Some interesting transformations this weekend. The revelation undergone by David Martin MEP contradicts the last two and a half years of denial of the reality of Scotland’s place in the EU. The other is the emergence of journalist David Torrance as a Unionist commentator rather than an impartial observer, the basis on which all his previous work had been based.
By far the most important is the key change adopted by Martin in relation to our membership after a Yes vote. It was, to be blunt, stating the obvious but it finally blew away the synthetic hysteria of Better Together that Scots would lose their citizenship, be thrown out of the club, go to the end of the queue, struggle to negotiate a deal and be left outside rotting on our own while the rUK sailed on undaunted. I know the dinosaurs like Struan Stevenson are clinging to the myth because that’s all they have left, but there is no mistaking the importance of Martin’s announcement. He is by far the most senior Scottish figure in Brussels and the most experienced.
Which is why I couldn’t accept his previous wilful twisting of the principles of the EU as an institution and a force for inclusion and integration. It was a denial of everything we know to be true and was, as we now know, unsustainable.
The open and sometimes tacit acceptance by Unionists who should know better of absurd and insulting remarks by EU officials, notably the discredited claims of Barroso, also opened our Unionist MEPs to ridicule.
I see David Martin now suggests that wasn’t deliberate at all, merely a misunderstanding due to Barroso’s lack of English skills. I didn’t get that impression at all from the Andrew Marr programme. Indeed Marr himself justified his own support for Barroso’s position by telling us he’d spoken to him at length off-air. We learned over the weekend that there has been no legal work done by the Commission on this subject so Barroso had no recent basis for his view. Loose talk indeed but taken at face value and championed by Better Together nevertheless as it did down Scotland.
I’m not sure why all this has changed for David Martin, though. Is he presenting this as no-change? Is he claiming this has been his position all along?
Here he is only last November. ‘Scotland will have to reapply and even the fast lane to EU membership is a long road… Pro-independence supporters are less keen to admit that as a new applicant to the EU, Scotland would not have an opt-out from the Euro and would be obliged to join when it met the economic conditions. The opt-out to Schengen’s open borders would also be lost…’
Yet here is the Sunday Herald: ‘he effectively distanced himself from claims by the Better Together campaign – which he supports – that Scotland might fail to become a member of the EU after independence or be rejected by the European Commission.
He also said that Scotland will not have to join the euro or the Schengen common travel area in the event of a Yes vote. My view is that Scotland, of course, would get into the EU eventually. It’s not automatic, and would take several rounds of negotiations, but they’re not going to force us to join Schengen. They’re not going to force us to join the euro.
I think that is a step-change, an undeniable shift in position which brings him very closely towards alignment with the SNP position which has never been ‘automatic and seamless’ but that it would be negotiated from within and therefore had an element of automaticity not available to new applicant states. Scotland’s case, as David Martin now seems to confirm, is exceptional in that the country starts out meeting all the conditions for membership through its inclusion via the British state.
But, again, why now? Well, we vote on Thursday in the Euro elections. Does he feel the need to get the record straight in advance rather go into the vote on a false premise, one he knows won’t bear scrutiny later and which will be pressurised further if the SNP win three seats to Labour’s two.
Is there a risk after the election that the Commission might publish some legal advice on this issue and make him look silly? Indeed it’s only recently that the European Parliament had to stop him from ensuring that Scotland would not be an exception.
‘Martin planned to write a report arguing that any new state would be automatically outside the European Union and would be forced to reapply for membership…
He has so far relied on the Barroso doctrine…. ‘when part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be a part of that state, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply in that territory. In other words, a newly independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory.’
