Saturday 6 October 2012

Failing to face up to the logic of independence

There’s an interesting undercurrent to the debate about whether an independent Scotland would automatically be a part of the European Union. Unionists are generally delighted by the idea that Scotland would have to apply for membership, while nationalists either deny vehemently that such a scenario could occur, or are dismayed when European politicians appear to suggest that indeed an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the club. Yet in the last two or three years, since the crisis in the Eurozone began, the EU has become less and less popular in the UK as a whole and in Scotland as well. Something quite strange is going on in this debate. Huge numbers of unionists are also Eurosceptics. I imagine quite a large number of nationalists are too. Why then do unionists react with delight at the idea that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU, when it is is exactly this that they would like the UK to do? Why do nationalists react with fury to the idea that Scotland would have to leave the EU, when this is exactly the policy of the other independence party in Britain, UKIP? Scotland would certainly be more independent if it was both independent from the rest of the UK (rUK) and from the EU. Why then does the prospect not delight nationalists?
The two sides of this debate have tended to concern themselves with involved and complex ideas about international law, treaties about the succession of states, secession theory, EU law and other arcane matters such as the Treaty of Union of 1707. None of this really matters. The possible scenarios are as follows. Both rUK and Scotland would have to apply for membership. rUK would retain membership, but Scotland would not. Both rUK and Scotland would retain membership. Each of these scenarios is perfectly possible and the one that occurs will be the one which the rest of the EU deems to be in its best interest. The EU clearly makes the rules up as it goes along. If it were to want to retain rUK in the EU there is zero chance that it would make rUK reapply for membership, as under that scenario there is zero chance of rUK voting to join. If, on the other hand, rUK were still part of the EU and an independent Scotland were outside, there is a great likelihood that an independent Scotland would want to join the EU as quickly as possible. Why the difference when Euroscepticism is probably as strong in Scotland as in rUK? This is where we come to the undercurrent in the debate.
The debate is not really about the EU at all. The reason that membership of the EU is so vital to nationalists is not because they love the EU, its because this membership guarantees Scots the same rights that they have at present in rUK. If it could be shown that Scottish independence would mean that Scots would need a passport or visa to live and work in England, there would be very few Scots who would vote for independence. It is for this reason that nationalists react with fury when unionists point out the possible disadvantages of independence, accusing unionists of scaremongering at the least suggestion that Scots would lose something if we became independent. The logic of this position is to make unionism as a political position impossible. If unionists are not allowed to point out what they consider to be disadvantages, if the suggestion that Scots would lose anything at all is to be dismissed as scaremongering, then any unionist argument is ruled out from the start as illegitimate. This is to accuse unionists of suffering from some sort of false consciousness and is the tactic of someone who does not wish to debate, but to assert.
Fundamentally nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence. They want freedom from England, but want to retain all the rights of being a citizen there. This means that logically they want to be both independent and not independent. Nationalists react with rage if it is suggested that England would treat Scots as foreigners. But what is a foreigner other than someone who lives in an independent state. Independent states have the right to treat foreign citizens differently from their own citizens, so why do nationalists react with such anger at the suggestion that England could treat them differently post independence?
What is it to be dependent? My right to live and work in England depends on my being a citizen there. If I renounce my citizenship in England, I have become independent of England. Being an independent Scot requires that I no longer retain the rights, which depended on my being a citizen of the UK. To expect to retain such rights, while being independent is to wish to be both dependent and independent. Nationalists, when they accuse unionists of scaremongering, really show they they want to have the rights of a Scot who has achieved independence, while retaining the same rights as an Englishman. What they want is to be both Scottish and English.
This really is a classic example of what Sartre called “mauvaise foi” (bad faith). Unless nationalists are willing to give up the rights they have at present as UK citizens they have no right to demand independence from the UK. To do so would be craven, dishonest and selfish.
This is then the undercurrent of the debate about the EU. The reason for the SNP developing the slogan “Independence in Europe” was not so much so that Scots could live and work in France, Germany or Poland. Few of us do. The reason was so that Scots could continue to live, work and receive all manner of benefits in rUK. Hundreds of thousands of us do.
When Eurosceptics say that they want UK independence from the EU, they accept that this may entail losing certain rights. It may afterwards be no longer possible for them to live and work in France or Germany and to receive free healthcare and other benefits there. However, they think this loss of rights would be worth it. Imagine however, if the debate was phrased in such a way that the UK expected to be able to leave the EU, but to retain all the rights of a citizen of a state which was still a member? The EU could rightly respond if you wish to retain these rights, it is only fair that you remain in the club. To wish to leave the EU, while being unwilling to lose any rights of membership, is to be a hypocrite. What nationalists show when they react with annoyance to suggestions that Scots would lose the rights of membership of the UK if we became independent, is exactly this same sort of hypocrisy. If they are so concerned about their rights in the rest of the UK, they should not vote for independence.
The UK can be likened to a marriage. If a husband leaves his wife and gets a divorce, he cannot very well expect to retain the right to sleep with her. But this is exactly what nationalists expect if Scotland divorces England. Nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence and they are treating the rest of the UK with contempt. At present we are members of a club called the UK. This gives us certain rights and responsibilities. To expect to leave the club, to give up the responsibilities of being a member, while retaining all the rights of membership is to behave without honour. The SNP would make Scots behave like someone who leaves a golf club, but still expects to play there. They would make us all scoundrels.