BREXIT has slashed Scotland’s exports to the EU, pushed large and small firms to the brink of bankruptcy, created job losses, cost millions in lost orders and left fresh produce rotting in queueing lorries unable to get to European markets in time. And ironically the area of the UK to suffer most from Brexit is the area which wanted it least: Scotland.

How did we get here, when Scotland voted resoundingly against Brexit?

After the UK voted Leave, the Scottish Government continued to seek solutions to the many looming Brexit problems until the very last minute, but Westminster’s entrenched attitude made any form of compromise impossible. How could Scotland’s best interests and our democratic wishes be so completely ignored?

Brexit is just the latest and most obvious example of the democratic deficit which makes the Union so damaging to Scotland and renders it impossible for the people of Scotland to have any control over our country’s future.

The democratic deficit is built into the very foundations of the United Kingdom, which is as far away from being a Union of equals as it is possible to get. Votes cast in Scotland do not have any impact on the result of UK elections and referendums, as the population of the rest of the UK as a whole, and of England in particular, is so much larger. In a voting system based on the principle of overall majority rule, which does not recognise the views of individual nations, Scotland will never have a voice.

The last time Scotland voted for a Conservative Westminster government was in 1955. In the 1959 General Election, 47.2% of Scots voted for the Tory government, led first by Harold MacMillan and then Alex Douglas-Home, but the Tories failed to win a majority of Scottish seats. In the 65 years since the 1955 election, the UK has had a Conservative government, for which Scotland did not vote, for more than 41 years. Not only did Scotland not vote for the Tories … it actively hated some of the policies they inflicted on the country.

Those policies included the poll tax, which was one of several initiatives by Margaret Thatcher which were hated in Scotland. She replaced domestic rates and imposed on Scotland in 1989, a full year before it was adopted in England and Wales. Scotland rejected her hard-right policies but had to suffer their effects because it was consistently outvoted in general elections.

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The domestic rates system had been based on the notional rental value of the house you owned. The poll tax, on the other hand, was a fixed tax per adult resident, although there was a reduction for students and the unemployed. The poll tax was incredibly unpopular in Scotland because it was regressive and unfair. Families living in smaller homes were charged individually and therefore had to pay significantly more than under the previous system and more than better off smaller families living in bigger houses. The tax helped the rich to save money and cost less well-off families more.

There were major problems collecting the tax. Many people took part in organised non-payment campaigns. More than 50,000 marched through Glasgow in protest. The poll tax proved no more popular when it was introduced in England and Wales, sparking mass demonstrations and protest. It was eventually scrapped in 1993 but Scotland was left feeling it had been used as a guinea pig.

Consider this parallel to the democratic deficit which defines Scotland’s place in the Union: A local council is planning on spending £100,000 on street lighting on one of two streets and that investment will increase property values. The council holds a public meeting to vote for which street gets the better lighting. Ten householders live on street A and 80 live on street B.

The National:

Whose interests would you expect to be favoured?

IT’S obvious, and so it naturally follows, that Westminster, with 533 English MPs and only 59 Scottish MPs, will not prioritise Scotland’s interests. That’s not a particularly contentious statement … it is simply a fact. Recognising that fact has nothing to do with Scottish nationalism and everything to do with simple arithmetic.

If you want the arithmetic to work in Scotland’s favour you would simply have to move all government powers and financial controls from Westminster to Holyrood.

The EU referendum in 2016 is the latest example of the democratic deficit. There wasn’t much demand for the vote outside an anti-Europe faction within the Conservative Party, which is probably why then prime minister David Cameron agreed to it in the first place. But the referendum unleashed a form of British nationalism which saw anti-EU feelings grow and inspired a campaign to take back “control” from the EU, despite the fact that Britain’s sovereignty was not challenged in any way by the European Union and most Brixiteers could not explain what powers they believed had been moved from Westminster to Brussels.

Support for the EU remained high in Scotland and in the referendum vote itself it voted 62% to remain in the EU. However, the democratic deficit left Scotland being dragged out of Europe against our will. The UK voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, with England voting to leave by 53.4% to 47.6%. Wales voted to leave by 52.5%, while Northern Ireland voted by 55.8% to remain but by sheer force of UK numbers the Brexiteers got their way.

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It was an incredible moment of political madness and, as we shall detail in a future article, the price we are paying is huge. Yet immediately after the vote there was still an opportunity to mitigate against the worst repercussions of the vote, by recognising opinions within Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Government made it clear that it regretted the results of the vote and would have preferred to remain as a member state within the EU. But – supported by the cross-party majority of MSPs – it put forward suggestions which would have cushioned us from the very worse results of Brexit.

The Scottish Government proposed to negotiate continued access to the single market and customs union. It argued that was not a perfect position and certainly not as good as EU membership. But it tried to convince Westminster that being in a less than perfect position while remaining within the single market was preferable to the limited number of alternatives.

Westminster turned a deaf ear to Scotland’s government. As time passed it became clear that Boris Johnson would have preferred to leave the EU with no trading deal at all rather than “compromise” and remain within the single market.

Even when it became clear he would have to agree to a special relationship between Northern Ireland and Europe to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, he refused to bend to Scotland’s request for a similar deal.

Political pressure eventually forced Johnson into cobbling together some vestige of a trade arrangement before the deadline expired but in reality, it was hardly a deal in the accepted sense of the word. Instead, it represented the worst of all possible worlds, as events since the arrangement, which took effect on January 1, have shown.

The Scottish parliament voted overwhelmingly – by 92 votes to 30 – to reject the terrible trade deal at the end of December 2020. All parties except the Scottish Tories voted against the EU (Future Relationship) Bill on the basis it would “cause severe damage to Scotland’s environmental, economic and social interests”, and there had been too little time to give it adequate scrutiny.

In a functioning democracy that would have meant the deal had to be renegotiated. In a true Union of equals, Brexit would have been stopped or at the very least changed dramatically to reflect Scotland’s wishes. Instead, it went ahead exactly as the Tory Government wanted.