Tag Archives: Europe

The unfulfilled promises of independence

One of the most important things to realise about the referendum on independence is that no one really knows what would happen if Scotland chose to secede from the UK. Both unionists and nationalists speculate, each striving to gain some advantage from these speculations, but in the absence of a working crystal ball, everyone must finally accept that the future is unknown. The past, on the other hand, at least the recent past, is both known and well documented. History is an imperfect guide to the future, but however flawed, it is the only guide we have. It is worthwhile therefore looking at recent instances of independence in Europe and, as it were, ask ourselves how did secession work out for these countries.


The boundaries of European countries had changed hardly at all from the post-war settlement until 1990, but this all began to change with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was probably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It has always struck me as something of a miracle that the collapse of the USSR did not lead to World War 3, but it did lead to a number of quite serious conflicts and territorial disputes. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought each other over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict is as yet unresolved. Georgia seceded from the USSR and then fought two wars when the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia chose to secede from Georgia. Moldova fought a war with separatists in Transnistria, who succeeded in setting up a tiny strip of a country, which is de facto independent even if unrecognised by the rest of the world. Russia, of course, fought two very bloody wars with separatists in Chechnya.


Even when there have not been wars there have been conflicts. Ukraine is a potential future flash point owing to the fact that there are Russian majorities in the eastern and southern parts of the country, some of whom would prefer to be part of Russia now. The Baltic states likewise have sizable Russian minorities, many of whom are denied the rights of citizenship owing to the various nationality tests administered in these states.


During the Olympics, I came across a nationalist MSP writing about how glad he was to see all the former Soviet Republics competing on their own. No doubt, he could plead ignorance as the reason for this remark, but he not only showed ignorance of history, he also showed ignorance of the present. How has independence in Europe worked out for all these newly formed states? According to the well respected Democracy Index 2011, not one former Soviet Republic is a full democracy. Some are categorized as flawed democracies, some as hybrid regimes and a number as authoritarian regimes.




Prior to independence in each of these countries there were nationalists, who promised the people living there that all manner of good things would be theirs if only their country was independent. Such nationalists promised their supporters that they would gain freedom. But this promise turned out to be an illusion. No doubt, many people now who expected freedom wonder if these nationalists were lying.


Not only are these countries lacking in political freedom, they are also corrupt. According to the well respected Corruption index, each former Soviet Republic remains highly corrupt.




What about wealth? Well, according to the following index, each of the former Soviet Republics remains by western standards poor. Sometimes extremely so.  




The reason for this is that each of these countries remains fundamentally uncompetitive.




Separatists in all these countries promised the people living there, that if only they could achieve independence they would soon be living in a wealthy, honest and economically competitive society. But again this all turned out to be an illusion. So how is independence in Europe working out for these former Soviet states? They gained war, partition, lack of political rights and freedom, corruption, poverty and uncompetitiveness. They also gained independence.


Perhaps, this is all the fault of the Soviet Union. Perhaps, there are other examples of European independence movements, which have been more successful.


Take the example of Yugoslavia. The growth of Serbian Nationalism was answered by nationalisms in each of the republics which made up that country. The result was war, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, partition and where once there had been one small country now there are eight tiny ones. Not one of these countries is a full democracy, each is highly corrupt and each by western standards is poor and uncompetitive. So how did independence in Europe work out for Serbs and Croats?


One last example of a recent European independence movement remains. It could be described as poster child of secession movements. Scottish nationalists frequently cite the breakup of Czechoslovakia as a favourable example for Scotland. Soon after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, known as the Velvet Revolution, nationalists in Slovakia began to seek independence and soon there followed the Velvet Divorce. One reason why Scottish Nationalists see this as such an ideal example an independence movement is that Czechs and Slovaks get on very well and the two states have excellent relations. Why couldn’t the same sort of Velvet Divorce occur in the UK?


But let’s look at how independence in Europe has worked out for Slovaks. While the Czech Republic is a full democracy, Slovakia is a flawed democracy. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are corrupt, but Slovakia is somewhat more corrupt. Both countries are poor by Western European standards, but Slovakia is poorer the Czech Republic, probably for the reason that it is much less competitive. Worst of all however, while the Czech Republic retained its own currency, Slovakia had the misfortune to join the Euro. This  means that it is liable for a share of  the debts of countries richer than it, such as Greece. No doubt, the separatists in Slovakia promised their people that if only they would vote for independence they would soon be rich and free. Nationalists tend to promise that independence will turn a country into something resembling the promised land. People who are foolish enough to believe these promises however, quickly find they did not get what was promised. A nationalist’s promise is at best a pipe dream, at worst a lie.


Scotland is very different from all these European countries, which recently gained independence. The point to take however, from these examples of independence movements, is that nationalism frequently promises much, but delivers little. As an ideology, which appeals to the selfish side of human nature, emphasising the differences between peoples, it frequently leads to unintended and unplanned consequences and conflicts. What really matters to most people is their standard of living and the fact that they live in a free, fair and honest society. Scotland already is a full democracy, because we are part of one one of the oldest and most democratic countries in the world. Neither Scotland nor England were especially democratic countries when we joined together to create the Union. Rather, through a gradual political process, we became the democracy that we are today. It is the UK which created our democratic traditions and which granted us the rights, which we now enjoy. Scotland is lucky enough  to be part of a very wealthy country. We are free and we don’t have to fear corruption in our daily lives. The UK is the 8th most competitive country in the world, which means that we have a much better chance than many countries to retain our living standards in the face of the present economic depression. We should rejoice that we live in such a country. The majority of the world’s population lack what we have. Nationalists everywhere promise the earth, but it is obvious from a glance at recent history, that such promises amount to very little. They don’t amount to what we in Scotland already have. If Scotland were part of an undemocratic, corrupt, poor and uncompetitive Great Britain, it might just be possible to argue that independence would bring vast improvements. Such promises, would probably turn out to be false, for these fundamentals change slowly if at all. But when a country is already close to the peak of democracy, freedom, wealth, lack of corruption and competitiveness, the idea that nationalists can suddenly massively change everything for the better by waving a magic wand called independence is scarcely credible. The UK has given us peace, freedom, wealth, honesty and competitiveness. Why would we exchange that for an uncertain future leading in who knows what direction?


