dutch trawler but officials in Brussels and politicians in Westminster who created a market rigged against small players – one wasting vast quantities of fish and threatening traditional fishing communities.
At the root of the problem is the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), condemned as “the most dysfunctional of all EU policies” by the Open Europe think-tank. It is based on fishing quotas, doled out to countries and based on historic claims of catch sizes.
When Britain negotiated entry to Europe, it got a poor deal that allowed French fleets, for instance, to take a far larger slice of stocks in the Channel. Small-scale vessels did not have to record landings at the time.
Thus, although making up more than three-quarters of the British fishing fleet, they were belatedly given just four per cent of the national quota.
New rules introduced eight years ago then brought stricter monitoring of catches. The reforms also mean all discard fish must be landed, soaking up quotas faster.
Leaving the EU would free the U.K. from significant volumes of EU-related regulation and its associated economic costs. Much regulation is directed at imposing EU harmonisation to remove inconsistent or excessive regulation in other parts of the EU – Italy, Poland, Greece, etc. But the EU is notorious for the slow pace at which it can reverse course.
Even when EU and UK regulation would be identical, Britain would find it much easier to reverse a policy mistake if it could act alone.
The “Remain” argument, of course, points to the grants and subventions that areas such as Scotland enjoy from the EU. But the UK’s annual net contribution to the EU after these disbursements comes to around £10 billion – money better used to cut bureaucratic costs, direct regional support more productively and use agricultural support to keep U.K. food prices down.
There is a world of difference between inter-governmental agreements that can be negotiated and supra-national institutions with decisions enforced. That’s the key difference between those for BREXIT and the Remainers with their unfortunate acronym – “EURIN”.