Heraclitus taught us that “There is nothing permanent in life, except change”. The Earth, our blue cosmic house, gave us a literally ground-breaking confirmation of the Greek philosopher’s wisdom in November 2013, when an undersea volcanic eruption increased Japan’s territory by giving it a new island. In 2014, thousands of kilometres away from the Japanese archipelago, another island could provide a stark geopolitical check-up of Heraclitus’ eternal truth.
On 18 September 2014, residents in Scotland over the age of 16 will have to answer “Yes” or “No” to the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. If 50 per cent +1 of the participants in the referendum deliver a “Yes” vote, Scotland will put an end to its 306-year-old union with England, become independent on 24 March 2016 and from then on, forge a future on its own.
The countdown is on for the main proponent of secession, the Scottish National Party.
In a hefty, 670-page white paper, which it considers the most detailed and comprehensive blueprint for independence that has ever been published, the SNP has stated its case. An independent Scotland would keep the Queen as monarch and the pound as currency. Edinburgh would take charge of its own finances, raise taxes and spend as it sees fit the revenues from North Sea oil and gas reserves. Currently, about 90% of all British fossil-fuel extraction takes place in or around Scotland. Borders with the United Kingdom can remain open, citizenship can be shared and national debts divided.
Leading the “NO” campaign, Better Together, Britain’s three main UK-wide political parties argue that a 5-million-people independent Scotland would be less prosperous and less secure on its own.
And so far, a majority of Scots agree with them. At the end of November 2013, a poll showed 47% of Scotland’s residents wanted to keep the union, 38% wanted independence and 15% were undecided. But the road to September 2014’s referendum is long, and a “Yes” result is not at all impossible.
If such a momentous event were to become reality, its shock waves would be felt well beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. For Scotland is not Europe’s only centrifugal region. Strong separatist movements in two other historic regions, Spain’s Catalonia and Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders, fiercely defend these provinces’ right to political independence.
If the independence rationale of the Scots separatists is a feeling of distinct cultural and philosophical identity, Catalan and Flemish secessionists also make their case on solid economic grounds. Lingering economic crisis has accentuated the economic gap between faster-growing, affluent Flanders and Catalonia, and the more lethargic economies of regions such as Wallonia and Andalusia.
While the Flemish separatists have lost some ground in the latest polls, in Spain, the central government’s refusal to acknowledge Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum on independence has exacerbated tensions between Madrid and the Catalan government in Barcelona, and strengthened the popularity of the separatists.
What about Europe, as a whole? How will these potential national divorces affect the European Union? Would the EU family joyfully open its arms to a 29th member state, Scotland and a 30th, Catalonia? Scottish and Catalan separatists are committed Europeans who claim that if their independence campaigns are successful, they should smoothly assume membership of the EU. According to Scotland’s “Yes” campaign web-site, “Scotland already is part of the EU – so there is no doubt that we meet all the requirements for membership, and with our energy and fishing resources it is clearly common sense, and in the interests of the EU, that Scotland’s place in the EU continues seamlessly.” Not so fast, responds José Manuel Barroso, in Brussels. The President of the European Commission has said that an independent Scotland would not automatically inherit its share of the UK’s membership and would have to apply for membership in its own right.
If this looks to you as an unsettling scenario, pushing the EU into uncharted waters, imagine for a moment another one: an independent Scotland applying for EU membership, sometime in 2016, and a UK deciding to withdraw from the European Union, sometime between the 2015-general elections won by Cameron’s conservatives and 2017. Now wouldn’t that be ironic! Scots have an old saying: Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye! What’s meant to happen will happen! So, if you too, as Heraclitus, are convinced that change is the only permanent thing in life, stay tuned! In Europe, the best is yet to come!