Boris Johnson’s deal is a dud. The prime minister has ‘secured’ an agreement that’s worse than Theresa May’s thrice-rejected deal. He’s conceded to the EU and betrayed the Democratic Unionist Party, who are rightly enraged, at least on their own terms.
Northern Ireland’s unionists could end up making an historic about-face and scupper the whole Brexit project for fear of a border in the Irish Sea that Johnson said he’d never accept but now offers as a solution.
It’s only natural to focus on the ill feeling in Belfast right now, since the DUP holds the balance of power at Westminster. But Johnson’s deal threatens the union from all directions, and offers opportunities for those who want to break it up.
The Scottish National Party has seized on Johnson’s compromised deal. Paradoxically, the SNP wants the special status that the DUP so desperately rejects. The benefits of staying in the customs union aren’t enough to assuage nervous unionists, but losing those benefits is becoming too much for Scots who aspire to independence.
Johnson’s deal is a gift to Scottish nationalists
Johnson’s deal is a gift to Scottish nationalists. It shows that is possible for the UK, or parts of it, to remain in the EU regulatory framework after Brexit. The deal gives unprecedented power to the assembly at Stormont to decide on the region’s future – in the customs union or out. It offers special protection for the nationalist community in Northern Ireland by denying unionists a veto on the region’s status. None of these privileges will be extended to Scotland, despite similar conditions.
The Scottish parliament will have no say on the country’s membership of the customs union, despite the fact that parliament there is functioning well, whereas Stormont hasn’t sat for three years.
The significant proportion of Scots who don’t want to leave the EU and/or don’t want to be in the UK get no consideration at all, unlike their peers in Northern Ireland.
It must particularly rankle when population and the 2016 vote are taken into account. Scotland has 5.4 million people, compared to 1.8 million in Northern Ireland. Scots also voted to remain in the EU by a wider margin – 62 per cent to Northern Ireland’s 56 per cent.
The two main differences, of course, are the land border with the EU and the Troubles, which make Northern Ireland’s situation unique. But these facts don’t negate the harm that will be done to Scotland by Brexit or the fact that Scotland doesn’t want to leave.
Should Scotland be punished because it has no recent history of political violence? Would an Anglo-Scottish border be impossible? Brexiteers certainly couldn’t think so, if years of rhetoric on Ireland are to be believed. Such a border would not become an automatic target for terrorists, but its’ psychological implications are worth examining.
One of the central arguments against independence in 2014 was that Scotland would suffer economically and there would be no guarantees that the country could re-enter the EU. Now Scotland is going to suffer economically, as the UK takes a 6% hit on GDP under Johnson’s deal through no fault of the Scottish electorate or government.
If Northern Ireland can remain in the customs union after Brexit, why couldn’t an independent Scotland? Regulatory alignment already exists, but post-Brexit Britain will diverge from the EU and the further Scotland goes along that path the harder it will be to go back.
Johnson’s deal offers Scotland the best argument for independence because if independence doesn’t happen soon, Brexit will make it progressively harder and harder until it becomes as economically unviable as its’ opponents claim it is. If an independent Scotland wants any chance of becoming an EU member in its own right, it must protect the integrity of its’ status in the customs union, whether de jure or de facto.
Will there be pain? Yes. Scotland will take an economic hit and suffer the social ramifications that brings. But that’s going to happen because of Brexit anyway. Scotland is faced with a choice: suffer for independence and EU membership or suffer for Brexit.
The alternative to independence is a Scotland trapped in the UK, drifting ever further from the EU and ruled by a Conservative government that has shown no regard for the wishes of the Scottish people, their history or their votes. After a few years of Brexit Britain, Scotland will want independence more than ever but will find it even harder to achieve.