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Glue Traps And Globalisation

Craig Dalzell

The UK Government has announced that they are invoking the Internal Market Act to prevent the Scottish Government from banning the sale of glue traps in Scotland. These horrific devices are have been banned as part of broader concerned around protecting animals from cruel deaths and on the responsible management of land. It’s entirely right that the Scottish Government has acted to ban – rather than merely restrict or licence – these traps.

The UK Government even agrees. The traps will soon be subject to a limited in England too. Wales acted ahead of both nations, with its ban coming into force last October.
So the UK Government has created a situation where it will be illegal to set a glue trap in either England (with exemptions) or Scotland (without exemption), and it will be illegal even to possess a glue trap in Scotland (which would also prevent someone from making a trap themselves), but it will be explicitly legal to buy and sell them in both nations. How one could legally buy or sell a trap without possessing it I’ll leave to better economic and legal heads than mine.

The Internal Market Act is clearly being used in a provocative and calculated way by the Westminster Government and the politics of it is aimed squarely at preventing Scotland from using its devolved powers. Compare with the attitude towards Northern Ireland where the “Not For EU” label on food is being rolled out effectively across the whole of the UK to accommodate the political feeling there. In that case, the devolved and national government have collaborated to create a common standard (albeit a diminished one) but for Scotland, that common standard is created by preventing the devolved government from acting.

We have to understand the result in both cases though has been to create a common standard across the whole of the UK’s Single/Internal Market (one imposing English standards on the whole of the UK, the other imposing Northern Irish standards on the whole of the UK) because this is fundamentally how Single Markets operate. Their purpose is to create a walled garden where the standards and regulations are pushed to the outer limits of that Market and the regulations within the garden are reduced, harmonised or dropped entirely. With that in mind, Scottish independence with EU membership doesn’t make this problem go away. And I say that being a strong personal advocate of precisely that kind of pro-EU independence.

Instead, EU membership will move the walls of the garden, will shift who Scotland can trade with without having to climb those walls, will change which regulations affect the goods and services that Scotland will be affected by and, perhaps most crucially of all, will determine who makes those regulations and how much influence Scotland and our democratic voice will have on the making of those rules (In that sense, EFTA is probably an even worse option than the EU in this instance as it is very much more an EU rules-taker with even less influence than an EU Member State over creating those rules).

This is a consequence of the way our global economies are in the process of shifting. The world is rapidly moving away from the principles of recent decades that promoted Globalisation, or global free trade with globally harmonised rules, and is moving back towards a state of multi-polar, multi-national trading blocs. The reason for this was laid out by economist Dani Rodrick in the early 2000s.

Rodrick’s Globalisation Trilemma stated that a nation state that trades with the rest of the world can desire three basic principles. They can have free and harmonised trade with their trading partners, with no trade barriers between them. They can have national sovereignty where they can make rules governing trade unilaterally and without influence from those partners. They can have democratic control over those policies. The trilemma is that unless you make compromises on those principles you can only ever pick a maximum of two of them.

If you choose globalised national sovereignty (e.g. “Global Britain” as it acts outwards towards the world) then your trade isn’t governed by democratic politics but by “the market”. You can’t stop cheap goods from elsewhere flooding in and crowding out your domestic produce or undercutting the quality of your goods and commercial lobbyists have a great deal of power of influence over what regulations remain. The World Trade Organisation exists to make and enforce global trade rules and to regulate disputes between nations, but you as a voter do not influence their decisions. If you choose globalised trade with democratic politics (like the EU has and as the UK acts inwardly as between England and Scotland) then your voters get to have some say over the broad regulations within the Single Market but your country, as an individual member state, have much less leeway to deviate from those broad rules. And finally, if you choose democratic sovereignty (See Britain between WWII and Thatcher) then you’re essentially insulating your country from the rest of the world with strong regulations and trade barriers and accepting that your own goods will have to cross those barriers when moving the other way. Any loosening of those barriers can’t be applied unequally to defend against a specific trade threat (such as a country dumping cheap goods on you) without adjusting that barrier for all trade partners equally.
Any three of the points on this trilemma are legitimate political goals (as the fact that Britain has occupied all three within living memory shows) but trying to move in such a way that doesn’t respect the trade-offs, that tries to step outwith the triangle or that tries to push the country towards one corner using policies designed to push it into another is going to cause tension.

The complication is that the climate crisis and other political tensions are changing the ground under our feet (and see this article on how that chaos may be breaking down all three vertices of the trilemma at the same time!). We’ve seen in this decade several events that have disrupted global trade and rising populism and the sheer necessity of climate change is pushing the world into a more protectionist stance and that will mean more countries vying to occupy that rather paradoxical space of maximising their exports while minimising their imports. If our position on the trilemma is going to evolve we have to start discussing which points we wish to occupy or, perhaps more appropriately, which single point is our red line that we are unwilling to give up.

For the Nationalist (British, Scottish, or whatever) that might mean ensuring national sovereignty no matter what, in which case we need to ask if we’re willing to sacrifice our democracy for global trade or the other way around?
For the Democrat, that means asking if we’re willing to join a larger trading bloc and perhaps gaining advantages from the political clout of our partners in that but accepting limits being applied to being able to adjust the rules to suit ourselves. As I say, whether Scotland is in the UK’s Internal Market or the EU’s Single Market, that basic choice is the same with the only difference being how our democracy operates within that bloc and how strong our voice could be if we find the weight of the rest of the membership going against us.

So where does this leave Scotland and the poor rodent choking to death on a glue trap that someone legally bought and illegally set on their land? It should be said that in this specific instance, the EU has decided not to regulate glue traps for rodents and has instead allowed nation states to determine their status as a matter of animal welfare – this would allow Scotland to maintain its ban on the use of the traps but I’m not clear on whether or not it would allow their sale and possession so, as I say, it may not make the problem go away but merely shift the politics to another place.

Scotland should therefore look at those areas where we do still have control. If we can’t ban the sale of traps and consider that to contribute to the risk of them being used then perhaps the penalty for their use must increase. Perhaps other mechanisms could be used such as stricter licencing, taxation or minimum unit pricing to make their purchase prohibitively expensive (though there have been claims that the MUP on alcohol may have been challenged had the Internal Market Act passed before it). The Scottish Government is quite right to continue to pressure for changes and ongoing exemptions to allow devolution to take place and it may be that the expected change in administration Westminster could be advantageous there…though Keir Starmer is, if anything, seemingly even more likely to wrap his trade goods in a Union Jack than Rishi Sunak is.

The point is that Scotland will always face this kind of choice when we’re trading with other nations or joining them in some form of political cooperation or union (or even if we don’t). From glue traps to Globalisation, deciding where we want to be on the trilemma is part of the politics of an independent nation state (or even a devolved one) and we should be prepared to consider our goals as a nation, consider our policy choices and how we make them and otherwise to act accordingly.

Image Credit: Andrés Ortega

2 thoughts on “Glue Traps And Globalisation”

  1. Yes, you can buy glue traps anywhere in the UK from Amazon, etc. although it is illegal not to check them every 12 hours…… I can’t see how they are more cruel and pointless than a sprung rodent trap, but with no cat, I’ll stick to mouse poison (cereal soaked in blood-coagulent). I get the feeling that this article implies that people should collect all the mice and rats in their house and release them in the countryside so that someone else can kill them.

    1. Christopher Clayton

      A sprung trap should kill a rodent instantly. That’s a million miles away from immobilising a live animal, struggling, on a glue board while it dies of dehydration and/or tears off its own skin in its struggles.

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