So this all sounds very different and of course it chimes with Lib Dems MEP Sir Graham Watson that it’d be politically unacceptable for Scotland, as a territory which is already part of the EU, to have to join from scratch. He is the first senior pro-Union figure to speak against the UK Government’s position that an independent Scotland would have to reapply to join the EU. ‘You can debate about the legal aspects in many different ways but politically, you cannot throw outside the EU a territory that is already part of the EU…’
This is a continuing realignment of Unionist opinion to shadow that of the nationalists. It may be late in the day from David Martin but it returns to him some of the credibility lost over the previous years trying to put obstacles in the way of his country’s advance if there’s a Yes vote.
And you must have noticed a sharper and committed tone to David Torrance’s output recently. So pervasive is he, he can’t be missed. Good for him. He’s been one of the best analysts in the debate. But I’ve sensed a move away from the theoretical and historical to the clearly one-sided and opinionated….the kind of writing I prefer. Today for example in the Herald (Nationalists determined to rewrite inconvenient history) we get an all-out assault on the SNP and the bête noir of Alex Salmond who ‘has always delighted in launching deeply personal attacks on his opponents’, revisionism of the 1979 Tory promise of more devolution, a thesis that the Westminster government didn’t waste the oil money and a grotesque claim that independence is being fought on a 1970s agenda and isn’t about the future.
It contains to my mind mistake after mistake of a kind only a dedicated Unionist and a Tory apologist could make.
I used to keep a list of those Salmond had been compared to by politicians and interviewers but I remember it contained Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sun, Hitler, Mugabe and Vlad the Impaler (this one could be accurate). Recently he has undergone a witchhunt for being honest about Vladimir Putin, a man the British have tried to enlist against Scotland. Against this kind of background Torrance suggests that Salmond using terms like ‘zero credibility’ about Ed Miliband is a low blow. Mmm. He criticises the use of Eton as a slur against Cameron yet the point to me is that 19 Prime Ministers of this country went to that one school when it represents 0.001 per cent of the population. Since it is school to only the most privileged, does that tell us nothing about our country? Is the Torrance narrative that being the latest in a long line of rich public school boys in government is of no interest in a country where 96 per cent go to state schools and an overwhelming number describe themselves as working class even when they’re not?
Slamming home the pro-Tory line is the rewriting of history – a Torrance speciality after his book on Thatcher claimed we misunderstood her – about 1979. The point about the Home intervention was that it did convince some to change their vote in the referendum – the Tories were a much more powerful force in those days and Home did offer ‘better devolution’ in return and didn’t deliver. Why are we pretending it wasn’t relevant to the outcome? And while the killer was the 40 per cent, it was in Callaghan’s grasp to stop that. Labour connived against the devolution plan and that’s why the SNP AND the Liberals voted them out. Why wouldn’t a campaign point out how the same lies were traded by the same vested interests 35 years ago? (If the SNP didn’t do it, I bet the historically-minded David would have.)
And is it not perverse to deny the importance of the catastrophic decision not to invest a rare natural asset like oil? They never mention it in the Unionist campaign, but the massive bulwark of money built up by Norway is a standing condemnation of London’s greed and myopia. The failure to use the revenues for some national project of long-term significance is a scandal of monumental proportions – unless you’re objective is to apologise for the routine mismanagement of Britain by a corrupt and cack-handed political class.
But this column ends with the most egregious of errors in understanding – that ‘so much of the pro-independence case relies on two debating points, one 35 years and the other almost four decades old.’ No it doesn’t. I’ve never heard that historical point made at a public meeting, it is at best an add-on to more salient comments that come in to this blog and misunderstands – again – that this campaign is not the SNP but is now overwhelmingly a grassroots movement optimistically looking to taking control of our own lives and re-ordering society to suit the Scots. It is forward looking and relentlessly positive – despite the Torrance effort to paint it otherwise – and is far, far more than Alex Salmond and what the slow-witted conventional media recognise as politics. Isn’t it sad and predicable that the same shallow, personalised invective motivates the media and, as I always explain when asked about media bias, journalists write and broadcast what they know the boss wants. They know who pays the piper and he calls the tune. It is why it is such a release to say exactly as I please and be able to reach thousands without having a P45 waving in my face.