HMS Britannia: A Rudderless Ship Heading for the Rocks?

by Colin Alexander Storrier

I listen attentively to the Brexiteers. It’s not that I find them particularly interesting, but it’s useful to understand the mindset of your opponents. Pro-Brexit commentators, particularly those on the ‘right’ have certainly developed somewhat of a fantasy.

The UK will flourish, unshackled from bureaucracy stemming from Brussels. We will start new trading relationships all around the world; for Britannia rules the waves. India to Australia will be queuing to do business with UK Plc. An EU under pressure from German manufacturers will buckle to Westminster’s every demand…it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

The problem is it’s all a fantasy. Those on the ‘remain’ side of the argument are accused by the Brexiteers of being ‘remoaners’ and ‘harbingers of doom’.   Yet we should be scared, for we are not entering unchartered territory. We have been here before, except the challenges HMS Britannia will face this time around, will be much greater.

“The UK is a country sleep-walking towards its own economic oblivion”

 It was in 1973, that the sick man of Europe, that’s the UK by the way, joined the European bloc. A recent article in the Financial Times highlighted that between 1958, “when the EEC was set up, and Britain’s entry in 1973, gross domestic per head rose 95 percent in” France, West Germany and Italy, compared to only 50 per cent in Britain. The article continued by highlighting that studies have shown two periods where UK prosperity increased – the first was in the 1970s, shortly after the UK joined the EU and then again in the 1990s after the EU opened its single market in goods. Of course, for those of us in Scotland, we are only too aware that the 1970s also coincided with North Sea Oil revenues flowing into the UK exchequer. Nevertheless, any reasonable observer would conclude that the UK has done rather well in the EU.

“To assume that we can simply trade German and French consumers for those in India and beyond is the very definition of stupidity”

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. England & Wales voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and in our outdated, dysfunctional version of democracy, Scotland and Northern Ireland must suffer the consequences too.

The UK is a country sleep-walking towards its own economic oblivion, the iceberg is ever closer, but full steam ahead we go. Productivity has crashed. The OBR predicts it will continue to grow sluggishly; if at all. Our goods trade deficit has hit a record high. Indeed, as we move closer to leaving the world’s most successful trading bloc, our exports to other EU countries have increased – the EU is by far the largest buyer of UK goods. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out why – geographically speaking the EU is on our door step. To assume that we can simply trade German and French consumers for those in India and beyond is the very definition of stupidity. Yet the UK’s economic woes were not caused by EU membership and they won’t be solved by Brexit – they will be exacerbated.

“Jeremy Corbyn was dishonest to suggest that the UK cannot leave the EU, while remaining in the single market”

 Inflation is contributing to a further squeeze on household incomes, with the cost of everyday items rising exponentially. This increasing burden on household budgets follows 7 years of value destroying Tory austerity. We’ve seen an extraordinary rise in the use of Food Banks, but that only tells part of the story. The ‘just about managing’ households (as Theresa May described them) might not yet be dependent on Food Banks, but they are struggling under the weight of rising household debt. It’s about to get worse.

An interest rate rise is imminent. This will be welcome news to those with significant savings, namely the baby boomer generation, but their children and grandchildren are not so fortunate. Inevitably, some households will not be able to cope with rising bills and stagnant wages – they will default.

Interest rate rises can also have other adverse impacts; notably on reducing house prices (albeit lack of supply might counter this) and the value of shares can be impacted, as people revert to holding cash. Cash is king after all. That’s not to say a fall in house prices is entirely a bad thing, but there are many who will struggle with rising mortgage payments through an interest rate rise and also face the potential of their property falling into negative equity – a far from desirable position. The government should have done more to encourage people to reduce their debt during the era of low interest rates, but instead the opposite has happened. Household debt is above its pre-recession peak. None of these issues stem from our membership of the EU and it is folly to think that leaving the EU will help resolve them.

Whilst every local authority area in Scotland voted ‘remain’, I recognise that this wasn’t entirely out of love for the EU. I accept that many merely chose the lesser of two evils. Voters in Scotland rejected a ‘Little Englander’, British nationalism which has shamed the UK. Yet, the ballot paper asked an overly simplistic question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union”? There is no mention of leaving the single market or customs union and with no mention, there is simply no mandate.

