Closer and closer to the edge
On Monday 8 September for the first time in the Scottish referendum campaign, a poll gave a tight lead to the Yes vote (47% Yes, 45% No, 8% undecided). This compares to a 22-point lead for the No barely two months ago, which melt to a 6-point lead last week, before the Yes vote eventually took the lead. Although several analysts warned that this was only one poll, and other polls indicate that the race is too close to call, the current trend is clearly in favour of the Yes.
Since the beginning of the Referendum campaign, the “Yes Scotland” and “Better Together” campaigns have been bitterly debating the pros and cons of the 307-year-old union. In this debate, several public figures (including Queen Elizabeth II) in the United Kingdom (UK) and elsewhere in Europe have adopted a “neutral” position, arguing this was a matter purely for the Scots to decide, thereby implying that this debate, of political unity versus disintegration, mattered only for the Scots. This is fundamentally wrong: the Scottish debate could have been held in exactly the same terms in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Belgium, and any other part of Europe with regionalist aspirations. This debate is particularly tricky as it combines on the one hand legitimate aspirations for more decentralisation and autonomy (promoted by the European Union through the subsidiarity principle), and on the other hand obnoxious nationalistic and hatred-driven claims.
Distinguishing legitimate aspirations from nationalism
Some regionalist aspirations are perfectly legitimate and often justified by the need for local democracy, so that people feel they can have a direct impact on their day-to-day lives, which makes them feel empowered and responsible, or simply efficiency: if things are better done locally, why take them up to the national level? However, such arguments are often used by nationalists or “regionalists” with much distinct objectives: gain full independence from a hated wider entity they belong to. This instrumentalisation of legitimate arguments by nationalists takes place everywhere in Europe and could, if blindly accepted, simply lead to the disintegration of our continent and of the European project.
The key to distinguishing these two similar but very distinct aspirations lies in the “exclusivity” of people’s sense of belonging. Identities are multiple, particularly in Europe where two thousand years of history have produced unique and very peculiar socio-economic and cultural patterns. This diversity can be approached in two different ways: one can either feel exclusively rooted to one specific identity (a city, a region, a country, etc.), or accept that identities can be cumulative and complimentary. The European project is obviously built on the second interpretation: “my Region, my Country, and Europe” constitute the wholly trinity of identity in our old continent. Any political discourse which calls for the exclusivity of one of these three pillars (including those who call for an “exclusively European” identity which obliterates regions and countries) are fundamentally wrong and verge on the side of totalitarianism – as they seek to impose a unique and exclusive identity upon inherently diverse people. The Scottish referendum is clearly part of this enterprise and hence should not be interpreted as a gentle claim for more autonomy.
The illusion of absolute independence
One of the most important questions in the campaign was whether the UK would accept to share the Pound Sterling with a new independent Scotland. Any realistic solution would involve some form of a currency union (whether with the UK or the Eurozone): in such a scenario, how can the nationalists even begin to believe they will achieve a better deal than what they currently have through independence? Just ask the Greeks, Irish, Portuguese, Cypriots and Spanish what “independence” within a currency union feels like. The euro crisis has shown how unsustainable a currency union is without a political union… which is exactly what the Scots and the UK currently have! As Mark Carney (Governor of the Bank of England) recently put it, “a currency union is incompatible with sovereignty”. An independent Scotland using the Pound would reduce – not increase – its autonomy from London. In a globalised world, the only way to preserve sovereignty is to share it, and Scotland’s current position is better than any deal it could achieve through independence.
One of Alex Salmond’s (leader of the pro-independence campaign) arguments is the following: we want to exit the UK because we want to stay in the EU, which the UK might leave in 2017. This burst of Europhilia seemed rather odd coming from a nationalist. Indeed, if nationalists say they are so “culturally different” from the rest of the UK that they need independence, then how on earth are they going to handle diversity with the French, Spanish, Italians, Poles, Estonians, Greeks, and all other European nations within the EU? Europe is about Unity in Diversity, at every level: one cannot apply this motto at the European level and disregard it at the national level. UK Prime Minister David Cameron is also finding himself in the awkward position of being on both sides of the debate at the same time: promoting all the benefits of Unity in Diversity, a single market and political cooperation at the UK level, whilst arguing for exactly the opposite at the European level.
Furthermore, a Scottish secession from the UK could well produce “butterfly effects” such as European disintegration: a reduced UK would be more Conservative–dominated and hence more likely to leave the EU, other regions (starting with Catalonia) would increase pressure to achieve independence, whilst all other nationalist movements (at regional or national level) would seek to catch the wave of disintegration. And we all know where Europe can end up if it is disintegrated.
Hence, dear Scottish friends, on 18 September 2014, say No to Nationalism, and Yes to Unity: we are always better and stronger together!