Tuesday 5 March 2024

The moment has passed for the SNP


There was a brief window of opportunity for the SNP to achieve its goal of Scottish independence. It began with the end of the Cold War and lasted for approximately thirty years. It depended on the world being at peace and security not really mattering as a political issue. That world just about existed in 2014 if you were willing to ignore what was beginning to change. But it doesn’t exist now.

History is interesting not because of what happened in the past. It doesn’t much matter what happened in the past precisely because it is past. History is interesting because of what it tells us about right now and what might happen in the future. The past keeps repeating itself like the Diabelli Variations.

2024 looks a lot like 1934 only worse. The USA is retreating into isolationism and focussing anyway on the Pacific only this time it is China that is the main strategic threat rather than Japan. Worse China is not a tiny island that was never going to be a match for the sheer size and population of the USA. This time the threat is from an enemy that outnumbers the USA and is approaching its economic strength.

In Europe in 1934 there were four great military powers, France Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union. By forming an alliance Germany and the Soviet Union were able to defeat Britain and France in 1940 until the breaking of this alliance and the addition of the USA led to the eventual defeat of Germany in 1945.

Now there are only three military powers. While Germany was trying in the 1930s to get back what it lost in 1918, now Russia is trying to get back what it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia is the new Germany, but we no longer have Germany.

Germany from the 1860s to the 1940s was by far the most impressive military power in Europe. But we succeeded rather too well in turning the Germans away from militarism. The German military in 2024 looks so unimpressive that it is unclear that it would make a contribution at all in any future war. Pacifists tend not to.  Which leaves Britain and France against Russia.

Worse we have a new threat that barely existed at all in 1934. The Middle East in the 1930s was no threat to anyone indeed it was less of a threat than it had been during the First World War. Now ever since the Iranian revolution we have gained a new strategic threat that is getting worse by the year not least because unlike Germany in the 1930s or the Soviet Union during the Cold War Islamic fundamentalism has been exported around the world and it is impossible to tell the difference between the fundamentalists and the moderates, not least because what they believe is essentially the same.

Worse still the French responded to Brexit in 2016 as if Britain were an enemy that deserved to be punished, which leaves the only two military powers in Europe divided in a way that they haven’t been since the Fashoda Incident in 1898.

The EU responded to Brexit by encouraging Scottish and Irish nationalism. Let’s punish the UK for leaving by turning it into England and Wales won’t that be funny. Well, it doesn’t look quite so funny now with Russia winning in Ukraine allying itself with China and liable after a few years to think it might try to grab the Sudetenland in Latvia and Danzig in Estonia and Lebensraum in Poland. Who is going to stop that if the American are busy elsewhere and you made the British your enemy?

Europe is going to have to stop importing people who are likely to hate Europe and try to make those who hate us now hate us less. If we don’t, we have the problem that not merely will they not fight for us, they are liable to use any future conflict to fight against us.

A combination of Atatürk's Reforms and Laïcité are the only answers to fundamentalism, but that requires us to be honest about the threat faced. We are not close to this.

Europe is going to have rebuild NATO but with less reliance on the Americans. This can only happen if the French and the British make peace and come to an accommodation over Brexit. For well over a century the UK has been one of the guarantors of European security, but we have never quite been part of Europe, because our history is not continental. This arrangement worked quite well from the 1890s to the 1970s but was strained by EU wanting to go in a direction that the UK did not wish to follow. The UK did not want open borders with the continent, it did not want monetary union and it did not want Euro federalism. It still doesn’t.

The EU can continue to punish us by trying to aid Scottish and Irish nationalism, but in that case, it is liable to find the former UK sitting out any future conflict with Russia or it can come to an arrangement with the UK over economics and security. It will do the latter.

With the Americans elsewhere until as usual they arrive late (1917, 1941) Europe is going to depend on the French nuclear deterrent and the British nuclear deterrent, because there is nothing much else that will deter Putin from crossing the Suwałki Gap between Belarus and Kaliningrad, thereby cutting off the Baltic states and reintegrating them into the Russian Empire.

Strategically this makes the SNP’s attempt to unilaterally disarm the British nuclear deterrent while expecting to be able afterwards to join the EU and NATO look peculiarly inept. It makes the EU’s encouragement of Nicola Sturgeon look like self-harm.

Scottish voters have realised this. While it was just about possible in 2014 to believe that the breakup of the British Armed forces didn’t matter, it’s not possible now. We were still willing to kid ourselves about Russia in 2014 despite it grabbing parts of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, which meant that defence was hardly an issue in the referendum campaign. But it’s an issue now.

Scottish independence can only sensibly happen with the consent of the UK, the USA and the EU. It would have had that consent in 2014 if Yes had won the referendum and everyone would have worked together to make the breakup of the UK work, but the world has moved on from 2014. The SNP has not moved with it. The SNP is stuck somewhere on a CND demonstration in the 1980s banging on about Thatcherism, while dressing up as if it still 1314 with a battle to be won at Bannockburn. Fighting the English was an issue then. It is not strategically important now.

It might have mattered in 2015 if the SNP had withdrawn all its MPs when it had all but three and was approaching 50% of the vote, but with falling support imitating Sinn Féin looks foolish and a vote loser. If the SNP loses half its MPs at the next election, it will be on the road to oblivion if it withdraws the rest. Why vote for an MP who doesn’t turn up for work?

Europe has more important tasks than bothering about either Irish or Scottish nationalism. The greatest threat is from border changes in Eastern Europe. No one is going to facilitate border changes in Western Europe, not least when such changes threaten the defence of all of Europe. The moment has passed for both the SNP and Sinn Féin.

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