The Father of European Federalism?

Article excerpt

* In what was otherwise a dull election campaign, two issues became salient which threatened to accelerate the collapse of the United Kingdom as a state. One was `Europe', the other, the future of Scotland. The first divided the Conservative Party as disastrously as Free Trade had done before the debacle in 1906. The second wiped it out North of Berwick. In 1992 John Major's `soap-box' defence of the British constitution had helped his unexpected success; but an attempt in 1994-97 by his young Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, to play cultural nationalism against political nationalism -- notably by shipping the Stone of Scone back North -- only provoked the home rulers. Opinion polls showed the Scots to be more pro-European, and indeed more republican, than any other part of the United Kingdom. Forsyth, going for broke, preached the teaching of Scottish history in the schools. Garlic against the European vampire? But the more the Scots remembered their history -- and not necessarily the Braveheart bit of it -- the less British they felt.

Scotland had always been the absentee of European nationalism. Although countless novelists and poets of `unhistorical' nationalities -- Manzoni, Petofi, Mickiewicz, Topelius -- modelled themselves either on `Ossian' MacPherson or Walter Scott, churning out historical epics justifying their people's claim to statehood, the Scots got as far as what Benedict Anderson has called, in Imagined Communities (1983) `print capitalist' nationalism and, apparently, stuck. They seemed quite content to cash in on access to the British (never English) Empire, defend cultural distinctiveness, and leave it at that. The Czech historian Miroslav Hroch's three-stage evolution, from his Social Conditions of National Revival (1985) -- elite mobilisation, the creation or capture of institutions, the mass movement -- did not seem to work. Or did it? ...

`I to the hills shall lift my eyes. From whence cometh my aid.' Thus sang the Covenanters, the Scottish Calvinist radicals, given in the 1680s to assembling in mutinous conventicles on the moors. High above Edinburgh, on the summit of the Castle Rock, stands one symbol of Scottish separateness, intellectual and political: the Scottish National War Memorial. Built in the 1920s in the rich late Gothic style which was influenced by Scotland's `auld alliance' with France, its architect was Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929), next to Charles Rennie Mackintosh the greatest of his generation and reviver of the Scottish vernacular style. The names of 100,000 who died in the First World War, 13 per cent of British casualties (Scotland then had 10 per cent of the British population) commemorate a tragedy of Scottish and European history which would have particularly grieved Lorimer's father, had he lived to see it.

James Lorimer, Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University and Laird of Kellie in Fife, is better known in Germany than in England, and represents a different sort of nationalism from that which Hroch surveys: civic rather than ethnic, and always alert to international relations. Perhaps uniquely Scottish? Lorimer was one of the founders of modern international law, and in two substantial volumes on The Institutes of the Law of Nations which he published in 1884 he created that bogey of English, though not Scottish, patriotism: the first proposal for a federal Europe.

Lorimer was born in Perthshire in 1819, but like so many Scots during and after the Enlightenment was partly educated abroad, at the universities of Berlin, Bonn and Geneva, as well as Edinburgh. This reflected the cosmopolitanism of a Scottish juridical tradition which prided itself on its affinity to Roman law rather than the common law of the English. Nowhere in his work are there the limited horizons that one associates with the utilitarianism of such Victorians as Sir William Holdsworth or Professor A.V. Dicey. In fact, the opposite: in the decade of the 1880s, which found British imperialism at its zenith (Burma and Egypt annexed, Gordon martyred at Khartoum) Lorimer's Europeanism emanated from a strong sense of the political community of units smaller than the nation-state. …