Is there a contradiction between euroscepticism and unionism?

Is there something contradictory about being in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but being against Scotland leaving the UK? Eurosceptics cite that they don’t want to be ruled from Brussels, but likewise the SNP does not want to be ruled from London. Are unionist eurosceptics not being hypocritical in denying to the Scots what they want for themselves?


Not at all. Firstly Scotland is going to have a referendum on independence. The first thing that eurosceptics want is a referendum on the EU membership. If we lose we will accept the result just as we will accept the result of the referendum on independence.


Why are eurosceptics against the EU. Personally I’m against the EU not because I’m against unions in general. The United States, for instance,  strikes me as an ideal multi state union. Why does it work. Because there is a common identity, a common language and there are common political parties which stand in every state. Each state has a lot of devolved power and each state devolves that power still further so that a great number of decisions are taken by politicians who are close to the people who elect them and who can easily be voted out if they go against the wishes of the electorate. Overseeing all of this is a strong national government, with responsibility over matters, which affect the country as a whole. Of course there are faults with American democracy, but on the whole it is an enviable model.


If the European Union were like that , there might be a case for being a member. But the EU can never be a free, democratic multi state country like the United States, because it lacks the conditions for being a successful nation, a common identity and a common language. It is for this reason primarily that the Eurozone is failing as an optimum currency union. Whereas someone from New York can easily seek work in California, someone from Greece can not easily seek work in Germany. Whereas richer parts of the United States are happy to transfer money to poorer parts, richer parts of the EU resent the idea of subsidising people who they consider to be foreigners.


Britain already is an optimum currency union, because we have the conditions for being an optimum nation. We have a common language, culture and identity. We do not see people from other parts of the UK as foreigners. We have in Britain what the United States has, a fully democratic country, we have what the EU lacks and can never have.


It is for this reason that I am opposed to breaking up the union of the UK, while being in favour of breaking up the EU. There is no contradiction here.


Scottish independence makes no more sense than Texan independence. Of course each of these formerly independent States could function successfully on their own, but they each benefit from being in a political fiscal and currency union with other people who speak the same language as them, have similar values and cultures and just as a Texan benefits from not being a foreigner in Washington, so a Scot benefits from not being a foreigner in London.

The one thing that the the EU lacks is the one thing that the UK has. Why would we give it up?

The history of the European Union is an attempt to bring various nations together to form something approaching a union, an ever closer union. It might not be entirely clear what the intended end point is, but it is probably something approaching a United States of Europe.


Most Conservatives are supporters of the USof A, just as we are supporters of the UK. But what is it that makes us supporters of these unions, while we are often sceptical about a United States of Europe?


There are all sorts of problems with the EU, but for me the fundamental problem is that it is trying to do something which is impossible, for which reason it is trying to do it in an undemocratic way.


Czechs and Slovaks recently decided that they cannot bear to live together in one country, as did Serbs and Croats, Ukrainians and Russians. An outsider can barely tell the difference between these peoples, yet they found that living together in one country was undesirable.


How then does the EU suppose that it can make Germans and French and Italians etc.  live happily together in one country?


The EU knows that these very different peoples will not choose to live together in a USof E, it is therefore by subterfuge and by gradually and undemocratically forcing them to live together that it is achieving its aim. In my view this will not work. It is the reason that the EU is riddled with contraction and the fundamental reason why the Eurozone is not working.


What has this to do with independence? Just this. What the Eurozone lacks and makes that region full of contradictions, we in the UK have. Why would we give it up, when it makes our currency union possible while theirs impossible?


Two countries recently joined together in Europe, the BRD and DDR, or East and West Germany. There were difficulties, but they were overcome. Massive amounts of money was transferred from west to east. Why? Because the people felt themselves to be part of one country. They were all Germans. They might have been Bavarians or Prussians or Hanoverians, but they felt fundamentally that they were Germans. It is this which made the currency union of the D-mark possible.


Likewise despite our differences in the UK, despite the rivalry, we don’t think of each other as foreigners. Someone from England is not a foreigner, nor is someone from Wales, nor is someone from Northern Ireland. We bicker, but we are of the same kind. We have fought together in wars (imagine the consequences for history if the UK had not existed in 1941), we have endured troubles together and great successes and this has created a common identity. It is this common identity which makes our union as countries and our currency union work so well and which also makes the USof A work. Without it no union is possible in the long term. For which reason, the EU and Eurozone are doomed to failure.


What we have, this common identity, is so rare and so important that it should be cherished and valued. It is one of the keys to our peacefulness as a nation, one of the keys to our prosperity. It is what the EU would love to have and will never have. It is what Mr Salmond would have us give up. He would make us foreigners in our own country.