Of Scylla and Charybdis


Truly then I fear you are damned both by father and mother. Thus when I shun Scylla your father, I fall into Charybdis your mother. Well, you are gone both ways.
– Launcelot, “The Merchant of Venice”

As someone who loves his history & mythology, I often think of the trials of Odysseus. The episode of Scylla and Charybdis, the two monstrous terrors which dwell on opposite sides of the Straits of Messina which the Argo must navigate, is one of the more famous tales. On the one side, you had the horrific six-headed Scylla, each frightful head bristling with triple rows of crushing teeth; on the other, the merciless whirlpool of Charybdis, sucking ships down into the black maw. You cannot navigate the Strait down the middle: you have to lean to one side. Do you brave the polycephalic nightmare, or the relentless force of nature? You are gone both ways.

I was thinking of this in regards to yesterday’s post. The Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap could be considered a strait of sorts, with the horrors being man-made rather than mythological. We even have our own Charybdis – guess we know what our Scyllas are.


First of all, I mentioned the 6,000 square miles of stolen Scottish maritime territory. Looking at Ireland, their plight is magnified: not only are they cut off from the EU by sea, their own sea boundaries have a great knife plunging from Cornwall into the Atlantic. When the UK was part of the EU, this was no problem – but as soon as England & Wales decided to leave, all of a sudden, Ireland became very isolated. And unfortunately, even an independent Scotland outside the EU wouldn’t be able to help.

It’s only looking at the map again that I notice: Blair & Dewar’s carving just happened to cut off Scotland’s connection to the Danish and German EEZs, and gave them straight to England (as well as a bit of Norway):


Prior to the 1999 Sea Grab, Scotland was – at least in maritime terms – contiguous with those two nations, all through that tiny stretch due east of Edinburgh. Even in the event Scotland becomes independent, we will no longer have maritime continuity with Germany & Denmark – unless, of course, we get our waters back. Then, not only would Scotland have that tiny sliver of continuity, but Ireland would too.

Why is this important? Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) are big deals for island nations:

1. In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:
(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;
(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
(ii) marine scientific research;
(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment;
(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.

But it’s this article that’s particularly relevant:

1. In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.

Having even the slightest connection to the rest of the EU will be extremely important – which is why the Scottish Government must get our waters back.

But Scotland is not the only EEZ which is of great strategic importance here.

gibraltar-eezGibraltar and Spain hold the northern shores of the Strait of Gibraltar. Just like Messina, there are two sides to the strait: stay north, and you’re in Spanish seas; veer south, and you’re in Moroccan territory. And just as Scotland leaving the EU would shrink the EU borders of the GIUK Gap, Gibraltar would leave behind a great swathe further south – and reduce the connection between Spain’s southern and eastern EEZ zones to that tiny area due north of Ceuta.

The Strait of Gibraltar is the gateway to the Mediterranean, and has been of vital strategic importance since humanity took to sail. In times of peace, it is a crucial part of the trade & security of the sea; in the future, it could transform the continent as a crossing to Africa, or even transform the sea itself. Its importance to the Mediterranean cannot be understated – nor its commitment to the European Project. What would happen if that stretch of water was out of the EU?

It’s no coincidence that the SNP invited the Gibraltarian Government to  Annual Conference: Scotland and Gibraltar both occupy straits infested with monsters. If the UK continues to ignore Scotland & Gibraltar, then it would be foolish both to assume we would either stay put in the UK dominion, or be left in the cold by our European neighbours. Those are the two terrors the UK must navigate as it leaves the European Ocean: anger the Euroscylla by leaning softly, or lead the Good Ship Britannia out of existence by leaning hard. Either risk the wrath of the Euroskeptics within and without your party, provoking the rise of other parties in forthcoming elections or a takeover among your own = or risk losing Scotland, & likely Gibraltar & Northern Ireland, ending the United Kingdom as we know it. Both options unpalatable; both options will wreak destruction on your government, party, and country; both options may destroy you.

As the bard said, you are gone both ways.

Happy sailing.

9 thoughts on “Of Scylla and Charybdis

  1. Morag says:

    Unfortunately, I think they probably did screw us over with the North Sea boundary. Given the geography, I think the old boundary is quite difficult to defend in negotiation. The only way to keep it might have been through long-established usage, and that’s what was taken away in 1999.

  2. Hugh Wallace says:

    Rats, lost my previous reply.

    Maritime borders between nations are subject to the rules of UNCLOS (UN convention on the law of the sea) unless the nations reach their own agreements. The current sea border between England & Scotland does not match UNCLOS but neither did the pre 1999 one & a new border would be somewhere in between the two. The UN recognises the UK but not England or Scotland as separate nations so the current arrangements are seen as nothing more than council boundaries. Craig Murray had a post on this in 2014 and he is somewhat of an expert on the matter I believe.

  3. Daniel Owens says:

    The theft of Scotland’s territorial wates seems almost too convenient when you consider that the plan to run a sub sea power cable between Aberdeenshire and Norway was axed in favour of running a cable from Norway to the north of England. There is now a corridor to allow that cable to run through only Norwedian and English EEZ.
    What is sad is that UNCLOS 3 does not require a change in maritime border where a customary border exists. It purely establishes a principle to settle disputed claims, and clarify the claims of coadtal states. I am certain that had the customary sea border favoured England, no change would have been made.

  4. Aye. Precisely the connection I was making. This is what they do to their ‘equal partner’.
    If they tried this on a normal independent nation the place would be full of heavily armed ships, guns pointed at each other and a lot of fretting at the UN…

  5. […] Who would protect her if she crossed a pirates’ path? How could she escape the clutches of Scylla & Charybdis, or elude the dreaded Kraken? In the harbour, we have the Harbourmaster to keep us safe, and the […]

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