Friday, August 08, 2014

The perils of post-modern nationalism

Like the Conservatives and the Labour Party, the SNP has had a shifting attitude towards the European Union over the decades.  In the 1950s, they were supportive of Scottish membership of the proto-EU ECSC.  I'm not old enough to remember that but I am to recall their position in the 1970s, which was impressively isolationist.  As well as being opposed to membership of NATO (a position changed only very recently), the SNP actively campaigned on the No side in the 1975 referendum on British accession to the EEC.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  One was that they did not consider that Her Majesty's Government was the legitimate representative of Scotland's interests in this matter.  The other was that the EEC seemed to represent a larger version of  the sort of bureaucratising centralism that they were trying to break away from in the UK.

The anti-Europe position was never entirely unambiguous and was, in any event, dropped at their party conference in 1988, where they adopted the policy of "Independence in Europe". This marks the point from which the Nationalists' version of independence became what has sometimes been described as 'post-modern statehood'.  I'm not sure how satisfactory this term is but I take it to represent an awareness that in the late 20th century and into the early 21st, you don't get to be 'independent' after the pattern of states formed in the 19th century but rather the choice has become what kind of interdependence you want.  The Nationalists embraced the idea of inter-European dependency even more enthusiastically with the introduction of the EMU.  This 'independence in Europe' never really appealed to me but at least it made some kind of sense.  Why look to Westminster to represent the interests of Scotland in Europe when it could do that directly?  Disengagement was made simultaneously safer and apparently more outward-looking.  Membership of the EMU would free Scotland from the 'millstone' of Sterling membership and access to European markets would be secured by the treaties of the European Union.

Naturally, after the Euro-crisis membership of the EMU is impossible to sell to the Scottish electorate, even if Salmond thought it was a good idea, which he probably doesn't.  This is the background - and the explanation - to the mess that Salmond and Yes Scotland have got themselves into over the currency issue.  The Nationalists are still arguing for 'post-modern statehood' but the problem for them is that what they are now arguing for is 'independence within the UK'.  Both versions of post-modern independence required the agreement of other parties (something the Nationalists never seemed to have grasped) but the new position has two additional problems.  One is that it the continuity-UK currency union has no precedent, whereas EMU obviously did.  The other is that Salmond and the Yes Scotland camp have taken an extraordinarily belligerent attitude to the successor state with which they hope to make mutually-agreeable monetary and fiscal arrangements, which they never did with Brussels in their 'Independence in Europe' phase.  Discussion of how any such currency union might work is entirely superfluous when you have the leader of the Yes campaign who thinks it's a reasonable proposition that 55 million people in one country are obliged to enter an international monetary arrangement because it is the 'sovereign will' of another country of 5 million that they should do so.

I can't quite decide if Salmond is talking like this because he has, as some have suggested, effectively given up or if he's gone slightly bonkers but his response to the fact that the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Shadow Chancellor have ruled out a currency union has led the Yes campaign down a blind alley.  Historically the SNP have favoured two forms of post-modern independence but the position that Salmond now seems to have taken would result in Scotland getting neither.  There is no particular reason to think that the government of the UK are bluffing about a currency union, although I might be wrong.  What I am assuming definitely is a bluff is Salmond's crazy comments about walking away from Scotland's share of the UK's debt but just in case he isn't, it would be worth pointing out the implications of this.  Nevermind the obvious problems an independent Scotland would have borrowing money after it had behaved like this.  It would settle for certain Scotland's membership of the European Union, which is to say membership is something Scotland would not have because it would set a precedent for other heavily-indebted putative independent European nations to do the same.  'Worried about debt?  Help is at hand.  You can get rid of it all through the power of constitution change!'  This is just one of the reasons that I think no-one is really taking Salmond's 'dollarisation and default' line seriously.  The Yes campaign will not acknowledge any of this.  It's probably too late for them to do anything other than lash out at anyone who interrupts their dream with inconvenient facts.  Such is the fate of Nationalists who promote a version of statehood that is not in their power to deliver.

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