As the vote on Scottish independence moves closer — it’s set for September — the dizzying manifestos proposed in the wine bars off Edinburgh’s beautiful Princes Street, or along the glens and river banks of stately Perthshire, can expect ever more rigorous scrutiny.
Those who champion independence will have the implications of secession from Britain and, at this hypothetical point, the European Union spelt out in ever more uncompromising terms. A price will be put on independence. It will be a daunting, intimidating one.
The weekend intervention of European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, who warned that states breaking away from EU countries would struggle to gain EU membership, was just an early shot across Scottish nationalists’ bows. It is unlikely to be the last or the most difficult one to deal with.
As one of the leaders of a Europe-wide confederation, he could not be expected to be blasé about such a prospect because — as the response to the euro currency crisis showed — solidarity, nearly 30 countries standing as one, is the EU’s great legitimising force. The EU would be right, on all our behalves, to defend that actuality.
He, and it must be imagined the majority of Europe’s political leaders, probably contemplate the nationalism asserting itself in several regions of the EU with a mixture of dread and incomprehension.
Those trying to split Spain and establish an independent Catalonia, those Corsicans trying to break from France, not to mention those dedicated to the political reunification of this island, seem set on a path strewn with complexity but hardly one that guarantees a new, brighter future.
Mr Barroso’s wake-up call came just days after another sobering intervention. David Cameron’s government warned that an independent Scotland would have to either join the euro — unlikely, maybe impossible — or establish its own currency, as it would not be allowed to rely on sterling as its mainstay. What a daunting prospect that seems, especially if Westminster plays hard ball over North Sea oil and gas reserves.
Should Scotland vote for independence — polls show around 29% in favour, 42% against and 29% undecided — the ripples would be felt deeply across Northern unionism, especially the thread represented by the Democratic Unionist Party, one that has deeply rooted links to Scottish Presbyterianism and loyalism.
That community would be challenged on two fronts — a weakened UK possibly unable or unwilling to sustain the financial supports that sustain the North’s economy and re-energising encouragement for Sinn Féin’s reunification agenda. Those possibilities have the potential to undo so much of the good work done in recent years.
Whatever transpires, these will be interesting months, even if the Scottish nationalists’ ambitions seem counterintuitive, almost quaintly outdated and naive, in a world made small by modern communications, globalisation and transnational businesses.
That interest is deepened by the fact that whichever way the people of Scotland vote, it will have important implications — political, business and cultural — for Britain, for the EU and for everyone who lives on this island.
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