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The Scottish timing The Scottish timing
by Thanos Kalamidas
2016-09-04 11:25:22
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Two years ago, September 18th 2014, an overloud crowd supporting the Scottish independence lost in a referendum from a mainly quiet but overwhelmed majority that wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom . Two years later and a lot of things have change to such a point that the conversation for another referendum is winning the support of the overwhelming quiet majority. Two things have mainly changed this two years, timing and aiming.

scots01_400The Scottish independence is not a new issue, on the contrary it is a story with deep roots in the British Isles’ history with a lot of attempts that ended in bloodbaths. Modern times demanded a different approach and in late 1970s the Conservative British PM, James Callaghan, in agreement with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its then leader Plaid Cymru, decided to hold a strange referendum that was depended on how many voters would participate (40% in this case) to make any decision valid. With only 36% of the Scottish people participating didn’t really matter the result and the whole story ended in a political fiasco with SNP’s shrinkage.

However and despite the negative outcome, this referendum also marked a different approach to the Scottish issue from the British governments and Westminster that gradually brought certain independency to Scotland and a level of self-handling the Scottish territories. With the beginning of the 21st century the talk for another referendum returned mainly due to the SNP’s rising power and one man, Alex Salmond, fourth First Minister of Scotland.

Alex Salmond’s acts obviously pushed the 2014 referendum but – and this is absolute personal opinion – also led to the defeat. It came down to timing and aiming. Timing could not be worst. We like it or not, people’s major contemporary problem in every country in the world is economy and whatever this world includes - unemployment, cost of life, salaries, housing, retirement, health, education etc. 2014 was not a year of hope but a year when the whole European economy was licking wounds after the major euro-crisis and British economy was trying to find her place between the euro and the dollar. Sadly for the British north it was Scotland one more time to pay the highest cost with rising unemployment and cost of life despite all the local effects and dreams for a Norwegian model due to the northern oil.

Financial worries is a major issue and the remain in UK side invested on it causing a certain level of insecurity and anxiety among the Scottish people while the central government was promising more independence to the Scottish parliament and the First Minister of Scotland. But that was not the only element that worked negatively and as I said earlier this is my opinion. Alex Salmond looked more like a separatist than an independence fighter. Every single act and speech was about the English and not about the Scottish. It was like he was antagonizing London instead of fighting for the Scottish independence.

Alex Salmond was like a relic out of the Scottish dark past where Scottish aristocrats and senior officials of the Empire, were too ready to sacrifice Scottish people and make folk martyrs like Robert Roy MacGregor just to increase their personal influence and wealth. As I wrote before it was all about the English and not the Scottish. It was also not just Alex Salmond, it was a whole movement of nationalists motivated from their hate to the English, acting accordingly. Somehow, all this alone was enough to lead to a defeat. The vast majority wanted their independence but not an independence antagonizing their major ally and making everybody else (mainly EU) nervous.

Talking about EU, the European Union also had a problem with this attitude. Alex Salmond and his acts were becoming an example for the Bask separatists in Spain and nobody could really say who else since Europe has its own dark separatist wholes. EU definitely didn’t need a presence with Scotland. Especially in times when the European leadership was seeking stability. Plus, that was the period Britain has started showing some negativity towards EU, feeling that not been part of the euro-zone, UK was absent in major European decisions. It would have been the worst possible timing for the EU to take sides in something so sensitive that would upset the British government.

But that was 2014. 2016 and after the Brexit with Nicola Sturgeon in the place of the First Minister of Scotland things has radically changed. EU has long been the major financial assistant for Scotland and relations with EU main thing for all First Ministers. If Britain will stay in the course of Brexit and activates it in the next few months, Scotland is in trouble. Despite all promises it is impossible first for the British economy to recover from the exit of the single market faster than two years after the final signatures, which means four to five years from now and that if nothing else shakes global economy and everything goes as planned for the British government.

Parenthetically here and even though it belongs to a different conversation, Theresa May and the Brexiteers seem to have absolutely no idea what the hell they are doing and there is no plan B for the Brexit.

The other problem which is even worst is the fact that the central British government will not be able to replace EU subsidies, especially for the Scottish farmers and fishermen. And – sorry for the cynicism – after forty years surviving with those subsidies and with minor help from the central government, the Scottish farmers and fishermen are seriously screwed. Plus the fact that while trying to stabilize the British government will be the one to need every help and in this case, north oil help. The truth is that Scotland as part of the Unite Kingdom and out of the EU, faces really difficult times in the years to come.

