Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Opinion

Scotland's referendum - nothing and everything changes

  • Catalonia intends to have a consultative referendum on independence in November (Photo: Nonegraphies)

In the end nothing changed and everything changed. Scottish people voted with a decisive majority against independence on Thursday (18 September) but the conversation in the UK has only just begun.

David Cameron, seemingly invigorated by almost becoming the PM who oversaw the break up of the UK, has promised devolution for everyone. In Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

In a speech after the outcome he said Scottish people "have kept our country of four nations together. it would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end".

The EU, watching nervously from the side lines, also welcomed the result. The No outcome removed the immediate political and legal maelstrom of what to do with an EU state that has just had a bit removed; and what exactly to do with that independent bit.

But others are contemplating similar ideas. All eyes are now on Catalonia which has vowed to press ahead with an independence 'consultation' in November.

The immediate lesson seems to be that states need to listen to their independence-minded regions. Ignoring them, or dismissing them, only serves to fuel a sense of anger. Cameron's devolution promises came only when the prospect of a Scottish independence suddenly became very real.

In Spain, Madrid's tough stance has also given a sense of righteousness to those who want independence.

And while Brussels was in a state of panic about the UK's possible break-up - the irony is that the EU can inspire such movements. It is seen as providing a safe harbour.

If statelets break away they are not necessarily going out into the big wide world alone. They can become members of the EU. (Yes, the EU commission did all it could to make it sound unlikely, but Scotland would have eventually joined the bloc).

In Scotland's case, this would have left a smaller, traumatised UK. And with the EU reliant on its large member states for a sense of foreign policy and defence, this matters. Numerous statelets concentrating on their own internal well-being is not necessarily going to project power into the world.

And this is probably what inspired European Commission President Barroso's statement - which his spokesperson later refused to elaborate upon - that Scotland's No leaves the EU "united, open and stronger".

Meanwhile, the next big question is whether Cameron chooses to make the same 'Better Together' campaign for EU membership as he did for Scotland staying into the EU.

He has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017 if his party gets re-elected next year. The devolution to-do list he has just given himself on the back of the Scotland referendum looks like a campaign platform for the general election.

It very much looks like the two questions - UK internal devolution and EU devolution to the UK - will become entwined. This would leave Cameron overseeing the two biggest domestic and European policy questions of a generation.

If the Scotland referendum has taught us anything for the EU question it is this: The UK needs to be clear about what it wants.

And the EU should not descend into histrionics about a country asking for some, clearly defined, powers to go back to or be fixed at the national level.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Scotland chooses to stay in UK

Voters in Scotland have said No to independence from the UK, but the intense campaigning and record-high turnout are models for separatist movements elsewhere in Europe.

Cameron promises more devolution across UK

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised more powers will be devolved to all parts of the UK while expressing his delight that Scotland voted to stay a part of the United Kingdom.

Magazine

Breaking up is hard to do

For a frenzied 72 hours of campaigning, the future of the United Kingdom was under threat. The 300 year old settlement binding together Scotland and England in danger of being torn up.

Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril

Matteo Salvini's recent gambit may have failed, but, in his own words: "From today you will find me even more pissed off and determined. I will go from town to town and we will take this country back."

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us