One of the greatest political inventions of recent times has been that of the ‘UK single market’. This bizarre political invention has conveniently emerged just as we are leaving the European Union and is intended to suggest that we in the UK have some sort arrangement that is of an equivalence to the European Union single market.
Even though we hadn’t heard of it before, this UK single market is of such importance that it must not in the slightest bit be ‘threatened’ lest some apocalyptic visitation be inflicted on all those who inhabit these isles. Everything that we now do must ‘respect’ this UK single market and no deviation is to be tolerated. All future arrangements must be determined by its ‘singular’ operation. How we weren’t fully familiar with something so important until a few months ago will be left to economists to mull over for decades to come.
The thing is, of course, is there is no such thing as ‘the UK single market’ and its invention is purely political. There is a ‘singularity’ to the UK economy just as there is for every other nation state and our ‘market’ arrangements are not dissimilar to any other country that operates a complex market economy. Try finding any reference to the UK single market for yourself. Type in ‘the UK single market’ into google and see what you find. It is not listed in any Government department. It has no Minister responsible. There is no guide to how it operates, no legislation, no rules, no history, no detail of how it was assembled or how it can be amended or improved. There is no more a UK single market than there is a Scottish single market or a Perthshire one.
There are of course single markets and they are generally good things. The most notable one is the one that we are about to leave. The European Single Market has served us well for decades, is easily understood and leaving it is going to cost our fellow Scots billions in thwarted economic growth and household income. A single market is when nation states come together and allow for the free movement from one member country to another of goods, people, services and capital. Single markets remove barriers to trade and harmonise national rules at an agreed collective centre. As an independent nation we would probably require a single market with the rest of the UK to ensure that the trading arrangements we currently enjoy continue without the harming of each others economy. The current ‘singular’ UK state may be lots of things but it is not a single market in any understood or conventional sense.
So why has this emerged just now and what purpose does its invention serve? Well, it has nothing to do with the free movement of goods or anything else across the UK but everything to do with homogenising returning EU powers across the UK and blunting the demands of devolved institutions to rightly call for the return of powers in devolved areas. It is the means and the pretext to appropriate these powers and suggest it is for the ‘singular’ good. It is about amassing responsibilities at the centre and dispensing with having to agree and negotiate the exercise of returning powers with devolved legislatures. It is as dishonest as it is cynical as it is self defeating.
It is not so much a UK single market we should concern ourselves with but it is (in the language of the Brexiteers) the creation of a new ‘UK superstate’. For Scotland we are swapping a benign arrangement as a member of the European Union for a post Brexit superstate that would exercise the authority of the European Union but with supercharged cluelessness and confusion. This is a developing UK superstate that is accumulating powers at the centre and dictating to the ‘satellite’ legislatures what they can and can not do. What we are securing is the most perverse caricature of ‘Brussels’ and it is happening here and to us now. It should come as no surprise that this assault on devolution is progressing right at the time when this ‘superstate’ is beginning to self define and assert itself.
Devolution is under assault and a UK out of the European Union is reinventing itself as a new superstate intent on imposing its will on the devolved legislatures of the UK. Devolution worked under EU membership. It is unlikely to survive intact in a Brexitised UK.