Scotland (ii) – A Spaniard in the Works?

An interesting article in Sunday’s Independent seems to have been missed by the rest of the media, which seems odd, given the increasing profile of the debate over the future of Scotland within or without the United Kingdom.

The article, which you can find here , posits that an Independent Scotland may not be admitted to the EU because Spain would veto any such move. It is not because the Spanish are particularly anti Scotland per se, but they are against any move that strengthens the hand of their own separatist movements; primarily, but not limited to, the Basque Region and Catalonia. A successful transition to independence within the EU by Scotland would severely undermine Spain’s ability to hold on to its own pro-secessionist regions.

Similar separatist movements in Italy, where the Northern League would dearly love to ditch the southern two thirds of Italy, and the Flemish areas of Belgium, who would quite like a divorce from their Walloon neighbours (and vice versa), could see other countries taking a close interest in the issue of Scottish Independence.

Those I have noted above are, I think, the most credible separatist movements within Europe, but there are many more active separatist groups. There are more countries with them than without, it seems, if Wikipedia can be trusted on this issue.

As I understand it, accession to the European Union requires that an application for membership be ratified by each member state. To me, that suggests that unanimity is required and there is a better than evens possibility that Spain would refuse to ratify a membership application from an independent Scotland (or indeed any other succession state from another member of the EU).

As members of the former Yugoslavia line up to join the EU, one such supplicant bears watching: Kosovo. When Yugoslavia collapsed, it fell apart into its constituent parts more or less bloodily, depending upon the local ethnic mix. Kosovo is different from the other successor states in that it was part of an independent Serbia both before and after the rise and fall of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is, I think, the only applicant that has claimed independence from a Yugoslav successor state as a result of its separatist agenda. The differentiation is a fine one, but it has been enough for Spain to withhold recognition of Kosovo’s independence where many other countries (including the USA)have granted such recognition, which means in turn that Spain is unlikely to ratify Kosovo’s accession into the EU in due course and that would be a strong indicator of how they might approach the Scottish question.

Given that membership of the EU is a stated aspiration – possibly even a prerequisite – for an independent Scotland as envisaged by the Scottish National Party, Spanish intransigent self interest could make independence desperately unattractive to the Scots.

Spain could be the instrument of survival for the United Kingdom. As one wag had it – and I truly wish I’d thought of this pun – they don’t like to keep all their Basques in one exit.


I should point out to anyone who doesn’t already know: I am not a Scot. In fact, I have only ever been to Scotland twice in my life (I accept that’s my loss, not Scotland’s), despite having been born and bred in the United Kingdom. I should also make clear that I personally have no stake in the concept of Scottish independence, self government, devolution lite, devolution max, or whatever.

Generally speaking I think that I favour an amendment to the status quo, seeing more power and responsibility being devolved to Edinburgh (and by extension, to Cardiff and Belfast) and a reform of procedures in the UK Parliament that excludes MPs from the devolved administrations from engaging in purely English matters in the same way that following devolution, English MPs should show them the same courtesy (of course, with Parliaments and Assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, it’s relatively easy for English MPs to keep their oar out if they choose to unless the matter under consideration applies across the UK).

This is, of course, that hoary old chestnut, the West Lothian Question, which has never been resolved, despite the fact that it is not really that difficult a problem to grasp. Still, that’s a debate for another post, if I can think of anything to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said, which is unlikely.

I am finally getting to the point of this post, which is this: if the United Kingdom political leaders wish to preserve the Union, they should start acting like adults and they should start that process by treating the Scottish electorate and parliament with a little respect. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the support that has been gained by the Scottish National Party over the years has risen in part at least because of perceptions- some real, some imagined -north of the border that Scotland is treated by Westminster as a sideshow at best and a proving ground for contentious policies at worst (the Community Charge or Poll Tax springs to mind immediately as an example).

If the Unionist element wishes to preserve the union in any form, it needs to present the case for the Union, not squabble about issues of timing of the referendum and whether or not the Scottish Parliament is competent to hold such a referendum. I accept that there are legal niceties to be observed and issues to be resolved but frankly, just sort them out; stop squabbling.

The issue is really quite simple: if you act like interfering idiots, the Scottish electorate will treat you like interfering idiots. The Scottish National party is making the case for independence, so far the Unionist side is not doing the same for the preservation of the Union and the longer it takes them to man up and accept that they need to fight their corner cleanly, clearly and persuasively, the more likely they are to push those as yet undecided into the independence camp simply because they quite understandably, do not wish to be associated with more idiots than they need to and certainly not idiots that duck the issues and pontificate from the far end of the island.

The irony of it all, of course, is that the Scottish electorate that is being treated with such disdain by Westminster politicians is in many ways more sophisticated than the English electorate. If the English were less passive politically, a fairer system of representation in England would have been evolved at the same time as devolution took place in 1998. But there’s another rant about political opportunism waiting to boil over there, too and that’s something for another day.