2007 - 2022

TTIPing the balance. Which way will the SNP go?


TTIP is the culmination of thirty years economic ideology. Liz Murray explores the opportunities to take a stand and defend Scotland against a new corporate assault.

Tomorrow, at its spring conference, members of the Scottish National Party will vote on a motion tabled by MEP Alyn Smith expressing ‘strong dissatisfaction’ about the content and process of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This reflects growing opposition to TTIP across civil society, here in the EU and in the US, as the ‘big business’ agenda behind the treaty becomes clear. Across Scotland, local campaign groups have sprung up to oppose TTIP and on April 11 the nation-wide ‘Scotland Against TTIP’ coalition launches. 

That coalition currently includes seven trades union bodies, environment and food organisations, and social justice and anti-austerity campaigners – but is growing almost daily.

But what is TTIP, and why should it matter to Scotland?

As acronyms go, TTIP isn’t really up to much. It doesn’t sound important like the UN or the EU, and there’s much more fun to be had with LOL or WTF.

But stick with me here, because behind those four unassuming and rather pedestrian letters lies something huge and far reaching. And something that, if passed, will impact Scotland. A corporate power grab and an assault on democracy, no less.

What TTIP is, and isn’t

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is being touted as a trade deal; something that’ll allow goods to flow more easily between the EU and US.

But it’s much more than that. TTIP is a transfer of power from democratically elected governments to transnational corporations on a scale not seen before. It’s part of a global attempt to shift power from people to corporations under the guise of ‘free’ trade. Its aim is to reduce or take away barriers to trade, and that means regulations put in place by governments to protect public health, the environment, workers rights and more. Supporters of TTIP call this ‘levelling the playing field’ but in reality it will actually create an unbalanced system that favours transnational companies. It will give them total freedom of movement for capital, goods, and services, as well as the ability to sue governments in secret courts, but will ask nothing of them in return.

European trade commissioners have been quite open in saying that they hope TTIP will set the ‘gold standard’ for other trade agreements around the world. Grand promises are being made about the amount of economic growth and jobs that will result from TTIP, as well as assurances that standards will go up, not down. We heard all this when NAFTA (the North America Free Trade Agreement – another big, bad acronym) came into force in 1994. The evidence from that trade deal shows that the opposite has turned out to be true. Jobs have been lost, wages reduced, income inequality increased and regulations to protect the public good regularly challenged by corporations.

How Scotland is at risk from TTIP

TTIP isn’t a deal for citizens, small business, consumers or the environment and, if the trade deal becomes law, Scotland will be at risk.

The Scottish government could be sued by US corporations for passing or improving legislation designed to protect workers, public health or the environment, if that legislation was deemed a threat to profits. The mechanism that would allow this to happen (standby for another unsexy acronym) is the ISDS, or investor state dispute mechanism. This is a system of international arbitration courts outside of any national legal system and run by corporate lawyers.

Under TTIP, US oil and gas companies might use the ISDS to sue the Scottish government if it changed the current moratorium on fracking to a ban, or if it set tighter regulations on climate change emissions, as they could claim that as a threat to profits. Or waste companies might use it if the Scottish government passed new legislation on waste reduction. Or big tobacco might use it if further smoking bans or tighter tobacco control regulations were brought in. Companies could even just threaten to use the ISDS to sue the Scottish government, and that might be enough to put them off passing or tightening up legislation.

This isn’t fanciful thinking. A look at twenty year old NAFTA, the free trade deal between Canada, the US and Mexico, shows many, many cases where trans-national companies have sued those governments over environmental, energy, land use, financial, public health and transport policies that they saw as a threat to their profits. As of this time last year, there were eleven claims outstanding under NAFTA, with trans-national companies seeking a total of more than $12 billion in compensation from governments.

In addition to the risk of legal challenge, the concept of ‘regulatory harmonisation’ (to create that all-important level playing field) could mean that legislation in areas devolved to the Scottish parliament, such as environment, food safety, health and workers rights could be deemed barriers to trade and forced downwards under the those rules in TTIP.

