As you’d expect, there’s been a lot of comment and discussion on this week’s “blueprint” for an independent Scotland, which I blogged about yesterday.
One of the best comment pieces is from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. I find Jenkins sometimes wrong-headed but usually worth reading, and this time he makes some really good points. Best of all perhaps is his opening line: “No nation seeks independence to get rich. It seeks independence to get free.”
Like many people, Jenkins is sceptical about the promised economic benefits of independence:
This is a recipe for Greek-style disaster. Scotland might enjoy the spurt of investment and growth that tends to greet new states, as in Slovakia or partly autonomous Catalonia. But the most likely sequence is brief euphoria followed by budgetary crisis, retrenchment and austerity. The emergence into the sunnier uplands of small-is-beautiful independence would be slow and painful.
But he also realises that such questions are fundamentally irrelevant. This is about national sentiment, not economic self-interest. Jenkins suggests that the failure of the Westminster establishment to recognise the Scots’ aspirations has prevented the emergence of a compromise model – home rule, although he doesn’t use the term – that might have satisfied both sides.
He also points to the way in which the existence of the European Union has made independence for places like Scotland less of an all-or-nothing affair. And the place of Scotland in Europe has been the subject of the most interesting development since Tuesday, with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy threatening to hold up an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU.
The argument is about whether Scotland would have to reapply de novo for EU membership, or whether some sort of arrangement for continuity could be reached during the period between a “yes” vote and the date of actual independence. The EU view, which Rajoy has taken the opportunity to present forcefully, is that secession would take Scotland out of the Union, from which it would have to apply in the same way as any other new member – a lengthy process.
Rajoy, of course, has no interest in Scotland for its own sake. His problem is Catalonia, analogous to Scotland in many ways, which plans to shortly announce the date of an independence referendum. The Spanish government hopes that if it can add to Scotland’s difficulties then the example will impress itself on the Catalans – and even that Britain might return the favor some day.
The difference, however, as the Scots have pointed out, is that the British government has agreed to the holding of the Scottish referendum and committed itself, if equivocally, to respecting its result. Rajoy’s administration, on the other hand, is deeply committed to Spain’s “territorial integrity” and is doing its best to prevent a vote on independence from taking place.
No doubt that difference results from many different features of British and Spanish history, but it may also reflect the fact that polls in Catalonia are now showing a majority for independence. Westminster leaders might feel they can let the Scots blow off some steam with no real dangers; Madrid’s are under no such illusions.