Book Review

Gerry Hassan and Russell Gunson (eds.), Scotland, the UK and Brexit – A Guide to the Future, Luath Press, 9781912147182, 2017, £12.99

Reviewed by Carole Ewart

Condemning the EU as a ‘rich man’s club’ presumes that Britain will be economically and socially fairer as an independent ‘sovereign’ state. Endemic social inequality and extremes of poverty and wealth are what Britain manages to achieve despite the EU forcing us to abide by progressive policies on workers’ rights such as equal pay for work of equal value. Better informed debate and analysis is essential if we are to decide upon the options negotiated with the EU and fix the internally created problems which unite ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’ such as delivering increased funding to the NHS.

Scotland, the UK and Brexit – A Guide to the Future suggests order is possible although the introduction acknowledges we ‘live in dramatic and unpredictable times’ so choosing the title was a bold move. The book is the product of an IPPR initiative and edited by Hassan and Gunson. The IPPR is described as ‘Scotland’s leading progressive think tank’ and its cross-party credentials suggests a mix of perspectives across the 32 chapters, such as Adam Tompkins from the Conservatives and Labour’s Douglas Alexander. The style is pleasing, offering analysis of themes and issues in bite size chunks with references at the end to prove it is evidence-based thinking. Although published in mid-2017, most of the issues still need fixed and therefore remain relevant.

The complexity of the issues, the unknowns and the plethora of potential scenarios makes it difficult to convey a positive and bright future. Acknowledging the internal political and economic drama which Brexit nourishes means the chapters on ‘Northern Ireland: the Promise Broken’ and ‘Wales and Brexit’ prove there are problems which the UK Parliament must address regardless of Brexit. In ‘Scottish Public Opinion and Brexit: not so clear after all?’ John Curtice highlights the influence of political parties taking a clear stand: ‘It would seem that the higher level of support for remaining in the EU north of the border, was in part at least a consequence of the link that had been forged by the SNP between EU membership and the prospect of independence’.

The subjects chosen for scrutiny are on everyday issues such as higher education, the financial sector, fisheries, and the digital technologies industry and in the latter, Svea Miesch demonstrates the inter-relationship with Scotland’s universities which ‘provide an exceptional research base in computer science, software engineering and informatics, underpinning the digital technologies industry’. The problem is that ‘with Scottish Universities being potentially excluded from EU research support programmes such as Horizon 2020’ there could be damage ‘to the research base’s capability to innovate together with business and produce cutting edge start-ups and spin out companies ‘. Svea also points out that there are Brexit opportunities to make ‘Scotland a more competitive and productive place to do business’ but I am left wondering about the human cost.

The themes are interesting choices such as the attention paid to the reaction of EU countries such as ‘Somebody must do it: Spain prepares for Brexit with an eye on Scotland and Gibraltar’ and the need for EU reform and dissecting its other woes in ‘The European Union’s Multiple Crises’. I particularly enjoyed the chapter ‘Brexit and Belonging: empathy, voice and moral authority’ by Laura Cram who concludes that ‘understanding what shapes a sense of societal belonging will be integral not only to the future of a wider European Union and the UK’s relations with it, but for internal relations within the UK in this new context.’ She points out that what joins us is our desire to have an ‘influential voice’ and ‘failing to recognise this is likely to have lasting implications for the psychological positioning and sense of moral authority of future protagonists in the ongoing renegotiation of the UK constitutional settlement in a post- Brexit world’.

The prominent Eton school leaver, commentator and MP Jacob Rees-Mogg is leading the charge for a hard Brexit and with family wealth of £145m it is ok for him to take risks and jump into an uncertain future. Being able to explain that uncertainty and understand the complexity of dislocating an entire country from the EU is of growing importance. Therefore, this is a useful selection of short, evidence-based analysis to inform conversations amidst the noise of soundbites such as those asserting we can have ‘frictionless markets’ despite competition underpinning our domestic, European and global economies. Roll on better informed debate!

Carole Ewart is a public policy and human rights consultant.

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