What do Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond have in common? Photos: Getty
Show Hide image

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

Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage