It’s what we in the business call a hiding to nothing. Having been kicked in the currencies by George Osborne last week; and beaten around the head by Jose Manuel Barroso, who said at the weekend that it is “almost impossible” for Scotland to join the European Union, the First Minister Alex Salmond was left trying to behave as if nothing had happened. Move along now; nothing to see. Keep calm and carry on.
Repeatedly told: No you can’t, Salmond said Scots would emulate Barak Obama and say: “yes we can”. “Pragmatism” would win out in the UK and in the European Union.
But his speech in Aberdeen on Monday was drowned by catcalls and jeers from almost the entire UK media. He was accused of being “childish” by he Guardian’s Martin Kettle. Eurosceptic papers like the Daily Telegraph, had suddenly discovered something about he European Union that they actually liked: it can be extremely nasty to Scotland. Mr Barroso compared Scotland to Kosovo – a small, landlocked and war torn country with a wrecked economy, profound ethnic divisions that is not only not a member of the EU (which Scotland is) but hasn’t even applied to join. Scots have been citizens of the European Union since 1993.
Mr Barroso went on to say that Spain would take its fishing boats out of Scottish waters, Brussels would hand back Scotland’s contribution to the EU budget, and that Scotland would be forced to become a benighted, shunned and impoverished land like, er, Norway – one of the wealthiest countries in the world, which is also not a member of the European Union. And Scots are beginning to realise why. Unelected President Barroso has clearly forgotten that the founding principle of the EU is the right of nations to self determination.
He will presumably now assure Vladimir Putin that it is almost impossible for Ukraine to join the European Union. Except that Europe has been gagging to attract the former communist republic, like all those other former members of the Soviet empire which were waved through. Such as Bulgaria in 2007, with its impeccable human rights record, its vibrant market economy, its admirable treatment of minority ethnic communities and its business-friendly cosa nostra.
Alex Salmond said “commonsense” would prevail after the referendum, all evidence to the contrary. He said that English businesses would resent paying a “George Tax” of hundreds of millions of pounds by having to change currency at the border. That if the UK refused Scotland a share of the assets, it could hardly expect Scotland to shoulder the liabilities of UK debt – around £120bn.. But perhaps Mr Osborne regards that as a price worth paying for keeping Scotland in its place. Scots have had a harsh lesson in power politics this week: hypocrisy and coercion are alive and well in the EU and the UK.