With less than a week to go until the people of Scotland are due to vote on independence, in what is possibly the most significant referendum ever held in the United Kingdom, the outcome as it stands appears unpredictable. With the No Campaign having previously taken for granted their comfortable lead in the polls, as of the 10th September the gap has narrowed considerably; a Sunday Times poll even indicated that the nationalists have taken a 1% lead. Media coverage has been thorough in reporting the rising anxiety which is currently plaguing Britain. Yet interestingly, little has been mentioned as to the quite untypical apprehension felt by our continental neighbours.
It would seem strange to think that Europeans would feel even a morsel of concern as to the welfare of our grand Union, given the longstanding history of resentment and conflict which exists. It is undeniable that Anglophobia is rife within Europe, often with limited justification. Many still consider us to be bolshie, arrogant, interfering, indifferent and practically post-imperialist; an upstart island nation who has little in common with those on the Continent. Scotland finds itself romanticised by many Europeans as a nation with a rich history for defying the English, earning a great empathetic following.
Yet sentiment has no place within the world of politics. It is for this reason that understandably, the practical implications of Scottish independence will take precedent. Europeans should not delude themselves as to the dangers that Scotland can now pose to continental harmony.
The primary concern with regards to independence is the influence that the move would have upon regional nationalism as a political force. Since 2007 and the devastation of the financial crisis, all across Europe certain regions within pre-established nation states have been calling for their own opportunity to be granted statehood, an ideology which appears to grow ever more potent. From the Basque or Catalonia in Spain to Corsica in France, Flanders in Belgium to Padania in Italy; all have succeeded in establishing coherent, vocal and politically capable groups who work tirelessly within the existing national political frameworks with the aim of achieving their own independence. Scotland’s SNP can be considered as such and, should independence be achieved on the 18th, will serve as an excellent example to all those movements who desire a similar outcome. European leaders therefore are highly concerned as to the subsequent democratic pressure which will begin to mount from their own regional nationalists should independence be the case. In already volatile and fragile states such as Italy and Spain, who have failed to re-establish traditional political order following the pandemonium caused by the Eurozone crisis, the contagion effect Scotland would have on regionalism is yet another issue they could do without facing.
Concern is also high with regards to the state of the European Union. Trepidation of this nature stems from how the UK’s domestic political landscape looks set to change should Scotland leave. It is almost certain that without Scotland’s enormous Labour voter pool, which provides a vital number of the Party’s parliamentary seats, the ever-increasingly Eurosceptic Conservatives would look to win the General Election in 2015. Should this be the case the promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU which would be held in 2017, without Scottish socialism to counterbalance the centre-right, could conceivably end up seeing this key member of the organization exit forever. With the EU losing one of its most longstanding and traditionally enthusiastic states, the whole supranational facade under which it has existed since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 would be exposed as holding no lasting integrity; its constructors would fear an exodus of states and thus a forced return to intergovernmentalism following Britain’s lead.
Moreover, without a strong UK as part of the Union, Germany would surely look capable of taking almost full de facto control of European affairs. France, Britain and Germany are currently considered the big beasts within the organisation, with Britain often finding itself called upon to counteract perceived German bullying. As seen during the austerity crisis when the UK distanced itself from any real involvement, France looked incapable of maintaining a balance of power without the former as an ally. The future of the EU without a strong united Britain appears somewhat doomed to an eventual lapse into a German controlled autocracy.
There is little to nothing that the nations of Europe can do to affect the outcome of this referendum in any way. For them, this makes the waiting a painful affair; all they can do is hope that Scotland makes the right choice, delaying major upheaval within Europe at least for a while.