In the first part of The Canary’s #Independence2021 series, we caught up with Now Scotland, a new independence movement in Scotland. This series takes a weekly look at matters related to the upcoming devolved elections in Scotland and Wales on 6 May 2021.
Our interview with Now Scotland shows the momentum for Scottish independence is only going in one direction.
The Canary spoke to economist and former SNP MP George Kerevan of Now Scotland. He outlined what the movement stands for and how they’ll fight this May’s election. But he was keen to point out that Now Scotland is not a political party, so it will not be standing candidates in the elections. Kerevan said the model for this movement was the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). They want to bring Scottish independence activists together to:
cooperate and work in a practical campaign direction
Kerevan said the organisation All Under One Banner (AUOB) held Zoom assemblies in 2020 to discuss this project. A steering committee then spent the last couple of months putting the infrastructure together.
He said Now Scotland wants to create:
a national membership movement for every independent supporter to campaign and particularly to raise money from the membership’s subscriptions to plough back into campaigning
On its website, Now Scotland explains its mission statement as:
- We are a grassroots, non-party campaign based on individual membership, committed to achieving Scottish independence as soon as possible.
- We champion the right of the Scottish people alone to determine their form of government.
- We co-operate with all independence-minded groups and parties.
- We seek an independent nation – built on foundations of human equality, internationalism, and social and economic justice; and which mobilises against climate change.
- We champion Scottish independence – now not later!
Scottish election system
Voters in Scotland have two votes. With their first vote, they elect one MSP from each of the 73 constituencies. These 73 MSPs are elected on a ‘first past the post’ basis, where voters put an X beside their preferred candidate. This is just like the voting system used in Westminster elections. Then with their second vote, they elect the 56 additional MSPs through the ‘additional member system’ (AMS).
For AMS, Scotland is also divided into eight parliamentary regions. Each region elects seven MSPs. These 56 regional MSPs are also called ‘list MSPs’. On the AMS, Scottish voters choose a political party, as opposed to their preferred candidate. They could also choose an independent candidate. These MSPs are then selected from lists compiled in advance by the parties.
But these list MSPs are not selected using the ‘first past the post’ system. They are selected using the D’Hondt formula. This formula selects list MSPs by adding up the total votes their party gets in the regional ballot and then divides that number by the number of MSPs that party has already won in that region, plus one.
the SNP will soak up most of the constituency seats… but because of that it will win very, very few of the regionalist list votes
Discussing current Scottish political opinion, Kerevan said:
clearly there are divisions within the SNP [Scottish National Party] over strategy, whether to simply rely on waiting for Boris Johnson to grant permission for a referendum, versus using the May election as a kind of plebiscite and then demanding independence.
So, he explained:
The danger is at the moment that those debates are beginning to split the movement and get in the way of campaigning for independence. So, if we can find a way of uniting people in action through Now Scotland that means the debates can take place in parallel and in a civilised way
But regardless of this support, even if it comes from Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, the PM refuses to grant Nicola Sturgeon’s request for a section 30 order. This section would allow Scotland to call another independence referendum.
That financial report
As with Irish unity, the question of affordability comes up. The argument being ‘you can’t afford it so you can’t have it’. And the affordability of Scottish independence was further questioned in a report published by the London School of Economics (LSE) earlier this month. Among its findings that report said:
- Scotland is a small, open economy that mostly trades with the rest of the UK. In 2017, the rest of the UK accounted for 61% of Scottish exports and 67% of Scottish imports. Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is around four times larger than its EU trade.
- We estimate there is around six times more trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK than predicted by a standard gravity trade model. Alternative methods imply there is from 2.6 to 7.8 times more Scotland-rest of UK trade than predicted. This excess trade is partly the consequence of Scotland’s union with the rest of the UK.
- Independence would create a new international border between Scotland and the rest of the UK, leading to higher trade costs. We use the CEP trade model to study the impact of these new trade costs on Scotland’s economy. We do not consider other effects of independence, such as changes in investment flows, fiscal arrangements or Scotland’s currency.
- Drawing upon research on the magnitude of border costs, we analyse an optimistic scenario where trade costs between Scotland and the rest of the UK increase by 15% after independence and a pessimistic scenario with a 30% increase.
- We find that changes in trade costs due to independence would be two to three times more costly for the Scottish economy than the impact of Brexit
However, Now Scotland’s response was damning of this report. It said:
- The basic assumption of the paper is that introducing a political border between Scotland and England will automatically create long-term diversions in each country’s trade regulations and tariffs. This would necessarily raise costs in Scotland. However, the Conservative government has spent the five years since the Brexit vote trumpeting that it wants free trade with everyone. So why does the LSE paper assume that only Scotland will be exempt from such a free trade deal – especially, as the paper keeps repeating, England provides 67 per cent of Scottish imports?
- The paper makes the unwarranted assumption that trade costs are still incurred if Scotland rejoins the EU and will actually be worse. The authors say that lowering trade barriers with the EU would be offset by new costs from putting the EU’s external border between Scotland and England. That is a possibility though the author’s belief that increased Scot-EU trade would not offset these costs is weak. However, the paper deliberately ignores other possibilities. Why, for instance, would an independent Scotland inside the EU not have the same, free trade arrangements with England as Northern Ireland shares as a result of the Brexit agreement? Or why could Scotland not be outside the EU but inside the Single Market, yet enjoy independent (and free) trade relations with the rest of the world, like Norway? Failing to examine all the trade options suggests the Centre’s researchers had a conclusion in mind before they started.
- The paper claims that the combination of Brexit and independence will reduce Scotland’s income per capita, meaning a loss of £2,000 to £2,800 “per person”. This is very misleading. What is being discussed here is different rates of increase in income, not physical declines. The paper claims that an independent Scotland will grow less quickly over a generation than if it stays in the UK. In other words, indy Scotland would get richer but not as fast as if it stayed inside the UK. The £2,800 refers to that difference, not to an actual fall in income which is how the Unionists have spun it. Also, the figures quoted do not accrue to individuals but refer to national GDP expressed per capita. As it is, real incomes of ordinary folk in Scotland and the UK have been largely static for two decades. The fruits of economic growth go to the rich in London – another reason why we need economic independence.
Momentum for independence
Regardless of Johnson’s eventual decision over section 30, the momentum is in favour of Scottish independence. The bizarre reality of Johnson’s refusal is that it’s his Brexit position and response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) that has accelerated this momentum. It’s also fuelling the independence drive in Wales. Welsh independence movement YesCymru told The Canary:
The Senedd [Welsh parliament] elections are very important. We expect Scotland to start taking steps towards independence by probably calling for a referendum. With that in mind, and the continual moves by Westminster under the guide of the Internal Market Bill, powers are going to be taken away from Wales. Wales therefore needs to have a government which has a concrete constitutional path to independence for Wales from Westminster.
A majority win for Scottish independence parties this May will only drive the movement further. So the question for Johnson may soon become ‘when’ and not ‘if’ he grants a section 30 order.
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