The real case against statehood is its sheer ordinariness. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland would sell itself short by opting for the banality of independence

Scotland, an outward-looking nation with strong internationalist instincts and a clear sense of its moral purpose in the world, can do better than separation.

The late momentum for the Yes campaign in Scotland should not have surprised anyone. The warning signs had been obvious for months. Faced with largely negative reasons for sticking with the status quo, many Scots have concluded that a Union held together with fear isn’t worth saving. The case for the United Kingdom should have been about much more than this. It should have been framed as a positive affirmation of Scotland’s values and its contribution to the world rather than a statement of brute economic realism.

The outcome now hangs in the balance because the proponents of separatism have successfully tapped into the deep strain of idealism that remains one of the most potent and attractive features of Scottish politics, arguing that social justice and democratic renewal require a break from the fossilised British state. The Yes case certainly has the priceless advantage of novelty, but in every other respect the reasoning behind it is false. Far from being resonant with the demands of the modern age, the idea that you can improve the world by changing its borders is a deeply flawed and regressive one. It reached its zenith with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and should have been consigned to history with the horrors that followed.

Much of the debate has understandably focussed on whether Scotland could succeed as an independent country. A good rule of thumb in situations like this is that change is never as beneficial as its proponents hope or as disastrous as its opponents claim. An independent Scotland wouldn’t be the social democratic paradise breathlessly described by its supporters, but it would cope and probably cope well enough. The real case against statehood is its sheer ordinariness. We hear regularly from Yes supporters that Scotland should aim to be like other small nations. But is that really the summit of our ambitions as a people; to be like everyone else?

There is no shortage of small countries already in existence – 109 of the UN’s 193 member states have populations of less than ten million. Whatever Scottish voters imagine as they bask in the attentions of the global media, the addition of another one will contribute nothing to the fight against climate change, the promotion of international security, efforts to build a stronger and fairer global economy or the ability of the planet to meet any of the other major challenges it faces. Indeed, separatism is more likely hamper those goals by fragmenting the international community and making consensus more difficult to achieve.

The world doesn’t need another small nation state adding to the babble of the global village while subtracting from its ability to act collectively. What it desperately needs more than ever is functioning examples of multinational democracy that allow nations to come together to share sovereignty, pool resources and solve common problems. The United Kingdom, for all its faults, represents something unique and irreplaceable – a union of nations that has survived and adapted as others have fallen apart in acrimony and conflict. A Scotland that genuinely aspired to make its mark on the world would devote its energies to the democratic renovation and strengthening of that union as an example to be followed. With talk of Devo Max and wider constitutional change across the UK, the referendum has created an opportunity that is there to be seized.

There is no point in pretending that a full commitment to the European Union would compensate for Scotland’s rejection of the Union, because it wouldn’t. As we have seen in the crisis over Ukraine, an EU of twenty-eight member states already finds it difficult enough to operate at a level much above the lowest common denominator. The weakening of a large member state and the addition of another small one (assuming it was granted) could only make matters worse. The answer, of course, is to deepen integration within Europe. But the starting point for that process cannot be to break apart the most stable and successful example of sovereignty sharing between nations that has ever existed. The world needs more unionism at all levels, not less.

David Cameron cannot make this argument because he shares with Alex Salmond the illusion that we can make our own destiny in the world by reclaiming legal sovereignty from some alien authority. In Cameron’s case it is Brussels rather than London, but the substance of his support for renegotiation is identical. It is hardly surprising that nationalists on both sides of the border espouse the same politics of division and resentment even as they find different scapegoats. But why hasn’t the Labour Party and the left generally been more vocal in making the rational, internationalist case for the Union?

The great pity for me is that Robin Cook didn’t live to play a role in the referendum debate. He better than anyone would have been able to puncture the sovereigntist illusions of the Yes campaign without resorting to the slur that Scotland is incapable of governing itself properly. He would have started by explaining that the main problems we face aren’t caused by the loss of sovereignty to Westminster or the EU and can’t therefore be solved by clawing it back. The most intractable challenges are often caused by private networks of wealth, crime and terror that exploit the gaps between competing national sovereignties to evade the rules and manipulate people for their own benefit. So the answer cannot be to Balkanise the world into smaller, weaker units. It must be to strengthen and deepen the bonds of political and economic union that already exist while seeking to extend them to others.

The Scotland I have always felt part of is an outward-looking nation with strong internationalist instincts and a clear sense of its moral purpose in the world. It would be selling itself short if it opted for the banality of independence over the more difficult yet necessary goal of making interdependence work better. I hope for everyone’s sake that it dares to be different.

