By Shebli Khoury and Charly Hunter
On Friday September 19th, the Scottish referendum resulted in a “no” vote. The electorate had the choice of leaving or staying in the Union, and they opted to stay. More than a simple continuation of the status quo in the United Kingdom, this electoral decision will impact many British (as well as European) paradigms. The effects of a “yes” vote on the constitution, EU processes and international legal obligations and state recognition would have given legal and political scientists heaps of new material to study. Nevertheless, the result gives a fair share of interesting aspects to look at. The nationalism surrounding the Scottish independence movement and its effects on the EU, Britain and England are all pertinent topics to analyze.
What are the consequences for European Nationalism in general? Europe is confronted with rising secessionist powers. Will the electoral defeat of the Scottish Independence party undermine the Catalan or Veneto secessionist forces? The EU commission was clearly relieved by the “no” vote, proven by its Friday press release. Scottish independence would have forced the European Union into dealing with fragmented political factions at a time when divisions in European Unity are vehemently criticized. Carl Bilt, Prime Minister of Sweden, employed the term “Balkanisation,” referring to the fragmentation of the EU in politics and cultural sub-divisions that exponentially appear. As Anne Marie le Gloannec, a researcher specializing in the European question at Sciences Po points out, dealing with the integration and co-operation of the EU with secessionist forces is a political dilemma. It is the European Commission’s democratic responsibility to deal with political entities geographically in Europe, but it is also impossible to justify this in the eyes of Spain or Romania, both which have a hard line against dialogue with secessionist powers.
From the standpoint of European Integration, one can wonder how the “no” vote will impact the European secessionist forces. Local independent parties such as the Basque ETA, Lega Nord in Italy or Catalan ad an eye on the electoral result. Although Scotland enjoys having partially dependant political structures, it still suffered from a lack of legitimacy to govern a nation. As a Scottish resident put it: “present institutions are not design to cope with full independence, but will they be able with time, amendment and reorder: yes I think so!” Is the failure a bad sign for their own political struggle for sovereign recognition, or can they use the failure of the SNP to draw some conclusions?
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech after the results is interesting not only for the issue of nationalism, but also for the future of the Union and its Constitution. It is now inevitable that the relational makeup of the Union will change. There is now a schedule for Scottish devolution with discussions taking place about what is to be devolved; with income, housing and welfare being the most likely and most important – natural given that many demands surrounding the independence movement centered around them. Additionally, Wales will also gain further devolution, again mainly concerning taxation and funding. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has said repeatedly that Welsh NHS and education are underfunded. He further stated that David Cameron “needs to get us all around the table” for constitutional discussions and that “We [Wales] need the same devolved structure as available to Scotland”. The West Lothian Question is also resurfacing. This debate concerns whether English issues should have an Only-English vote in parliament, barring non-English MPs from voting on them. All this means that relations between the different countries in the Union will shift, with power moving from the center to national parliaments, who are demanding greater voices from Westminster. The movement to nationalism counteracts the unity shown by the “no” vote, but is essential if the Union is going to stay together. Correcting and addressing justifiable grievances about policies and funding also will be key. However, many of the national groups have a say in the previously discussed issues. The question to be asked is if there is another way to correct the grievances without the countries moving away from each other.
One issue that has not received widespread attention is that of the United Kingdom Independence Party. The no-vote result will strengthen David Cameron and his Conservative Party, who are the main opponents of UKIP. Nevertheless, if the West Lothian question is settled in favor of the only-English votes on English laws, then UKIP might gain credence by showing that its vision of politics through local national governments rather than through a Union framework is more effective and fair.
The UKIP win in the European election triggered Cameron’s decision to have an in/out referendum on United Kingdom membership of the EU. The SNP claimed that they wanted independence because they were afraid that Great Britain might leave the EU. If the Union improves there might be an argument for Britain to stay by showing that there is no need to leave a union to improve things and that absolute sovereignty is not needed to preserve national interest.
The tone of this article matches the view of the near and far future, riddled by uncertainty. Nationalism might continue its rise, albeit at a slower pace or it could be greatly reduced. The precise constitutional framework of the UK and the issues of UKIP and the EU could go in any possible way. It is up to the polls, the politicians, and their performance to decide.