“The true culprit is a ruthless Tory government, whose politician’s, including Ruth Davidson, have championed a cynical policy of reverse Robin Hood; a neo-liberalist orgy of wealth redistribution (stealing) from the poor and giving to the rich”

 Jeremy Corbyn was dishonest to suggest that the UK cannot leave the EU, whilst remaining in the single market. This would certainly be news to citizens in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The UK could, if it wishes, seek to retain access to the single market via EFTA and EEC membership – though smooth entry is far from guaranteed. Sadly, this has meant that both the governing party and the opposition in the UK (neither of which Scotland voted for) have abdicated responsibility for running this country; there is a very real perception of a rudderless HMS Britannia heading straight for the rocks.

Our beleaguered Prime Minister has little left to lose. It’s time for her to be honest and admit that much of our prosperity has stemmed from membership of the EU. It’s not the EU which has made the people in the UK struggle. The true culprit is a ruthless Tory government, whose politician’s, including Ruth Davidson, have championed a cynical policy of reverse Robin Hood; a neo-liberalist orgy of wealth redistribution (stealing) from the poor and giving to the rich.

It’s disconcerting to see some voters in Scotland looking to Jeremy Corbyn for answers. Corbyn has already resigned to leaving the EU single market. Investors are already making difficult decisions and jobs are quietly going elsewhere. It’s estimated that Scotland will lose in excess of 80,000 jobs. Jeremy Corbyn is as much a risk to those jobs as Theresa May. Yet, that’s not the only problem. Corbyn might have some admirable policies, but they do not reflect the wider Labour Party, which hasn’t changed much since the Blair years’, regardless of what Momentum would have people believe. Ian Murray, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendell, Caroline Flint, Jess Phillips,  – the ‘Blairites’ in Labour are alive and well, patiently waiting for their opportunity to take back control of the New Labour experiment that they adhere to. Ironically and regrettably, much of Labour’s ‘right-wing’ are more sensible on the Brexit question than their leader.

“Brexiteers favour the hard-Brexit cliff over economic common sense. Scottish jobs are at risk. The levers required to mitigate those risks all sit with politicians in London”

Scottish voters could opt to vote Labour, but effectively it will be the people of England who decide who can hold the keys to Number 10 – it’s simple arithmetic after-all. If they do decide to hand the keys to Labour, they could easily change their mind in 5 years and hand them back to the Conservatives. It’s a cycle and “on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground”, to quote our favourite dragon queen, Daenerys Targaryen. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Scotland can choose a different path. For those of us who believe passionately in independence, it can be disheartening to see people supporting a Union that doesn’t serve us. In reality, without the SNP in government, Scotland would lose all of its bargaining power over night. Unionist, Nationalist or indifferent, the threat of a second independence referendum is the only thing keeping our opponents honest – or at least honest as they can be. Surrendering our ace card, by voting for Labour or Tory, would be a mistake and would put Scotland in an infinitely poorer bargaining position.

The Scottish Labour party’s logo is a rose, the national flower of England. The UK’s central bank is the Bank of England. The UK parliament is permanently based in London, with traditions that seem alien to most in our small country. We need to stop lying to ourselves and believing that we are in a fair and equal Union which benefits Scotland – it doesn’t. If we are honest, the little over 5 million people in Scotland are simply not the priority of a UK government and we never will be – how much pain should our country suffer before we realise the damage being done?

The Brexiteers favour the hard-Brexit cliff over economic common sense. Scottish jobs are at risk. The levers required to mitigate those risks all sit with politicians in London. There are two choices. We stay on HMS Britannia and go down with the ship; accept that our living standards will be lower for decades to come; that there will be fewer opportunities for future generations; and that our fate will forever be in the hands of whomever England decides to vote for.  Or we take a pragmatic view and decide to determine our own fate.

There is a life boat for Scotland. There’s a short window of opportunity to board that life boat and build a country that truly works for everyone. Scotland can seek to stay in the single market via EFTA and EEC membership, not dissimilar to Norway. We can protect our jobs and future prosperity. We can have a government in Scotland which will never be answerable to politicians in London; a government which answers only to the Scottish people and not the Establishment. We can harness all of our resources for the betterment of our people.

Yet, sadly, there are still those amongst us who would rather go down with the ship. It’s our responsibility – all of us who passionately believe in independence – to convince them that there is a real alternative, not simply a lesser of two evils, but something infinitely better than the UK has to offer.


About the Author: Colin Alexander Storrier is a politics graduate, who has also completed an MSc in Banking & Finance. He is a Chartered Fellow of the London Institute of Banking & Finance. Colin works for a top tier bank in the UK and the views presented in this article are his own.


The Butterfly Rebellion
Colin Alexander Storrier
009
Edinburgh, Scotland

 

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