On Friday evening, the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, was on Scotland Tonight arguing that you cannot be an independent country and be in the European Union. This did not go down particularly well with the SNP MSP Christine Grahame, but Nigel Farage did have a point.
The first thing to remember is that the nature of any type of political union is that you give up something to get something else. For example, all money raised in Glasgow does not stay in Glasgow. All money raised in Manchester does not stay in Manchester. Similarly, the taxation policies that raise revenue in Glasgow are not necessarily decided upon solely by the people of Glasgow, and the taxation policies that raise revenue in Manchester are not necessarily decided solely by the people of Manchester.
The same applies at a national level. So not all money raised in Scotland will stay in Scotland, and not all money raised in England will stay in England. The nature of any political union is that you pool and share resources. This is very much the case in the United Kingdom. Thus, at different times, some people will pay tax in one part of the country and this money will be transferred to somebody who needs support in a different part of the country.
But it does not follow that the 'poorest' parts of the country are a constraint on the 'richest' parts of the country. London has consistently given more revenue to the Treasury than it receives, for instance, yet nobody argues that London would be better off separating from the UK and going it alone as an individual state. The richer and poorer parts can both equally benefit and achieve more from being united, by enjoying economies of scale, thriving on culture diversity, and working together to make the most of different ideas. In any case, it does not follow that just because the richest part of the country is rich now that will always be the case, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the poorer part of the country can develop over time.
That is presumably the idea behind the European Union. So because the the UK is part of the EU, all money raised in the UK will not stay in the UK, and all money raised in, say, Germany or France, will not stay in Germany or France. Again, as part of the EU - a sort of political union - countries aim to share their resources.
The question you need to ask yourself then, is whether you gain or lose more by being in this political union. And this decision needs to be made with an eye on the likely future of this political union and how you may benefit in the future. In other words, just because, say, the UK gives more money to the EU than it receives, it may not always be the case. And non-financial benefits should also be considered. For example, being part of the EU can help the UK in foreign policy decisions. Now these benefits cannot be quantified, but they exist so cannot be ignored.
So what does this have to do with Nigel Farage's point and Scottish independence? Well, essentially it depends on your definition of "independence" and whether or not you mind giving up some sovereignty to enjoy the advantages of a given type of political union.
Nigel Farage mentioned Norway in the debate, pointing out that it is more "independent" than the UK because it is not in the EU. However, Norway has signed up to the EEA to allow it to participate in the EU's free market. But it means that Norway is obliged to implement all EU legislation relevant to the functioning of that free market. So EU regulations are incorporated into Norwegian legislation. But because Norway is not a member of the EU it is not involved in the decision making process as much as full EU member states. Indeed, a key debate in Norwegian politics is whether or not the country should become a full member and be involved in shaping the discussions of legislation.
The point here is that if a country wants to get something from another country, it must give something up, even if it may not want to. In other words, it may need to compromise. In a globalised world countries will need to find a way of cooperating and taking common direction. This is why any country will never have true independence (using the very narrow definition of the word), in terms of implementing every law and making all the decisions that affect that country by itself. So the question then is how integrated do countries want to become with each other and how involved in decision making do they want to be? Or, put simply, how much sovereignty do they wish to give up in order to gain something else? And does this benefit outweigh the cost?
But then this is what is so odd about the SNP's position (forget for a moment that the SNP are happy to see monetary policy set by the Bank of England and probably budget controls set by the UK Treasury). The SNP seem to be under the impression that if Scotland "escapes" from what they see as control from rUK (even if the Prime Minister is a Scot) it will result in full control over the Scottish parliament. But this is where they are wrong. It simply means swapping some control from Westminster to Brussels and an "ever-closer" European Union.
Christine Grahame's assertion that Scotland has no influence in Europe are factually incorrect. Whether she likes it or not, Scotland is currently part of the United Kingdom. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that as the 2nd largest economy in the UK, and the 3rd wealthiest region, Scotland does have its needs considered and taken into account when UK leaders make policy decisions with other European countries. The UK has 29 seats on the European Council - the same number as France, Germany, and Italy. A separate Scottish state would have 7 seats - the same number as Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Ireland, and less than Greece. There is absolutely no question that as part of the UK, Scotland is in a much stronger negotiating position in EU discussions. If it were a separate, "independent" country, it would have to rely on forming lots of alliances with a lot of smaller European countries in order to have any sort of influence over decision making.
Now some might argue that there is no difference between the situation between Scotland and the UK, and the UK and the EU. Well, there is. Firstly, the European Union is an overseeing governing body run by elected ministers all over Europe. The of EU is comprised of different countries with vastly different cultures, resulting in various different labour market conditions and levels of social protection. The British Union is a union of 4 nations that are almost identical in culture, have almost identical labour markets, and have the same values for issues such as social protection. Secondly, the EU is working towards a situation where more and more powers are taken away from each country and made from a central institution. As more and more countries decide to join the EU, the influence of each country at this central institution will diminish. The democratic deficit in each member state will grow larger and larger. That would apply to both the UK as it is now and an independent Scotland. The UK government is moving in the opposite direction, examining how devolution can be developed to serve each component nation best, while still maintaining the strength of the union. Ask yourself this - which union is likely to serve Scotland best?
But most importantly of all, the European Union is a contractual union. The British Union is a union of belonging. There is a reason it has prospered for over 300 years. It works.