There may be a positive to a Scottish Yes vote for the rest of the UK. Photo: Getty
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If Scotland votes Yes, will there be a silver lining for the rest of the UK?

 Scottish independence negotiations could give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is currently enjoying.

Responding to polls showing gains for the Yes campaign in Scotland, some MPs have suggested postponing the general election to 2016 in the event of a vote for Scottish independence. In reality, there is much more scope for change – and the mischief of suggesting change – than just extending the life of this parliament by a year.

The first issue that the UK government will face, if the result is Yes, is whether to assert that it is, in terms of public international law, the “continuator state”. As such, it would retain its current international status and institutions. This is by far the most likely outcome and it is, for example, what Russia did on the break-up of the Soviet Union.

However, a large number of backbench MPs aren’t that enamoured of some of the UK’s international obligations, whether as a member state of the EU or as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. Theoretically, it would be possible for the UK to throw all of these up in the air by declaring that it is going to become a new state on the secession of Scotland. It’s Brexit by the back door, shedding the influence of the Strasbourg human rights court at a stroke.

Obviously this would be an act of momentous chutzpah and it’s laden with risk – for example, the new UK might be unlikely to regain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In the meantime, UK financial markets will probably crash. However, it’s not inconceivable that some MPs will suggest the idea in the excitement following a Yes vote.

More seriously, there is a big question about the role of the UK government and parliament in relation to Scotland during negotiations over independence. Alistair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has suggested that the UK government would no longer seek to act on behalf of the Scottish people immediately following a vote for independence. The logic of this is obvious: it is hard to see how the UK government would feel legitimate making any significant decision about Scotland when independence is merely months away.

To avoid decisions for Scotland resting in limbo, one possibility, recommended by the House of Lords select committee on the constitution, is that the UK parliament quickly passes legislation to transfer further powers to Scotland. This in turn begs a further question. If all significant decisions about Scotland, other than, say, defence, are effectively devolved by the end of this year, then why should Scottish MPs still have the right to vote at Westminster? There may be an agreement that they recuse themselves from all votes and that may clear the way for the Conservatives to govern alone for the rest of this Parliament. After all, without Scottish MPs voting, they would have a majority, albeit a tiny one, even without the Liberal Democrats. Sensing that prospect, the clamour for a May 2016 general election on the Conservative benches may grow.

More than that partisan interest there is a broader argument to be made that the outcome of a negotiation with Scotland should receive some form of popular mandate from the remaining UK. All in all the more formality around the negotiation process the better. The Lords Constitution Committee has recommended that the negotiating team is set up with a mandate from the UK parliament and that it is cross-party – and perhaps even broader – in its composition. A negotiation conducted only by representatives from the UK government is not appropriate to the task in hand, the outcomes of which will echo through the ages.

Putting those to a vote in a general election might even give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is enjoying during the referendum campaign. Certainly it would prompt wider questions about the distribution of political and economic power across the rest of the UK. Delaying the general election to 2016 will look like putting off an electoral reckoning for the coalition; but it might also give us something very exciting to vote on.

Emran Mian is the director of Social Market Foundation

Emran Mian is director of the Social Market Foundation

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.