And of course there is the much discussed risk to Scottish public services, such as the NHS and Scottish Water. Where there is privatisation in any part of Scotland’s public services, then TTIP could mean contracts being opened up to US companies. And if the Scottish government were to try to bring privatised services, such as the railways or postal services, back into public hands then it could be subject to legal challenge under TTIP. This has already happened in Slovakia under another free trade agreement.

Scotland must be protected from TTIP

It’s clear that opposition to TTIP is growing. Environmental and social justice activists have made common cause with trade unions, food safety campaigners and digital rights activists across the EU and US to oppose the trade deal.

The Scottish government must take a strong stand against TTIP in order to protect Scottish interests – and its own decision-making power.   As the SNP holds its spring conference this weekend, the polls tell us that they may be looking at the prospect of sending many MPs to Westminster and possibly even holding the balance of power. In that case (in fact, in any case), when those MPs speak up for Scottish interests they must speak out against TTIP. And of course the six Scottish MEPs, two of whom are SNP, will get to vote yes or no on TTIP once negotiations have finished.

This morning, a letter from Nicola Sturgeon landed on my desk in reply to one I’d sent her asking her for the SNP’s position on TTIP. The letter shows clear concern over the risks of TTIP to Scottish public services, and in particular the NHS. And, reassuringly, it states that the SNP will oppose TTIP if the final agreement contains rights for corporations to sue governments.

But the SNP could go further – and it must if it is to protect the rest of Scotland’s public services, as well as regulations designed to safeguard the environment, workers and public health.

The UK Labour MEPs have pledged to oppose TTIP unless ISDS is excluded, all public services are excluded and standards designed to protect the public good are guaranteed to go up, not down. We believe that the SNP could, and should, match this level of opposition to TTIP. Let’s hear them say it loud and clear.

For more information on TTIP see www.globaljustice.org.uk/campaigns/trade

Comments (15)

Leave a Reply to daveluk Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Alan says:

    Politics as usual: lots of dirty backroom deals and no public discussion. For a critical US perspective see:

    EU-US Trade Negotiations Continue Shutting out the Public—When Will They Learn?

  2. steelewires says:

    Thank you for publishing this. I’ve been concerned about TTIP and other inter-continental trade agreements for while. We must write to the SNP and urge them to come out against it unless the conditions you state, ” protect the rest of Scotland’s public services, as well as regulations designed to safeguard the environment, workers and public health.” are met. People and the creation must come before profits.

  3. kirkc3 says:

    Think you should read this.  Cat

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  4. Crabbit says:

    I’d share the concerns, and I note even UKIP (!) haven’t taken a strong line against this.

    But I don’t know why American contractors are considered a particular threat – plenty of EU contractors are willing to take public contracts (Ramboll on the new Forth Road Bridge, Bilfinger and Siemens for the trams, Abellio for trains).

    And American private contractors are already working in NHS Scotland without much of a fuss:



  5. Drew Campbell says:

    It may seem a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but it bears repeating that TTIP is a manoeuvre by the global corporate sector / billionaire elite against ordinary people, using their intermediaries, the political class. All the flim-flam and carrots about economic benefits is simply smoke and mirrors for a cynical, sinister and anti-democratic power grab. Yet we’ll be hard-pressed to find a single question raised in the current election campaign.

    For me there is no price worth paying for any (further) dimunition of our democratic rights and legal protections. Secret courts and cloaked influences will only serve to further corrupt our politics, politicians and democratic systems. Any vaunted economic gains may fail to materialise or be so short-lived and not shared with the general population. Either way there would be no comeback.

    It’s a real test for the SNP who, understandably, don’t want to be seen as anti-business or create any serious discord with the EU that could complicate our continued membership in the event of independence. On the other hand, the (admittedly small) possibility of being further to the right than Labour on this must be very unappealing, especially with the leftwards tilt of the party since The Great Influx (as an SNP pal of mine refers to it).

