As long as the SNP sees independence as the most important issue, Scotland will suffer
Pro-EU voters in Scotland who vote for the SNP or for independence are being conned by a party that will always hold internationalist values second to the priority of independence.
There is a peculiar doubletalk going on during the Scottish election campaign that is coming to its conclusion this week. The Scottish National Party are loudly proclaiming themselves in favour of political unions and loudly denouncing them in the same breath. They say that cooperation and collaboration with our neighbours is what we should all aspire to and also that cooperation and collaboration with our neighbours is an evil plot to undermine Scotland. Yes to the European Union and No to the union of the United Kingdom.
The SNP say they are pro-EU, even as they reject the values the EU was founded on.
Let’s call it what it is – an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Scottish people.
The SNP have been happy to weaponise pro-European feelings, but only so long as they do not get in the way of independence
Back in 1975 the SNP were the only major party that campaigned against joining the European Communities. Over time they saw the political value in pretending to be pro-European – but only as long as it didn’t get in the way of independence above all else.
That is why in the 2014 independence referendum, the only major party in Scotland pushing to leave the EU was the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon pushed independence even though she knew that this would mean Scotland dropping out of the EU. She tied herself in knots to defend the indefensible: the madness of crashing out of two political and economic unions at once.
In 2014 Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP saw that as a fine price to pay for independence. Either that or they spent their time pretending that the stated views of the EU on the matter did not exist or that they could leverage threats to the status of EU citizens to force a change in the rules.
Pro-EU voters in Scotland who have voted or are considering voting for the SNP or for independence are being repeatedly conned by a party that will always hold internationalist values second to the priority of independence.
It is for that reason that the SNP spent more on a by-election in Shetland in 2019 than they did on the entire EU referendum.
It is for that reason that they claim to have a plan for re-joining the EU while refusing to admit the harsh consequences we would face – leading to flailing attempts in the past days to gloss over the prospect of a hard border and a currency breakdown with the rest of the UK, sounding every bit like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
It is for that reason that when pressed on these concerns, nationalist policy leaders label EU accession rules as “nonsense” and “economically illiterate”. It tells you something about the real opinions at play.
The SNP have been happy to weaponise pro-European feelings, but only so long as they do not get in the way of independence. Europe, like every other issue Scots care about – education, healthcare, economic recovery – always comes second. Independence first – and the rest of us get left behind.
As long as independence is more important than any other issue, every one of us in Scotland will suffer. The ideological straitjacket of national sovereignty has not served us well over the past few years of Brexit – there is no reason to believe it could serve us better in the case of Brexit 2.0.
Pragmatism and liberalism have always been the best impulses of the EU, but nationalism is not liberalism, even draped in an EU flag. The SNP’s desire to drive hard borders between people goes against everything the EU has stood for.
In 2014, I campaigned against Scotland leaving the UK and the EU, because I believed in the values of community, cooperation and liberalism that make us stronger together. We cannot let Brexit become a tool for Scottish nationalists to abuse. Brexit and independence are the same idea with a different name. The reality of our loss with Brexit should be a warning of just how much more Scotland stands to lose if we follow the SNP’s gambit and take another step away from the internationalist values that liberals – in the Liberal Democrats and in other parties – believe in.
Remember – the SNP were the original Brexiteers back in 2014. They were quite happy then to pair the damage of independence with the damage of leaving the EU. With just a day to go before this vital election, it’s time for those of us who believe in liberal internationalism to call out its abuse and misuse by the SNP.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland.