EFTA could be the best solution in order to win #indyref2
Joining EFTA may be the best tactical solution for persuading the majority of Scots to back independence in a post EU Referendum world.
The reason for this is that joining EFTA gives us most of the key advantages of staying in the EU but it also resolves some of the key post brexit arguments that will be used against the independence movement.
Before going into the pro EFTA case I would like to acknowledge the obvious objection that many independence supporters might raise.
Scotland voted to stay in the EU and therefore joining EFTA might be seen as a rejection of the will of the Scottish people. I think this is a fair point.
This article is really trying to set out what the most practical solution might be for those who support independence. It may not be the perfect solution but it is pragmatic. Post Brexit things are really messy and it is hard to envision a future that everyone will agree is ideal.
There are several problems facing the arguments put forth by the independence movement that joining EFTA would resolve. The first is that by focusing on joining EFTA we may be able to offer clarity to the Scottish people in terms of what they would be voting for before a second referendum took place.
We know from our experience in 2014 that the EU will only speak to actual sovereign states. Therefore, we will not be able to negotiate with them until we are independent. The UK could negotiate for us but that is not going to happen.
So, just like in 2014, those supporting the union will be able to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of voters as to whether the EU will allow an independent Scotland to join or not. Even if we are allowed to join there will always be the threat of a period where we are in limbo, out of the EU while applying to get back in.
Our job should be to eliminate as much doubt as possible as undecided voters crave certainty.
EFTA is a smaller organisation than the EU, comprised of similar sized countries, with similar aspirations to Scotland. Diplomatically, it will be easier to speak to the EFTA countries and have them state in advance that an independent Scotland would be able to join. If through diplomacy we could get some positive mood music from the EFTA countries before a referendum we would have a much stronger case to take to the people of Scotland.
The beauty of joining EFTA is that it is a far less of a bureaucratic organisation than the EU, with fewer barriers to entry. A country wanting to join only needs to agree to be party to the existing EFTA free trade deals and the rest is just politics. The only stumbling block is getting the existing members to agree that we can join. It will be a lot easier to get Norway and Iceland to help Scottish independence than Spain and rUK.
A second problem resolved by joining EFTA is that of the pro indy Brexiteers.
Since the EU referendum a lot of no voters have moved to yes but they have been balanced out by yes voters moving to no. I call the latter group the pro indy Brexiteers. They believe that Scotland is more powerful post Brexit. They argue that control over farming and fishing will now default back to Scotland due to those issues not being reserved to Westminster. They are now conflicted as a yes vote forcing them to rejoin the EU would mean those powers will go back to Brussels.
EFTA would persuade many of them to vote yes because it means their Brexit vote would not be wasted. Control over farming and fishing would be in Scotland’s hands if we go down the EFTA route.
Thirdly, EFTA resolves problems around trade.
Joining should secure access to the European Economic Area, which means we would not lose access to the single market. EEA states need to agree to allow us to join but the process is less complicated than joining via the EU.
EFTA countries also have many international trade agreements, most notably with Canada, a country that the EU recently failed to secure a trade deal with.
Keeping access to the single market would be especially advantageous if the rest of the UK were to leave it. Scotland would become a very tempting destination for many businesses currently based in the south.
EFTA also allows countries to sign their own trade agreements with other nations which would be key to counter the most repeated pro union argument I hear at the moment – the notion that the UK is Scotland’s biggest trading partner and that leaving the UK for the EU would hurt trade.
Joining EFTA means that regardless of what RUK chooses to do, we will be able to keep the UK single market going by negotiating our own deal as EFTA allows that freedom. As we have discussed before, the threat of there being trade barriers erected between Scotland and the UK was always slim, but if we join EFTA, we have a stronger case for averting the worst case scenario.
EFTA has lower fees than the EU, it has fewer regulations, and it also allows us more control over our legal system. We would be free to choose our own currency and not have to pretend to join the Euro at some point. Also we would have no commitment to join the Shengen travel area which was another bone of contention in 2014. Some might argue another benefit is that we would not be committed to any EU military endeavours.
On the negative side, we would lose the money we currently get back by being a member of the EU, for instance payments to farmers and the fishing industry.
It would be up to the Scottish Government to decide to fund certain industries and projects. We would not have as much say on rules affecting the European free market as EFTA countries don’t get to vote on them. Although, there are mechanism for EFTA countries to influence the debate.
A major problem might be potential passport control at the border between Scotland and England. That said, Theresa May has already confirmed that this would not be an issue between Ireland and Northern Ireland so those fears may be unjustified.
All in all, while no solution is going to be perfect, I believe if we want to win a second indyref, then EFTA is the best option. Joining would be easier than joining the EU, it will help energise yes voters we have lost over their stance on the EU, and it will give us most of the benefits of being in the EU while depriving our opponents of debating fuel.