When people ask me how I can support Scottish independence but oppose Brexit, I have many answers, but one of those answers reminds me of a military axiom that I first encountered at Dartmouth: ‘Every time you reorganise, you bleed’. (I think it was attributed to General Patton, or Admiral Nimitz, or someone like that.)
The essence of this pithy quote is that there are always costs to institutional and organisational change. Even beneficial change. Along the way, to get from where we are to where we are going, things get lost, broken, upset and disarranged. Established patterns and routines are disturbed and new patterns and routines have to be found. Collective knowledge and experience is lost. It’s a massive headache – and a financial cost too. It’s not something you’d do unless the expected benefit resulting from the change greatly outweighs the foreseeable costs of undertaking the change.
Scotland becoming an independent state within the EU would be a relatively minor change – a change, yes, but one without immediate catastrophic economic disruption, because of the two Unions in which Scotland is embedded, the EU is far more important in terms of its regulatory frameworks and economic structures than the UK. The costs and complications of the UK leaving the EU far outweigh the costs and complications of Scotland leaving the UK and staying in the EU. There’s just no comparison.
It is, in fact, the very existence of supranational structures like the EU that makes Scottish independence possible and desirable: the intention is not isolation or separation, but ‘member state’ rather than ‘regional’ status. Before the EU, we had the Commonwealth, and the SNP’s founding aim was for Scotland to have ‘dominion status within the commonwealth’ – which, at the time, had embryonic structures of international trade and military co-operation. Scottish nationalists do not want to be alone. Ours is not an isolationist, still less a chauvinistic, nationalism. It is a civic, democratic, inclusive type of nationalism, which simply demands that Scotland be entitled to the same respect and the same status as other countries. All that those who support independence ask is that we take our rightful place as an equal member of a community of democratic states – be that the Commonwealth, was it was in the 1930s, or the EU today.