“You put your left foot in, your left foot out, in, out, in, out, you shake it all about”*
*the hokey pokey, a dance
At first glance, this probably describes one of Britain’s (I’m not sure if it extended beyond our borders) awkward dances that took place at every school disco at Primary Schools across the country. However I wonder if this could also be an accurate description of Britain’s policy towards the European Union. I also wonder if this could help explain the peculiar exchange between the EU and Scotland, over the question of Scotland’s potential independence from the UK.
For many years now, the UK has been following a policy of devolution. That is, in Wales and Scotland there has been the implementation of their own ruling authorities that make decisions away from the UK Parliament. This has now led to the discussion over the possibility for Scotland to become an independent state, for which a date has been set for a referendum in which all Scottish citizens from the age of sixteen upwards will have the opportunity to vote upon.
What is perhaps particularly salient in this decision is what this would mean for Scotland and their position in the EU. This has been thrown into the debate as it is important in how the question for the referendum is framed. Does this mean that the EU’s relationship with Scotland as an independent state could be decisive for the citizens in determining the fate of their country?
I think however it is enlightening to look at the Scottish opinion towards this issue. This has the potential to highlight some of the peculiarities of the UK and perhaps this island’s (referring to England, Wales and Scotland) perception as to its position in Europe. As the UK has taken a somewhat ‘rollercoasteresque’ approach to EU policy making, for example the current debate over the repatriation of certain powers, following the previous Governments enthusiasm to signing EU Treaties. Has this approach from the UK influenced the approach Scotland may want to take towards the EU?
Deputy First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed to Members of the Scottish Parliament, that it was a realistic possibility that Scotland could gain its independence from the UK and remain a member of the EU. This was in response to the demand that Scotland must make its position towards the EU clear before they can formulate or go forward with the referendum. What is interesting however is that these words are in direct contradiction to Jose Manuel Barroso who has clearly stated (although not naming Scotland directly) that all new member states would have to reapply to join the EU.
Yet it has been asserted in the debate that if Scotland did become independent, it could remain a member of the EU, the use of phrases such as ‘common sense’ and ‘it being in the interests of Scotland, England and the EU’ perhaps highlight a position of arrogance that can be seen in the UK’s roller coaster approach and actions towards EU policy. This could be reasserted through Sturgeon’s claims that although Scotland should respect Mr Barroso’s words, he was not the one to make the final decision on the issue. These comments are all those which have been asserted within the Scottish Parliament, arguably showing the way the Scottish are framing the discussion.
The problem as I see it is this, if you look at a map of Europe over the past one hundred even two hundred years, it has changed distinctly. One of the most significant changes can be seen through the creation of new states. Currently, we have seen debates over independence in the Basque country, in Catalonia and most of the new states created from the former Yugoslavia are going through the accession process for the EU. If Scotland could walk straight in to EU membership from its position as part of the UK, it would have wide repercussions throughout Europe; repercussions that the EU could not arguably allow. How could the EU negotiate agreements on for example the Euro without the ultimate option of withholding membership as a possibility to be persuasive in its position?
The EU is a potentially influential factor in this question of independence, the issue of Scottish independence and its continuing relationship with the EU would have consequences for Europe as a whole and the way in which the Scottish ministers have shrugged off Mr Barroso’s words perhaps highlight another issue, that of a state thinking itself more important than that of the collective of the EU. This is an interesting contrast to the growth of Eurosceptism within the UK policy that the EU can be so influential within this debate, but it is also important that the EU values and understands the importance of this debate for the EU as an institution. Hence, the question of Scottish independence has a significance beyond the UK’s borders. It will be interesting to see how the debate will continue.
If you liked Heather’s article, also read A Luxury: Lack of Borders
Heather Southwood, Copy Editor
Heather is from Manchester, UK, and completed her undergraduate in Law before studying Euroculture in the University of Göttingenand Jagiellonian University, Krakow. She is currently completing a research track in Indianapolis. Her research interests include citizenship and the promotion of belonging in citizens. She also attempts to discover a new national dish she can cook every time she goes somewhere new.