The EU should think twice before embracing Scotland | Miles Bassett
On the face of it, Scotland seems like the model European Union member state; in the 2016 European Union referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the EU in 2016 by 62%, compared to England’s vote to leave by 53%. The party dominating the devolved Scottish Parliament for the past fourteen years – the Scottish National Party, describes itself as left-wing. Curious, perhaps, for a nationalist party. However, the EU, should not follow the Labour Party as damned by Independent journalist John Rentoul, for being “soft on Scottish nationalism, soft on the causes of Scottish nationalism”. Scottish nationalism is still nationalism, something the Liberal left is seemingly only too happy to forget. Despite the progressive, left-wing, anti-Brexit gloss, Scottish nationalism is still deeply divisive and damaging to democracy like all nationalist and populist movements which the EU could very quickly find itself the target of.
The main tenet to Scottish nationalism lies beyond differences to Brexit, it lies in an ancient, lingering spirit of determining freedom from English rule-despite the fact it has been in an economically successful union with England for over 300 years. Unlike Trumpism, Scottish nationalism does not appeal primarily to a disenfranchised, discontented, white working-class, but broadly across class and racial lines to the whole nation. It may be easy therefore for progressives on both sides of the Atlantic to look sympathetically at Scotland. After all, English nationalism is often portrayed to be right-wing and ethnocentric. However, problems arise when the SNP uses this ancient nationalist fervour as the fuel to their main political ambition – independence because this permeates into the everyday running of Scottish politics and results in the seedier behaviours of populism such as; silencing opposition, using the governing party to assume a ‘true voice’ of the people and the breakdowns of public institutions.
The weaponisation of Scotland’s remain vote in 2016 is a prime example of nationalism beginning to suffocate mainstream politics. The often repeated and highly emotive phrasing that Scotland is being made to leave the EU ‘against its will’ is highly dubious. It conveniently forgets that Scotland, nor any of three other constituent nations of the United Kingdom, were individually consulted in the referendum and so, Scotland did not have her own will in the referendum-she was consulted as part of a whole of the United Kingdom. The SNP on the other hand, are right to point out the flaw in the referendum that it was not exactly fair that the UK’s departure from the EU was won on the back of English votes and perhaps in hindsight, an argument could be made that the referendum should have been fought on the express agreement that all four nations vote to leave, but even so, the use of this language conveniently ignores the 1,000,000 Scots who actually voted to leave and the surprising one-third of the SNP membership voted to leave.
Seemingly in response to Britain’s departure from the European Union, Nicola Sturgeon back in February, ordered the EU flag, not the Union Jack, to fly over the Scottish Parliament buildings daily to ‘reflect the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in Europe’ Again, she has no mandate to do this; the total combined popular vote of all Unionist parties at the last General Election in 2019 outweighed the SNP by over 200,000 votes. So, therefore, despite the Brexit divide, flying the EU flag instead of the Union flag alienates a significant portion-if not a majority of the Scottish population. This is a mild inconvenience to the SNP, whose main aim is to portray and maintain an atmosphere of victimhood amongst the Scottish people against the United Kingdom. Regardless, the EU ought to feel discomfort at its image being used to ignite nationalist fervour and take caution and the ease that Scottish nationalists can manipulate public sentiment to create a disunited, “us” and “them” mentality.
Even more sinisterly, Scotland’s education is being infected by the nationalists’ synthetic victimhood. It was revealed last December that historical facts are now being bent in an attempt to create a less collegial and more violent relationship between Scotland and England. The Spectator reporting children were to be given credits for perpetuating the myth Winston Churchill was to send tanks and English troops to Glasgow in 1919 – an event which did not happen, but was also replicated on a government-issued ‘timeline’ of Scottish history that was encouraged for use “directly in the classroom”. This is extraordinarily similar to current education reforms under the far-right populist, Viktor Orban in Hungary where, as reported by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the new National Core Curriculum will paint Hungarian history in a positive and triumphant light. The SNP ought to feel ashamed that under its regime its education system has sunk to a level comparable to one of Europe’s most notorious populists.
Perhaps more importantly, the EU should feel more ashamed if it entertained the application of an independent Scotland run by a nationalist government, which would only, with Scotland’s own current nationalistic education system, legitimise Orban’s and other populist governments nationalistic actions and the continuation with the obfuscation of history and render the EU’s core principle to contain nationalism in Europe, a failure.
This must be of particular concern to Europe. How can the EU accept a new member state, more so, a new nation-state that’s existence has been fashioned by a condition to think in terms of “us” and “them”? In her speech to the Law Society of Scotland in 2019, Nicola Sturgeon made the distinction between the conceptions of Scottish and English sovereignty. The latter, she said, is “traditionally…exercised by the Crown in Parliament”, whilst Scottish sovereignty “rests with the people of Scotland”. Regardless of the differences, these distinctions when entering into an organisation such as the EU, are ultimately nebulous. In short, the English and Scots identity is often emphasised when placed in comparison to who has authority over the nation. Hence the useful weaponisation of the Anglo-Scottish divide over Brexit to fashion a greater sense of Scottish ‘self’. Sturgeon’s own conversion to separatism, due to her belief that Margaret Thatcher’s governance over Scotland seemed wrong when the majority of Scotland voted Labour, shows the deep roots of Scottish nationalism in suspicions of governing bodies above the Scottish people, which is remarkably similar to the roots of English Euroscepticism, which could not tolerate the European Union’s, that had legal supremacy over the Parliament at Westminster-the supremacy of which, is the cornerstone of the unwritten British constitution.
This could be a huge sleeping problem for the EU, which has shown on many occasions it has no sympathy for the idea of national sovereignty. According to former European Parliament Brexit Coordinator Guy Verhofstadt. “Sovereignty means that you can decide your own path. European states on their own are not able to do that”. This may have some resonance with internationalist Scottish remainers, who wish to tether Scotland to the EU and escape the perceived isolationism of Britain, but this is a worrying flashpoint should an independent Scotland disagree with the EU in areas such as monetary policy-which it would likely need to adopt. Consider, for instance, the reaction from Holyrood if confronted with the forced imposition of Greek-style austerity agreements-such as the forced privatisation of publicly owned Scottish assets, like the Scottish NHS, or the repeat of a similar situation earlier this year when the European Commission imposed a raid of Astra Zeneca’s factory on sovereign Belgium territory. Over the past ten years, the European Union has shown its willingness to influence and, in some cases, take over the governance of its member states, which seems unworkable with a country like Scotland, which has fused nationalism deep into its societal consciousness. If the EU thinks that with rid of Britain, it can escape the awkward or, in the words of Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala “totally pathetic”, ideas of sovereignty, it would have to decide whether Scotland’s nationalist intent is a direct cause of being part of the United Kingdom, or a general trait in the Scottish psyche.
Scottish nationalism’s attempt to distance and delegitimise the British government might not be a concern to the EU who wouldn’t mind the wings clipped of a Brexit and Tory voting England, but the EU must examine Scotland closely or risk running the danger of legitimising populist and nationalist behaviours (as long as they both have a common enemy) and risk presenting themselves as hypocrites -thus invalidating the entire European Project. Sure, it’s inevitable for some courtship to occur between the europhile Scots and the EU, but Brussels must ask itself whether a potentially problematic, nationalistic member state is worth welcoming back the 1.6 million Scottish remainers, as well as 1,000,000 Scottish Brexiteers.