Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
As the September 18 referendum on Scottish independence draws near, should Scotland go it alone or remain part of the United Kingdom? What would be the foreign policy implications of an independent Scotland?
István HegedűsChairman of the Hungarian Europe Society
The people of Scotland have the right to vote for independence. The same is true for the Basques, who might have more fundamental reasons to create their own nation-state. (I am not so sure about the German Land of Bavaria or, say, the thirteenth district of Budapest, whose inhabitants never vote for Hungary’s ruling right-wing party and might face budgetary discrimination from the central government or the capital’s conservative mayor.)
The emergence of a new sovereign entity in Europe and the shrinking of the UK into “Little Britain” would send a symbolic message to other EU member states that localism can win over a fragile, quasifederal political structure, even in the world’s oldest democracy. And so-called pragmatic economic arguments, which are being used against London in the current Scottish independence campaign, might even turn into anti-Brussels sentiment in a would-be member state.
Without the Scots, a “Brexit”—or British exit from the EU—could become a reality in a couple of years. This is a nightmare scenario for the supporters of a united Europe. The spillover effect of secession might be devastating for the continental part of the EU.
There is still a hope that the “no” campaigners can finally mobilize the European- and British-minded Scots intellectually and emotionally. If they succeed, the outcome of the referendum will be the survival of the UK as well as a victory for the EU.
Paweł ŚwiebodaPresident of demosEUROPA
The Scottish people will know best whether they want independence. However, should they decide to secede, then not only the UK but also the EU would be diminished. It is difficult to claim to the outside world that the EU is successfully reinventing itself while there is deep fragmentation at the same time. Scotland’s departure from the UK would weaken one of the EU’s largest member states and create a new small one, tilting the overall balance more in favor of the little countries.
Scottish independence would also complicate ongoing discussions about the UK’s continued EU membership and the reform process on which that membership hinges. Secession would start a long exercise of soul-searching, which could easily dominate the EU’s political agenda in the years to come. Europe’s challengers such as Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be able to hide their joy at the distraction. He and others would see an EU that is reverting to the modern equivalent of Italian city-states.
The only positive outcome of a “yes” vote in terms of Europe’s position in the outside world would be the way the question of Scottish independence has been handled. No issue can be more politically and emotionally charged than potential departures from a centuries-old union. Many details remain unresolved in advance of the September 18 vote but, given the circumstances, there could hardly have been a more politically mature run-up to the referendum.
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
This is, of course, a question that only the Scots can and should answer. Seen from the outside, an independent Scotland would be bad news for the West.
Leaving aside the implications for Scotland’s economy, secession would substantially weaken what would be left of the UK. Scottish independence would create similar pressures in Wales and Northern Ireland and would strengthen the hand of the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) in England, the part of Britain that is already most critical of EU membership.
This can’t be good news for the EU or for NATO. A splintering of the UK would substantially weaken one of the most strategic European powers at a time when another, France, is also in a sad state. In fact, it is difficult to see any pluses for the West coming out of the separation. Scottish independence would refute the idea that liberal democracies can accommodate diverse interests within a pluralistic context.
It would also rebuff the argument that the EU has made national borders irrelevant for member states. If Scotland votes to secede, it is likely to set off a chain reaction, reigniting the Catalan question in Spain and potentially sparking irredentist claims in Central and Southern Europe. Finally, independence would strengthen nationalist forces throughout Europe and beyond.