The Scottish Parliament has declined to support the trade agreement recently reached between the UK and the EU, with the 30 Conservative MSPs the only dissenting voices. The deal’s opponents are mainly concerned to wash their hands of any form of Brexit whatsoever rather than actually supporting a WTO outcome, though the self-contradiction of their position betrays its political cynicism.
The mental gymnastics required by Scottish Labour are even more substantial, given that the party at Westminster was whipped to support the deal. Nonetheless, the positive advantages that an undivided UK offers both Scots and Britons more broadly now that Britain has left the EU must now be continually emphasised, given the relative (though by no means irreversible) strength of Scottish separatism.
In line with her relentless pursuit of independence, Nicola Sturgeon has already begun a number of dubious attacks on the deal as it stands – whose weakness betrays the inability of the SNP to find serious flaws in the deal. Firstly, the nationalists have suggested that the ban on seed potato exports to the EU from the UK will be disastrous for the industry and Scotland as a whole.
Yet this criticism is deceptively framed as presented by the linked Guardian article. Seed potatoes may be ‘worth’ around £112 million to an economy with a notional GDP of £170bn in 2018, and [actually less than] 20% of exports may go to the EU, but exports as a whole only make up 34% of Scottish seed potato sales – so only about 5% of total sales are actually affected. By contrast, half of all sales (worth about £56 million) go to rest of the UK.
Secondly, the nationalists have attacked non-participation in Erasmus. As we’ve detailed elsewhere, however, the scheme highly burdensome for the UK, British students including Scots vastly preferring to study abroad in the US or Australia. Moreover, the British government has recently announced a new, Turing scheme that will fund more places for British students to study abroad, surpassing the relatively meagre provision Erasmus offered.
Thirdly, the Scottish government has argued that Scottish fisheries will actually suffer from the deal, citing the potential for the shares to become permanent at the end of the transition period. While this is certainly a danger, the fact remains that the UK government will have the power to reduce EU access to its waters, rather than being locked into the disadvantageous Common Fisheries Policy which the SNP would have to embrace if they wished to rejoin the EU.