It was bound to come, and we’re hearing it already. We need to be prepared. On BBC Radio 4 News’ Westminster Hour with Carolyn Quinn, on Feb 23rd, they had a Lib-Dem Baroness, Olly Grender who said that David Cameron faced a growing problem – how can he argue that the union of Scotland with the rest of Britain is a good thing, and indeed vital all round – but that union of the UK with the EU has serious problems and needs renegotiation? (Bear in mind that I have no faith at all in Cameron’s renegotiation promise – but it’s what Cameron is talking about).
I’m not rushing to support Cameron, but I agree that the Union of the UK is a good thing, whilst our membership of the EU is a bad thing – and I see no inconsistency at all in that position.
In the UK, we have perhaps the most successful currency union in history, between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And in the EU, they have an on-going disaster of a currency union, which has created conditions akin to the Great Depression over large parts of Southern Europe, with youth unemployment up around 60%, trashing a whole generation.
The UK currency union depends on fund transfers from London to Scotland (and the failure of the €uro is partly caused by the political impossibility of such fund transfers in the eurozone), but as Nigel Farage has said on Television, there is a broad political consensus in England that the Barnett Formula is a price worth paying, despite the occasional carping. Alex Salmond’s counter argument (that Scotland is a net contributor because of “Scottish” oil & gas) is merely muddying the water, and fails to make a case. There is no such consensus in Europe, which is why the €uro problem has no solution.
In political terms, there were Scottish members in Westminster as early as 1654, while Scotland has been continuously represented in Westminster since 1707. We have repeatedly seen Scottish senior ministers and indeed Prime Ministers (thank you Gordon Brown). Nothing that exists in Europe compares to that, and the European parliament is a fraudulent device designed to give a facade of democratic accountability and legitimacy where none exists.
I love to use my favourite quotes from Enoch Powell and John Stuart Mill, and I apologise to regular readers for the repetition, but they are hugely relevant in this case. Mill said “Where peoples lack fellow feeling, and especially where they read and speak different languages, the common public opinion necessary for representative government cannot exist”. And Powell said that democrat legitimacy could be achieved “where people have enough in common, in terms of history, culture, language and economic interests, that they are prepared to accept governance at each other’s hands”.
How do those very clear criteria apply in this contrast between the UK with the EU? Let’s get all the bad jokes out of the way about the incomprehensibility of Sauchiehall Street Glaswegian. The fact is that English is spoken across the UK, and that broadly speaking we can all understand each other. We can all watch the same TV channels and news programmes. We can all read the same papers. The common public opinion necessary for representative government clearly exists in the UK, and clearly does not exist in the EU. This is not to say, of course, that we all agree with each other, but we are at least starting from a broadly common base of understanding and information.
We have considerable shared economic interests – in the case of Scotland, an interest in keeping its financial services business which would undoubtedly migrate to London from an independent Scotland. Readers will recall the dire threats that the British financial services industry would migrate to Frankfurt if we failed to join the €uro, but they proved to be wide of the mark – as are the threats that the same will happen when we leave the EU. In fact the industry will weep tears of joy to be outside the EU’s damaging regulatory framework.
On language and economic interests the case is clear-cut. On history and culture, it is more a matter of opinion, and no one would deny that there are strong linguistic and cultural links between Britain and Europe. But I would argue that history and culture between Scotland and England are intertwined to a far greater degree than our cross-channel links, with Scots involved over centuries in all levels of British industry, society and culture. And despite the increasingly strident – and indeed downright nasty – rhetoric of come Scottish nationalists, there is in my judgement a considerable affection for our centuries-long union on both sides of the Tweed. The English generally feel much warmer about the Scots than they do about (say) the Slovenians. Or the Serbians who’s queuing up for EU accession.
So yes: Pro-Union in the UK. Against membership of the EU. And perfectly consistent on both counts.
But maybe a read-across to the Ukraine? Re-stating those two quotes above, I could not help thinking of the current situation in the Ukraine. There you have two highly polarised groups who certainly seem to lack fellow feeling. They share a history, but seem to have a totally disparate view of that history, as they do of their economic interests. And critically, they “speak and read different languages”. If you accept John Stuart Mill’s dictum, then there is no “demos” in Ukraine on which to base a legitimate democracy. One or other side will win any election by a small margin, and the losing side will be aggrieved and alienated, subjected to a government and a policy which they find odious and unacceptable.
The good and the great – in Europe and in Russia – are insisting that the integrity of Ukraine as a unitary state must be sustained at all costs. I have to ask whether democracy would be better served by a division, like that between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, or between Malaysia and Singapore.