Europe wakes up to Scottish Non/Nein/No/Ez/Nee/Nei/Nincs
I’m sitting in an arts venue just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile beneath portraits of three key figures in Scottish political life:
– Johann Lamont is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party – a NO supporter;
– Ruth Davidson is her Conservative counterpart – also a NO supporter;
– and Nicola Sturgeon was the number two in the YES campaign – and is, at time of writing, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.
Only Ms Sturgeon could be said to have a multi-faceted smile on her face. May be when she sat for the artist, she knew that whatever happened on 18th September 2014, Scotland would never be the same again; and that whatever the outcome of the independence referendum, Europe would be forced to take a long hard look at itself and start to think a little differently about its constituent nations.
The pan-European response to Scotland’s NO in the early hours of this morning has ranged from delight (in Westminster) to relief (in Madrid – and probably Brussels too). It was welcomed by EU leaders, including outgoing Commission President Barroso, who had intervened in the debate earlier this year, saying it would be “very difficult” for an independent Scotland to re-join the EU.
The Catalans will hold an independence referendum – unsanctioned by Madrid – on 9th November. Last week the Catalan president, Artur Mas, told the BBC’s Tom Burridge he was hoping for a YES in Scotland in order to prove that it was possible to hold a successful referendum for independence in the EU. Those Catalans who had come to Edinburgh, hoping to witness a YES victory, this morning looked almost more dejected than their Scottish cousins.
In Germany the country’s most popular tabloid, Bild, ran the headline: “Britain stays Great”. It was a reflection of the broad welcome being given to the result across Angela Merkel’s federated nation. The chancellor had voiced concerns that independence for Scotland was likely to lead to Britain leaving the EU (the ‘Brexit’), something Germany does not want.
Meanwhile the country’s broadsheet, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, ran a more subtle headline: “United, But Not As One”. The commentator, Hannah Beitzer, explained that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had won the argument – but for a hefty price. And that price is the ‘federalisation of Britain’.
For his part the French president, François Hollande, asked why the EU was unable to ‘create a federated system in which everyone can find his or her identity’.
So is Scotland teaching the UK to ‘think federal’?
As Britain this morning witnessed Conservative MPs lining up to tell the world of their delight at the NO vote in Scotland, there was surely a sense of irony that to many Conservatives the F-word has always been political blasphemy.
In Italy the Scottish referendum was watched closely by the German-speaking people of northern Italy’s Alto Adige/South Tyrol region, which only became part of Italy after the Second War, having previously been part of Austria. The people speak an Austrian dialect of German, and are particular about calling themselves South Tyroleans first, Italians second. The former Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, tweeted that despite Scotland’s decision, EU leaders should not ignore the sort of intolerance that stokes separatism. This is a short phrase on Twitter, but it implies the long and complex notion that those who run and administer the EU perhaps need to consider at least adjusting the Union’s relationship with its constituent parts.
And ethnic Hungarians in Romania’s Transylvania region were feeling bolstered this morning by the Scottish referendum process. They dream of forming a Hungarian-speaking, autonomous region of Szeklerland. They see a Scotland that is on the verge of obtaining greater autonomy and feel this bolsters their own calls for greater independence in their region.
So as the leaders of the political parties in Westminster hastily set about filling in the details of their 11th-hour promises of more powers for Scotland; and working out how to satisfy calls for greater autonomy in Britain’s two other national regions; and at the same time ensuring that the English don’t feel left out – the EU is now looking to the UK to see how it will deal with the potential EU in/out referendum, promised by David Cameron, should he win the next general election.
The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament said the leaders of the three main UK parties had done everything to highlight to the people of Scotland the benefits of the United Kingdom. They said they now expected the same enthusiasm from Messers Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to make the case for a united Europe. They said the ‘Better Together’ arguments were equally valid in the EU debate.
Those campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU will now have to convince doubters that there is a happy – even beneficial – balance between pride in being of a particular nationality on the one hand and pooling resources within an entity greater than the nation state on the other. This argument was seemingly won in Scotland – although there has been much criticism of the negative way in which the NO campaign put the message across.
Will the same technique be similarly effective in the EU in/out campaign?
It’s a tough call.
And there’s a further complication. Scotland is known to be a largely pro-EU country. If the in/out referendum – expected in 2017 – leads to Britain leaving the EU, will Scotland feel that this was not her choice and so once again call for a independence referendum of her own in order to be able to re-join the EU?
Perhaps it is these complex imponderables that explain why the Scottish Labour leader, peering down at me from the wall, is sporting a slightly pained grimace and not a smile, even though her side was victorious in yesterday’s historic vote.
(Many thanks for reading my Scottish Referendum posts. Sean)