    My guess is the conference motion mentioned above will be passed with a resounding majority, maybe even unanimously. Without having seen the terms it’s difficult to be certain but I suspect that may leave the leadership a bit of wiggle room. Either way it is up to us – the Left, the Yes Movement, ordinary folk – to generate the momentum to force the debate into the public arena and compel politicans of all stripes to declare their positions.

    So can we use these pages to organise and push TTIP up the political agenda this April and May?

    Who’s up for trying?

  6. billramsay says:

    A good article oan contributions on TTIP in general but with respect neither the article of the contributions seem to me to address the question posited by the author. The debate within the SNP requires to be seen withn the context of the evolution from a pre-referendum SNP, to a post referendum SNP and the extent to which this evolution further radicalises the SNP.

    To focus on this weekend’s spring conference would be in my view, a misunderstanding of this process. The key discourses will be those around the formulation of and the subsequent debates around the 2015 Annual Conference in the Autumn. It will be at that event that the new mass membership, if it chooses to do so, will have its first opportunity to flex any new ideological muscle, assuming they wish to do so.

    A process that will be absolutely key will be the behaviour of the Satanding Orders Committee SOAC for the 2015 Annual Conference.

    In the past motions that the ” leadership” found unhelpful simply would not get on to the order paper or were placed so low down on the order paper as to be almost, though not quite, the same.

    It is simply forgotten by those outwith the pre referendum SNP that when radical motions are put in front of the membership, the membership passes them. ( NATO was treated as a vote of confidence by Alex and he won the key vote by 15 votes only).

    In my view a motion to reject TTIP will be tabled at SOAC in the autum.

    The key moment will be whether or not SOAC ( drawn from pre referendum members used to the old regime) are “instructed” or left to their own devices.

    In my view there will be no top down interference on this issue.

    On a slightly wider cultural point re the SNP, it will be interesting to see what happens in future if SOAC decides at some point to reject a motion on political, rather than procedural grounds and a public political row ensues.

    In the pre referendum SNP discipline was truely self imposed , bought into by everyone ( to SNP old lags like myself the behaviour of the British media was hardly a revelation).

    Will the genuine self discipline carry forward into the post referendum SNP ?it may.

    I know of no empirical evidence one way or another that points to a particular further radicalisation of the membership or the other way around. Only the future political behaviour of the post referendum membership to real situations will answer that question.

  7. Brian Watson says:

    Well said that man, it’s crucial that the general public get up to speed with the corporate power grabbers . More transparency , more debate less corporate lobbying.

  8. Lora says:

    Thank you so much!

  9. daveluk says:

    Over the past year I’ve been puzzled and concerned at the stance of the SNP on this, as its such an assault on democracy. It’ll stop me voting for them as a party.

  10. McDuff says:

    You just get sense that its the big corporate companies that are in control and not governments, a prime example being their interference in the referendum.

  11. Beth Cross says:

    Thanks for this. I’m just printing it out to have on hand at the stall this morning that 38 degrees has organised to raise awareness of TTIP. There are quite a few happening across the country today.

  12. dafis says:

    slowly people are beginning to realise what TTIP represents. This is the next step forward by power crazy globalist corporations and their compliant governments & political classes. Everything that stands in the way of maxing out on the power/profit motive is to be eradicated by these monsters. Not just an issue for Scotland or SNP, in fact on your own you will be done ! However a serious resistance has to be created where corporatist bullshit and its political conduits have to be identified early and pushed back. Tall order, but if we don’t get a grip a form of NWO will evolve with a global axis of corporates in charge and puppet governments running around at local level ensuring that the public at large is docile and compliant.

  13. Frank M says:

    I believe and hope that the conference motion by Alyn Smith will be passed resoundingly.

  14. MBC says:

    Campaign group 38 degrees are saying that the SNP anounced ‘strong dissatisfaction with the content and process of TTIP’ yesterday and that the Dundee day of action was mentioned in the SNP press release.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.