With the YES vote in Ireland and European Union integration back to full steam ahead, we are quite possibly living through the last days of UK sovereignty. Interestingly enough though, during these momentous times many UK nationalists can still be heard to argue that even though the UK should be independent from the EU, that Scotland should not from the UK.
The irony of this should not be lost on Scots.
England’s Future in the EU
The UK nationalist argument is that on the one hand Scottish nationalism is narrow-minded, parochial and a recent construction of the SNP, but that UK nationalism is ancient and noble and somehow the way things ought to be, despite it being entirely a creation of the years since 1707. The key to understanding this thinking is that most anti-EU UK nationalist arguments are in fact borrowed from Tory ideas of Englishness, and that almost all the UK’s anti-EU groups are also English. Englishmen are in effect trying to intellectualise what is in reality a visceral aversion to their absorption of English national identity into the EU international soup.
What will the Lisbon Treaty mean for the UK as it stands? If you want an idea of what will happen if Project EU is completed, look no further than Scotland’s history within the UK. The parallels with the UK's coming absorption into the EU collective are striking.
For some time before Union happened for Scotland, there was a loose form of union in place (regal Union in 1603). This generated much conflict with England, and serious doubts from both nations about whether to take it further. Then Scotland suffered from a financial disaster that almost bankrupted the country - the fallout of the failed Darien Expeditions in the late 1690s.
Eventually, after much heated debate and venting of spleens, England offered to compensate Scotland in return for incorporating union. The Scottish common people were utterly against it. Then a massive English campaign of pamphlets and propaganda was launched to get it over the line.
Daniel Defoe was an English agent in Scotland at the time and a key player. England spent big to bribe Scotland's political elites and, in the end, most of those who were against it changed their minds. Scotland was sold out and the Scottish parliament voted itself out of existence.
Full incorporating Union was then finally enacted, without a referendum, and against the wishes of the Scottish people. How do we know this was the case? The result was rioting in the streets of several Scottish cities.
Scotland’s sovereignty was lost but her national identity persisted stubbornly throughout the Union, during which time her political elites and much of her population threw their weight behind the British Imperial project which, as many Englishmen will admit, was heavily influenced by the Scots. In the 300 years since, Scotland was transformed beyond recognition as hundreds of thousands of Scots scattered themselves across the Empire as soldiers, governors, settlers and merchants. She entered the Union with a fifth of England’s population, and is threatening to leave with barely a tenth.
Her people helped found and populate many of the nations that grew out of the Empire. Conversely, most of her land at home is today under foreign ownership. That is the nature of junior partnership in an empire.
What does this mean for England? Her population stands today at 51.7 million, barely more than a tenth of the population of Europe. With this in mind, the question on the lips of many Englishmen is this: once we have lost our sovereignty, will our island location be enough to preserve what’s left of England’s national identity in a teaming sea of 499 million Europeans, or is our population destined for dilution and depletion as the English are scattered throughout Europe, and European migrants pour in?
Scotland and the EU
In Scotland, many Scots may be sorely tempted to say, “see how you like your own medicine”, but for us the baton change from Westminster to Brussels would be fairly straightforward. It will be something for which 300 years of union with England has prepared us. In reality, we are already part of the EU labour market, while receiving none of the benefits of direct membership. But will full membership of the EU be the best arrangement for an ‘independent’ Scotland?
Will it be a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’?
Personally, after independence I would prefer a transition period of about twenty years to get our house in order and enter Europe on our own terms - if ever, instead of joining as an oil-rich-but-penniless escapee from the financial basket case that is Britain today. Norway’s associate membership via the EEA and EFTA has allowed it to opt into European programs on its own terms, and – through its massive oil revenues – to build a $400billion sovereign fund, giving it one of the hardest currencies in the world (as the UK Govt predicted 35 years ago would happen in Scotland after independence) instead of propping up the Euro.
This is probably the best path for Scotland.
Unfortunately, from where we stand I don’t think EEA membership is something that can be sold to a cautious Scottish public, in whose collective mind the act of breaking away from London will be difficult enough, and for whom the idea of Brussels acts as a safety net. In other words, if we want to get Scottish independence over the line, the SNP policy of independence-in-Europe is the most likely way it will succeed.
Independence-in-Europe has long been SNP policy, and although I’ve recently had my reservations, I now realise that these will only play into the hands of those who wish to keep Scotland in the UK. Make no mistake: for those Scots unsure of independence, cold feet about the EU will not lead them to choose the alternative model of EEA/EFTA-style of Norwegian nationhood.
It will keep us locked in this godforsaken Union.
Europe may have its problems but, as the expenses scandal has clearly shown, these issues are dwarfed by the systemic venality of Westminster and Whitehall. And the suggestion of Tony Blair as EU president should be seen for what it is: a distraction. Removing the corrupting influence of London’s tentacles from Scotland should remain our top priority and can only be a Good Thing.
If the last few weeks of Irish referendum coverage have taught us anything, it’s that most EU scaremongering in the UK has been by disaffected English Tories and the English Tory media, watching as the last vestiges of their national identity – dressed up as the UK – disappear.
That same UK sovereignty has allowed the British parliament to control Scotland since 1707 and, not to put too fine a point on it, the game is up.
So it’s important for Scots not to be taken in by English Tory protests at the loss of UK nationality to the EU. As part of the UK, Scots have no nationality to lose. We already lost that three hundred years ago, and now it's time to take it back.
Norway offers us the model, but even direct membership of the EU is more than what we've got now, which is nothing.
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