And then it is Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister of Scotland and former Salmond’s deputy. Despite their long relationship, Salmond’s peculiar English-antagonizing nationalism doesn’t seem to be contagious and somehow Nicola Sturgeon seems to be all about Scotland and little about the English. Actually she seems to see this antagonism against the English, as an obstacle towards independence. She has been totally excusably pro-EU all the time – in that she has the support of the Scottish people’s vast majority – and all her arguments are about her people security and future in a world with common aims.

During the long campaign period for the British EU membership, Nicola Sturgeon shown that while independence is always part of the Scottish agenda it could go in the back during a national crisis and took a very brave pro-EU stand. Actually she did far more for the pro-EU campaign than both her allies, Conservative PM David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. To my opinion, Nicola Sturgeon proved herself as the Scottish leader during the British referendum.

The renewed conversation for a second Scottish referendum couldn’t also have a better timing. While the reasoning for a financial insecurity out of the UK’s embrace has become a two edges knife, EU feels wounded after the Brexit and a Scottish membership might become as a push to the European need to show that the EU is still a legitimate and attractive Union. Plus, a sure membership of Scotland in the Eurozone will push the value and reputation of the European currency.

Theresa May has already reacted badly to any idea of a new Scottish referendum – for the obvious reasons and twistingly the timing – and any British PM will in the near future, unfortunately for them with both, the 2014 Scottish referendum and 2016 British referendum, have put a presence where the will of the people outweighs the politicians’ wishes.

While the 2014 Scottish referendum looks wrong due timing and aims, a new referendum in the next year under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and UK leading fast for a Euro-exit seems to be in perfect timing and aims.


       
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Emanuel Paparella2016-09-04 12:52:18
No wonder Machiavelli thought that political events depend on fortuna (luck) as much as on political skills. In the last sixty years or so of the EU polity we have seen a baffling and somewhat bizarre phenomenon: while the EU has expanded from six original member countries in the 50s to twenty seven countries with others still waiting in line, albeit one has exited, separatist and independence movements, redolent of good old nationalism have also proliferated. One may call it a contradiction until one grasps the nature of the paradox.

One observes Basques who wish to be independent of Spain; Friulians and Northern Italians (represented by the Lega Nord party) who wish to be independent of Italy (especially Southern Italy...); Corsicans who wish to be independent of France and perhaps return to Italian, their previous language; Flemish who wish to be independent of Belgium (where the capital of the EU resides); Slovaks who wished to be independent of Czechoslovakia, and so they are; and now, as well elucidated in the above article, we have Scots who wish to be independent of England while remaining in the EU. How to explain this strange puzzle? People wish to be part of a union greater than a narrow nationalism but they also wish to return to their ethnic identity. Is it possible to harmonize the two?

One way to explain the paradox may be to think of cultural identity as not being equivalent to nationalism. Ethnic pride may sound more restrictive than national pride but it is actually more vast because it goes beyond mere Machiavellian geo-political power considerations (always integral part of any nationalism) into what gives an identity to a whole people: their language, their art, their religion, their history. Gaelic is something that both Scots and Irish share as an original language and therefore a Scotsman may legitimately feel more affinity with the Irish than with the English. There was in fact an attempt to make Scotland and Ireland one country despite their geographical separation. And so we have centripetal forces pushing toward federalism, away from pure nationalism, and we have centrifugal forces pushing toward a return to one’s cultural heritage and independence from the original colonizer and oppressor.

This ought to be a glaring message for the EU bureaucrats: the imposition of political uniformity imposed undemocratically from on high and parading as federalism has never worked and never will. Ethnic cultural pride will always win out. At its extreme it becomes fascist racism and xenophobia but it can also be pride for one’s heritage as ultimately the bureaucrats will find out. The center will not hold without the cement of cultural identity and the a political union without a cultural identity is a chimera that does not last. It’s like a cart placed before a horse. “Now that we have made Italy, let’s make the Italians” said Massimo D'Azeglio, an Italian patriot. Great mistake! If Italian cultural identity had been given greater care before unification, there probably would not be a Lega Nord nowadays.

In this regard, stay tune for the latest scenario: the possible exit of Italy from the euro and/or the EU as expressed in the coming referendum for or against Matteo Renzi’s reform movement in October. To be sure, there is much discontent among the poor and the middle class, as there is in Greece and Spain too. It remains to be seen if the EU bureaucrats have ears to hear or will persist in their cultural deafness. If the latter is the case, they will eventually reap the whirlwind and the EU utopia will turn out to have been a mere dystopia.


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