Scottish Nationalists and 'Europe.'

By Kikas, Gabriel | Contemporary Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Scottish Nationalists and 'Europe.'


Kikas, Gabriel, Contemporary Review


As the United Kingdom moves into a General Election, there is a growing debate in Scotland over the true nature of politics at the end of the twentieth century. This predicament can be most vividly seen within the political circles of the Scottish National Party's (SNP) understanding of an 'independent' Scotland's future role in the European Union (EU). On the one side of the argument, the pro-European (or economic nationalist's) wing of the SNP (such as its parliamentary leader Alex Salmond and Allan Macartney) assert an active role for a sovereign Scotland in the EU because such a relationship would not only stabilize investment in the single market, but would give Scotland an equal voice in the Council of Ministers in contributing to the solving of common economic and social problems and, moreover, in the shaping of the EU's institutions and policies for the next century.

For the anti-European (or traditional nationalist's) wing, however, the European Union, as articulated by the Treaty on European Union of 1992, is much more than an economic arrangement between sovereign states. Jim Fairlie, far example, asserts that despite the perceived economic advantages that an independent Scotland would enjoy from integration, the political development of the European Union would be detrimental to Scottish sovereignty. The creation of a single currency and a Central Bank, as will be demonstrated, is an example of Fairlie's concern over the EU's widening public authority.

The pro-European wing of the SNP asserts a practical line of reasoning in their campaign for an independent Scotland. The SNP needs not only to discuss Scotland's future, but to propose pragmatic policies in dealing with Scotland's present 'bread and butter' issues.

The architect of the SNP's 'Independence in Europe' programme was the former MP, Jim Sillars. Retired from politics, Sillars asserted in 1972 that the United Kingdom is an anachronistic phenomenon because it no longer has any political utility (unlike the European Community) in advancing the economic and social interests of Scotland. The strategy in achieving independence, as Sillars understood Scotland's predicament, must be defined within 'practical terms.' Sillars' economic perception of an independent Scotland is an important one because, as he said in a parliamentary debate in 1972, the Scots 'are living in a time when there is an explosion of expectations among ordinary people, a desire for job opportunity, a better standard of life.'

The SNP's pro-European wing asserts that Scotland's relationship with the EU would be 'equal' with the other member states because the European treaties oblige all member states to comply to the same rules and procedures. The Single European Act (1986), for example, requires the EU's member states to take decisions on the single market through majority voting. As Sillars comments, the EU has also moved into other areas of competencies such as the Common Fisheries Policy and the European Social Fund. The Maastricht Treaty on European Union of 1992 calls for the creation of a single currency, a Central Bank, and the implementation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Scotland would be a strong partner in the European Union because of its economic links to the Continent. After all, Scotland is the business home to more than a hundred companies, building more computers per head of population than any other country in the world. Scotland produces 20 per cent of Europe's oil supplies and its productivity in manufactured exports (according to SNP figures) is 30 per cent higher than the rest of the UK. According to the SNP's budget figures for 1995-1996, Scotland's revenue made up 9.8 per cent (about 27.2 billion pounds) of the UK's total figures (about 278.9 billion pounds). Alex Salmond argues that Scotland contributes 9.8 per cent of total UK revenue - 'over 23 pounds per week per taxpayer.'

An independent Scotland would have a seat at the Council of Ministers.

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