Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum: A lesson for Europe.

http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4793/scotland_s_big_referendum_winners
For one day, the whole Europe turned Scottish. The Referendum on Scottish independence got the attention of the whole continent and everyone is waiting for the result. The outcome of the referendum is undoubtedly important for Europe, for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of Europe's biggest powers will never be the same again. If Scotland decides to leave, the United Kingdom, it's flag, economy and its position in the EU will dramatically change.

If Scotland gains its independence from the UK, as it is the most pro-European nation in the Kingdom, it will inevitably affect the referendum on UK's EU membership scheduled for 2017. Without the Scottish vote, if the rest of the Kingdom is still as Euro-skeptic after the Scottish departure, it will surely mean the withdrawal of the country from the EU.

That will create unprecedented changes for the EU itself as well as the UK. Economically a separated Scotland will face many challenges, but there will be surely some for the remaining Kingdom itself. Both they will have to either re-apply or re-negotiate their EU membership and as the UK is one of the EU's major economies, things can get complicated to say at least.

If the YES side of the referendum wins and Scotland becomes an independent nation, it will open the door for many other regions of Europe to also seek theirs: Catalonia is closely watching the Scottish vote result, but also Corsica, Flanders, Sardinia, the Basque country and many other regions might follow suit.

This will create a new Europe, a continent of regions. Many Europeans fear the secessionist agenda of the nationalist movements across Europe, as they fear the collapse of the whole EU and the European economy. Others welcome the development, believing that a new united or federal Europe must be a federation of regions and not of the traditional states that we know, so they see their breaking up as necessary.

No matter what, if Scotland says YES to independence, Europe will never be the same again. And even if it votes NO, some lessons are still to be learned for the EU itself.

One of the driving forces of the surge in popularity of the nationalist party in Scotland, was the very bad policies that the centralized UK government in Westminster followed for the past years. The London based elites, were ignoring the signs coming from Scotland, taking for granted the fact that their country remained united for more than 300 years.

They continued to implement neo-liberal policies, while the Scots were obviously increasingly unhappy. In fact some analysts believe that the whole referendum is based not so much on driven nationalism, but continuous dissatisfaction with Westminster's financial policies.

Similar events triggered independence movements and uprisings in European history so many times before. If a population is not happy about their ruling elite, they will eventually protest or revolt. And when this population has a national identity different than the elites that rule them, then what starts as a protest against the policies adopted, it becomes a nationalist and independence movement.

That was exactly what happened during the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the former Yugoslavia. So why don't our leaders ever learn? It is obvious that the economy and how it is managed is sometimes a greater force than any nationalist feelings.In fact dissatisfaction of one's financial reality can often incite them.

Our leaders should always keep the population happy and prosperous to avoid dissidence, or give the nationalists an opportunity to gain popularity. 

This can prove as a very valuable lesson for the EU itself and I think there are already signs of revolt against it, from ordinary Europeans. When power is centralized and detached from the people it is supposed to govern, it becomes irrelevant and secessionist or nationalist movements are eventually tearing this governing power apart.

So even if I am pro-European and a European federalist, I do not wish the EU to become a centralized government, under the model of France and Paris for example. A looser federation or confederation is more desired, especially when we are talking about 28, soon to be more different nation states.

If Brussels concentrates all power in Europe, it will soon (if not already) start behaving like Westminster: ignoring the voice or wishes of the people, blindly following policies that are very unpopular. That in return will empower the nationalists that will seek any opportunity to break away and so the dissolution of the EU as an institution will be inevitable.

If the EU or the UK are to survive, they need to change from within, before they are forced to change by the people. The weakening of a centralized power, taking always into account the public opinion and giving national and regional governments a greater say, might just do the trick to save a union.

It is obvious that the UK has failed but also others like Spain and the EU itself are not far behind. More integration does not necessarily mean concentration of power in one place, but standardization and harmonization of economic prosperity, living standards, opportunities and education throughout any union.

The above combined with a constant respect of the public opinion, cultural exchanges and a strong focus on our common identity, will prove much more effective in keeping the EU alive for the long term. At least more effective than a centralized government in Brussels.

If 300 years of unity fail to convince the Scots in remaining in the United Kingdom due to economic failures, what can be said about the EU with just over 50 years of history?

The European Union must become a federal socialist entity, promoting prosperity and equality across the block. Yet it must not limit itself to economic governance, it must become a cultural and a social project itself. After all it is also culture and common values that bind people together, not just a single currency.

The best of luck to Scotland, no matter what the outcome. This day is yours and the whole Europe is watching you. 

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