Bursting the Bubble

It may be a Scottish vote, on a British island, but Thursday’s vote will be a European event

16 September 2014 | by

Being a born and bred UK citizen, I naturally look at the debate and looming vote on Scottish independence with keen interest and, concerning the closer polls, a racing heart. Growing up in the North West of England did much to engage me in debates around the English North-South [internal] border, but little to foster a real kinship with people in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Indeed, as an Englishman (née Northerner), I have always seen the debate as a Scottish matter. However, my own experiences living in the UK, yet outside of England (in the heart of Welsh-speaking Wales), did much to strengthen my support for the Union.

The Scottish debate raises questions across the UK on how it will be governed, galvanising all manner of political actors from Bristol to Belfast. But the debate also reaches across the continent, possibly holding the future of the European project in its hands. A UK without Scotland, resulting in a country in which Northern Ireland and Wales are dominated by England, would be much more likely to leave the EU as the political status quo stands (although Wales, like Scotland, tends to be more pro-European than the English). In the event of a Yes vote, the EU will also be forced to deal with the legalities of “breakaway” components of Member States seeking renewed (or even continued) membership. Should the Scottish vote to remain in the UK, it has been accepted by all mainstream political parties that the current constitutional set-up of the UK will change. Although arguing for the Union of the constituent nations of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not the same as arguing for the Union of the 28 Member States of the EU, the fundamental point would remain that people elect for a political system in which we work together, where it’s understood that states and peoples can achieve more together, than apart.

It has been remarkable watching political commentary from Westminster and Holyrood over the past four years. An increasingly Europhobic Conservative Party continues to swing rightwards – openly espousing a British withdrawal from the EU (the Brexit), panicking at the prospect of an irrevocable split in the Party, compounded by the electoral challenge of UKIP. Meanwhile, in Scotland, continued EU membership is at the heart of the SNP/Yes!-campaign’s promise of a better future for the Scottish people. It could be argued, with no small amount of irony, that the two sides of this twin-debate are moving in opposite directions in terms of achieving their goals (and not in the ways you might imagine).

There has been, and will remain until the day an application is (ever) submitted, debates over Scotland’s ability to remain, or swiftly join the EU. Not being a lawyer, I do not class myself as a legal expert on the topic, but the fact that there is currently a treaty between the EU and the UK regarding membership, would dictate that a country leaving the UK would therefore not be included in the provisions of the treaty. On the other hand, Scottish nationalists point out that Scotland would immediately meet entry criteria, thus bringing it, de facto, to the top of the list (but still subject to the veto of other, existing Member States). Although I believe an independent Scotland would join the EU, it is far from set in stone, and neither are the terms of membership(i.e. euro adoption is a legal requirement for all Member States without an opt-out, how would Scotland achieve such an opt-out? – although I would ask why a currency union with the pound sterling is any better or worse than joining the single currency).

While the position of Scotland in Europe continues to evolve, so does that of the UK (big or small). The UK media is currently digesting the naming of Lord Hill as the EU’s Financial Commissioner (in full, Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Market Union). Giving a clear nod to the UK in terms of leading Europe’s financial sector (noting of course that all Commissioners are nominally independent of their national capitals) is a concession to moderate Conservatives and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats and Labour. It allows them to argue in a clear way, that “Brussels” understands the UK’s concerns and will not seek to punitively isolate the UK. Although more cosmetic than structural, Hill’s appointment – subject to censure by MEPs in October – should give heart to British pro-Europeans.

I for one hope that the Scottish will chose to remain in the UK. It is my belief that, whether talking about the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or the European Union, we, as societies, are stronger when working together. But, should the Scottish choose to become independent, as a European country, I would still feel a unity and common identity with them (much as is the case between the Republic of Ireland and the UK today).

In either case, both the UK and the EU should be braced for far reaching consequences in either case. Moreover, people in the Europhile and Europhobic camps, in Britain and across Europe, will look to this vote for visions of the future.

Only time will tell.

One Comment

  1. Good to read an article on the broader European consequences of the Scottish independence referendum.

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