Future news

Future news

Europe endless, or Europe ending?

Screenshot/BBC News

I came to live and work in Australia six years ago, having spent most of the previous 50 living within the collective embrace of two unions – the United Kingdom and the European Union.

I was then, and remain, a strong supporter of both, believing that my individual identity can incorporate Scottishness, Britishness and Europeanness all at the same time.

Neither the UK, nor the EU, are anything like perfect, of course. I have every sympathy with Brexiters who feel alienated from the Brussels bureaucracy, or indeed Scots who feel that government in Westminster is too Anglo-centric.

For me though, the solution has never been to break up our hard-won unions, but to reform them.

Prior to the formation of the EU, Europe had been a cesspit of civil war, religious conflict and ethnic genocide for centuries. We have had 70 years of the Long Peace since 1945, notwithstanding the Yugoslavian wars and Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine.

No major European power has gone to war with another in all of that time. Nor has there been a great power conflict, and for that outcome the EU’s post-WW2 ethos of “never again”, and the influence it brings to bear on other power blocs, has been key.

As for the UK, we have been stronger as a multi-nation state of 60 million at the constitutional heart of Europe than we could ever be as squabbling rivals outside of it.

I predicted that the independence referendum of 2014 would fail, and was reassured when Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the UK – I call a ten-point majority overwhelming, don’t you?

Hillary Clinton and Malcolm Turnbull would give their right arms for such a mandate. By way of comparison,this “decisive” Brexit vote produced only 4% in favour of Leave.

Many of us feared that the SNP would not accept a democratic decision with which they disagreed – nationalists rarely do – and sure enough, within days of the result, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had set the clock ticking on indyref2, to be triggered by changed “material circumstances”, notably a Brexit vote in England and a Remain vote in Scotland.

And here we are.

Scottish nationalism challenged the integrity of a 300-year-old United Kingdom which has given Britain the immense global power and influence it still enjoys (though not for much longer).

English nationalism has raised the stakes, pulling all 60 million Brits out of a European settlement which, for all its recent travails, has brought 28 countries together – many of them former Soviet states, satraps, fascist dictatorships and economic basket cases – in pursuit of a common European home, stable and free within the constraining rules required by any club worth joining.

That is a changed material circumstance indeed, and within hours of the result Sturgeon had put #indyref2 on the agenda. It will dominate Scottish politics for the foreseeable future, putting the country’s urgent socioeconomic problems on the backburner yet again.

But you’ve got to give the first minister credit for her certainty and confidence. If only the Labour opposition under Jeremy Corbyn had shown such decisive leadership from the start, we might not be in this mess.

And so severe is this mess and what it portends for the future that even I, lifelong opponent of narrow nationalism and supporter of internationalism, might be persuaded that a vote for breaking up a post-Brexit UK dominated by UKIP and the far-right of the Conservative Party, and where there is no credible left-of-centre alternative government, is in Scotland’s best interests.

An independent Scotland within the EU – assuming that it could be arranged – will be a five-million-strong minnow in a 28-country alliance of 508 million (less without the UK). But if the Scots felt that this was preferable to being at the mercy of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and their ilk, who could blame them?

Before that, though, let’s take the precedent of Scotland’s independence referendum, and demand a rerun.

As of this Sunday there were 2.5 million signatures on a petition calling on the Westminster parliament for just such a thing.

If the SNP could get away with that approach having lost by 10% in 2014, the Remain camp can too. The 4% majority in favour of leave amounts to just over one million people. Let’s roll the dice again or, as Stephen Fry tweeted, what about the best of three?

It’s not in my nature to deny the democratic will of the people, but since the legitimacy of the first independence referendum was so contemptuously dismissed by the SNP leadership and their supporters almost as soon as it was over, we who support union (of both the UK and the EU) are under no moral obligation to endorse results we don’t like.

I would support another Brexit poll. As would growing numbers of Leave voters afflicted with “buyers’ remorse”.

The UK Liberal Democrats have indicated that they will go into a forthcoming general election with a second Brexit poll in their manifesto. Labour should do the same, having first dumped Corbyn and rebuilt a party people trust and will follow. A Lib-Lab coalition would have a mandate to draw us back from the brink and give people another chance to think about their place in Europe.

If Brexit were to be ratified in those circumstances, and the EU were actually to survive this crisis as a functioning economic and political union, then a Scottish referendum to leave the UK and join its 27-nation club would be fully justified.

There are big wheels in motion here, and all post-WW2 assumptions about the future of Europe are in question.

Putin will see Brexit as an opportunity to promote his nationalistic agenda in Ukraine and the Baltics. War in Europe could easily result, and an EU broken and divided will be easy meat for the Kremlin.

Europe’s many nationalisms and tribes will gain strength in their separatist politics. In Ireland, where there has been peace for 20 years, the competing sects are already manoeuvring around the politics of borders.

Turbulent times, then, with no end in sight as we come out of this bleak weekend. Britain has walked into a period of civil strife and constitutional chaos unseen since the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th century. No-one knows where the journey will take us.