David Clark is Scottish, and the founder and editor of Shifting Grounds. He served as special adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office from 1997 to 2001. He is chair of the Russia Foundation

David Clark was Robin Cook’s special adviser at the Foreign Office 1997-2001.

Show Hide image

Will the collapse of the EU/Canada trade deal speed the demise of Jean-Claude Juncker?

The embattled European Comission President has already survived the migrant crisis and Brexit.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the embattled President of the European Commission, is likely to come under renewed pressure to resign later this week now that the Belgian region of Wallonia has likely scuppered the EU’s flagship trade deal with Canada.

The rebellious Walloons on Friday blocked the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The deal for 500 million Europeans was at the final hurdle when it fell, struck down by an administration representing 3.2 million people.

As Canada’s trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, walked out of talks in tears and declared the deal dead, fingers were pointed at Juncker. Under pressure from EU governments, he had agreed that CETA would be a “mixed agreement”. He overruled the executive’s legal advice that finalising the deal was in the Commission’s power.

CETA now had to be ratified by each member state. In the case of Belgium, it means it had to be approved by each of its seven parliaments, giving the Walloons an effective veto.

Wallonia’s charismatic socialist Minister-President Paul Magnette needed a cause celebre to head off gains made by the rival Marxist PTB party. He found it in opposition to an investor protection clause that will allow multinationals to sue governments, just a month after the news that plant closures by the world’s leading heavy machinery maker Caterpillar would cost Wallonia 2,200 jobs.

Juncker was furious. Nobody spoke up when the EU signed a deal with Vietnam, “known the world over for applying all democratic principles”, he sarcastically told reporters.

“But when it comes to signing an agreement with Canada, an accomplished dictatorship as we all know, the whole world wants to say we don’t respect human right or social and economic rights,” he added.  

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was due to arrive in Brussels on Thursday to sign CETA, which is backed by all EU leaders.

European Council President, Donald Tusk, has today spoken to Trudeau and his visit is currently scheduled to go ahead. This morning, the Walloons said they would not be held to ransom by the “EU ultimatum”.

If signed, CETA will remove customs duties, open up markets, and encourage investment, the Commission has said. Losing it will cost jobs and billions in lost trade to Europe’s stagnant economy.

“The credibility of Europe is at stake”, Tusk has warned.

Failure to deliver CETA will be a serious blow to the European Union and call into question the European Commission’s exclusive mandate to strike trade deals on behalf of EU nations.

It will jeopardise a similar trade agreement with the USA, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The Commission claims that an “ambitious” TTIP could increase the size of the EU economy by €120 billion (or 0.5% of GDP).

The Commission has already missed its end of year deadline to conclude trade talks with the US. It will now have to continue negotiations with whoever succeeds Obama as US President.

And if the EU cannot, after seven years of painstaking negotiations, get a deal with Canada done, how will it manage if the time comes to strike a similar pact with a "hard Brexit" Britain?

Juncker has faced criticism before.  After the Brexit referendum, the Czechs and the Poles wanted him gone. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban muttered darkly about “personnel issues” at the Commission.

In July, it was reported that Angela Merkel, the most powerful politician in Europe, was plotting to oust Juncker. Merkel stayed her hand, and with German elections looming next year is unlikely to pull the trigger now.

When he took office in November 2014, Juncker promised that his administration would be a “political Commission”. But there has never been any sign he would be willing to bear the political consequences of his failures.

Asked if Juncker would quit after Brexit, the Commission’s chief spokesman said, “the answer has two letters and the first one is ‘N’”.

Just days into his administration, Juncker was embroiled in the LuxLeaks scandal. When he was Luxembourg’s prime minister and finance minister, the country had struck sweetheart tax deals with multinational companies.  

Despite official denials, rumours about his drinking and health continue to swirl around Brussels. They are exacerbated by bizarre behaviour such as kissing Belgium’s Charles Michel on his bald head and greeting Orban with a cheery “Hello dictator”!

On Juncker’s watch, border controls have been reintroduced in the once-sacrosanct Schengen passport-free zone, as the EU struggles to handle the migration crisis.

Member states promised to relocate 160,000 refugees in Italy and Greece across the bloc by September 2017. One year on, just 6,651 asylum seekers have been re-homed.

All this would be enough to claim the scalp of a normal politician but Juncker remains bulletproof.

The European Commission President can, in theory, only be forced out by the European Parliament, as happened to Jacques Santer in 1999.

The European Parliament President is Martin Schulz, a German socialist. His term is up for renewal next year and Juncker, a centre-right politician, has already endorsed its renewal in a joint interview.

There is little chance that Juncker will be replaced with a leader more sympathetic to the British before the Brexit negotiations begin next year.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.