Listening to debates this week on whether Scotland should stay in the UK or not, I have been struck by the irony of the situation.
Ever tolerant England agrees that Scotland should only stay in the union of the UK if most of her people are happy to do so. England will not stand in the way of a referendum for Scotland. Indeed, many English people want Scotland to get on with it and have the referendum as soon as possible. Unionists amongst us want the issue resolved, as we only want a union with volunteers. English people who would like Scotland to leave also think an early decision would be a good idea.
Meanwhile many English people have no wish to be part of a country called Europe, governed from Brussels. Instead of Brussels encouraging a referendum and understanding English feelings, the EU does everything it can to suppress Englishness,even refusing to recognise the country and taking it off all its maps. The EU seeks to balkanise us, regularly criticises us for daring to be Eurosceptic, and generally conducts itself in a high handed and undemocratic manner.
Our main political parties go along with the SNP idea of a referendum over the future composition of the union of the UK just in Scotland, and also go along with Mr Salmond’s delayed timing, as he pores over polls to see if he can ever find a time when he might win it. The three main parties also refuse England the referendum it wants on our collective membership of the EU through the UK.
The issue of the UK’s membership of the EU is of course thrown up in the air by the possible exit of Scotland from the UK. Technically if Scotland leaves our union, the UK has ceased to exist. Scotland says she will seek her own membership of the EU. That poses the interesting question of whether she will be able to without offering to join the Euro. That in turn raises the issue of how she could offer that as her current plan under the SNP is to remain in sterling using the Bank of England.
Meanwhile, many politicians seem to want us to believe the rest of the UK minus Scotland would continue with exactly the same terms of membership of the EU as the whole UK currently enjoys. Why? Surely the rest of the EU would want us to accept fewer MEPs, and the UK would need at the very least to negotiate new financial arrangements that reflected a smaller country. In practice most English people would regard any exit of Scotland as an excellent opportunity to have a very different relationship with the EU than the UK currently suffers. The EU should not take for granted continuing membership of the residual country.
The three main parties will discover, as the debate on Scottish independence gets on its long and twisting road, that the problem of England and the issue of the EU has to loom large in the debate. The EU may think it can sit it out and refuse to comment on the EU consequences of any Scottish withdrawal. This unsatisfactory cop out will not wash. The Scottish debate is likely to radicalise the English more. More will want England minus Scotland to be treated better, and will want to break the stranglehold of unloved EU government over the English regions, as the EU refuses to recognise the stronger sense of identity that is emerging in England as Scottish nationalists wrap themselves in the saltire.
The many detailed complications coming out about how Scotland would leave the UK union serves to turn the spotlight on all those areas where England thinks she gets a bad deal from the existing union, as well as from the EU. England needs her identity to be recognised, and the UK needs to be properly self governing again. The Scottish debate should allow others of us to argue that it is not just the position of Scotland in the union that is up for question, but the UK’s subservience to the ever more powerful EU and the poor treatment afforded England. It makes the case for a referendum on EU matters even more compelling.
Last night the BBC allowed a debate on the UK’s future in or out of the EU. Evan Davis chaired it well and allowed those arguing for the UK to leave and have a new relationship based on trade and friendship to make the case and appear sensible. The BBC format, of course, gave the main position to an avowed Europhile, who trotted out all the usual lies – apparently the EU has kept the peace in Europe since 1945, they would not allow the UK any changes to its current arrangements, they would retaliate successfully if we left etc etc. Sir Stephen, the pro EU anchor man, seemed reluctant to talk about the main project of the EU, the Euro, and seemed unable to grasp the simple fact that when it comes to trade and money the rest of the EU has much more to lose from UK exit than the UK does.