Scottish referendum good for Europe
Summary More nationalism and new nation states are not the answer to Europe’s major challenges. That is why Scotland’s vote against succession was the right choice.
The result of the Scottish referendum is good news for the whole of Europe. A clear majority of Scots have said “yes” to remaining part of the 307-year-old United Kingdom. With this result Great Britain has avoided going through a painful and difficult division of assets and liabilities, which could have created significant financial and political unrest.
Now there is a great need to ensure that a national reconciliation process gets underway in Scotland, where there has been a severe polarisation between the yes- and no-voters. And reconciliation should also take place between the Scottish nationalists and the British unionists all the way to Westminster in London. Expanding Scottish autonomy, as the major British parties have promised the Scots, could be an important step towards ensuring this reconciliation.
More rights to levy taxes and new political competences for the regional parliament in Scotland gives the Scots a unique opportunity to – within the framework of the United Kingdom and the European Union – have a strong impact on their own economic and political future.
This opportunity for increased autonomy should also be offered to both the Welsh and Northern Irish within the framework of the United Kingdom. At the same time it is important for the Scots to promise in their new contract on autonomy that they will not use it as a trampoline to propel themselves onto a new quest for succession. A contract on broadened autonomy should be agreed upon with a long-term perspective in mind to ensure the necessary stability for the new political arrangement.
The referendum has been a wake-up call for the United Kingdom’s political elite. It is important to handle the challenges following the referendum with foresight and an understanding that increased self-government in the individual regions can be compatible with a strong union – not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the European Union. National and regional identity do not need to exclude strong political and economic cooperation within the framework of a common union.
David Cameron should not gamble with the United Kingdom’s EU membership by holding a new referendum in 2017. The referendum in Scotland could just as well have resulted in a “yes” to Scottish independence if the parties that were against succession and the British party leaders had not been so strongly engaged in the final sprint of the election campaign.
Referenda on constitutional matters should not be decided by a simple majority, and there should be much greater clarity over the consequences of dividing assets and liabilities than was evident before the Scottish referendum. The outcome from the Scottish referendum should be that David Cameron cancels the planned British referendum on EU membership because it creates unnecessary uncertainty about the United Kingdom’s political and economic future.
A new referendum campaign in the United Kingdom in just three years will demand immense political resources. The British government will have enough to do in the meantime as it strikes a new internal political deal giving the regions increased autonomy over the coming years. If the government had to prepare a new referendum on top of that, it risks undermining the British government’s work in the EU.
Europe needs a more proactive United Kingdom which positively and constructively engages itself in solving the EU’s greatest challenges, rather than a United Kingdom that is looking inward and becoming politically paralysed.
The Catalans, Basques, Flemish and other nationalist movements around Europe had hoped that a majority of Scots would vote “yes” to being an independent state. But the Scots’ decision to remain a part of the United Kingdom ought to serve as a reminder to Europe’s other separatists that instead of political confrontation and all-or-nothing solutions, new models of shared sovereignty which make room for broader regional autonomy, which is seen, for example, in the German Länder or the Spanish regions.
Forming new nation states is not the answer to the major trans-border challenges faced in the 21st century, which are characterised by increased global competition, climate change, immigration, new security conflicts and major energy-related challenges. Instead of focusing its energy on creating political divisions, political fragmentation and support for separatist movements, Europe needs more leaders to focus their energy on finding common solutions.
The European Project should be spacious enough to allow room for both increased autonomy at the regional level and increased European cooperation between the existing EU member states. The EU should therefore not accept separatist movements breaking rules agreed on in the existing democratic constitutions and seeking independence from the individual member states with the view to becoming EU members. Everyone in the EU must respect the existing democratic rules, regardless of the level on which the political actors are operating.