What do Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond have in common? Photos: Getty
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Salmond and Farage forget the modern world doesn't want to squabble over borders

What do Scotland's First Minister and Ukip's leader have in common? They both fail to realise the modern world has better things to do than squabble over borders.

What do Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage have in common? Answer: they both believe that by walking away from a family of nations working together they become stronger and more independent. The attitudes and language of both men in this respect are remarkably similar. Yet the evidence that a country becomes more independent in the modern world when it breaks away from a group like the EU or UK is very slender. Norway and Switzerland are often, rightly, cited as examples of how dependent both countries are on a successful EU and how much they have to tailor their policies to fit in with, or follow their larger neighbour. True independence it is not.

For Scotland the same would be true. The policies of the rest of the UK would largely determine what Scotland could or could not do whether they have to rely on the British pound and fiscal and monetary policies as decided in London, or whether they have to pay for the benefit of piggy-backing onto a range of UK services such as consular and diplomatic services overseas.

Trade negotiations will remain a crucially important role of the EU, and as long as the UK remains a member we will have a major say in what EU policies are. Scotland out of the UK and not a member of the EU would have no say, and even if you take the wildly optimistic view that Scotland will be able to join the EU, re-entry would take years. And on what terms? An independent Scotland is far more likely to face long and complex negotiations and a possible veto by other member countries worried about break away regions within their own borders.

Joining the Euro will be a must, so bang goes the relationship with the British pound and up comes the interesting question of border and financial controls. This is neither a clever policy, nor is it a policy leading to real independence, which is a far weaker concept in the modern world than it used to be. Both the EU and the UK were formed in part as a means to ending endemic conflicts. The 1707 Act of Union brought to a halt the internecine conflicts across the border. The EU aims to do much the same and it seems to be succeeding rather well.

Curiously, the Act of Union had the basic elements of a federal system before modern federalism was invented. Scotland and England have different legal systems, and church and government relationships are different in Scotland, Wales and England. This knowledge should lead us naturally to the idea of the UK developing a truly federal system designed for the modern world. Many people have been arguing this case for some years now and breaking up the family of nations that is the UK is a serious distraction from that goal.

Both Farage and Salmond should also take into account the effect on their neighbours of the announcement that they want to leave the family. As a young British teenager travelling in Europe in the immediate post-war years, I thought I had won the world popularity stakes! We were admired everywhere for our stand during the war and for creating so many of the post-war institutions and constitutions that have given us such stability today. Now look at our popularity. We have alienated many of our former admirers to the extent that many continental people are saying “good riddance if they go”.

Whether you believe in staying in the EU or leaving it, the worst of all possible worlds is to poke your friends in the eye – it doesn’t lead to generous settlement of leaving terms. The same applies to Scotland. Just as there are some Scots who harbour a strong dislike of the English, there are also some English who dislike the Scots. Nationalism divides and causes bitterness, which is why it is naïve for Salmond to believe that the rest of the UK will accept Scotland walking out of the family, taking their share of the wealth, but then knocking on the door the next day and saying they want to use the pound and have a say on managing the finances – this is not going to make for a happy separation.

The absurdity of the Farage/Salmond approach is that none of us lose our central national characteristics or cultures by merging economic and political powers. The UK has been, by any standard, a remarkably successful union, creating peace and prosperity while retaining cultural differences. The same can, and in my view will, be true of Europe.

Both Farage and Salmond need to take a long, hard look at the modern world and recognise that independence can be in name only. The modern world is more integrated and frankly a far better place for this. The reason why Salmond is not gaining the support of the younger generation in the way he hoped is because they are not excited by borders, whether as lines on a map or lines through the hearts and minds of real people. Salmond and Farage are part of a generation brought up on the importance of borders. Their time has passed. The modern world has better things to do than squabble over borders.

Lord Soley of Hammersmith is a Labour peer

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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