The Corner

The British Elections: The National Question(s)

Writing in Politico, Tunku Varadarajan on the SNP’s latest surge:

[The SNP’s] Sturgeon is the most disarmingly deadly separatist in the Western world. She picked Scotland up off the floor after a rueful referendum, and built a movement that is unstoppable, a mix of tribal cordite and ideological assertion, of class and nation and aspiration.

True enough, but this surge comes with two big catches, both highlighted by Theodore Dalrymple in a piece for City Journal.

The first can be seen in a more detailed analysis of what the SNP is about:

Their policies are highly statist or would be until harsh reality forced a change. All private companies would operate, in effect, by license from the government. Another problem for Scotland would be the lack of an effective opposition. The Nationalists would hold all the levers of political power, including powers of indoctrination; and even before the last referendum, according to my Scots friends and acquaintances, an atmosphere of mild intimidation prevailed, such that those who opposed independence felt it better not to voice their opposition too loudly, however deeply they felt.

And then there is the paradox that the SNP is very pro-EU. I understand the political calculation behind that. It is designed to reassure Scots that their leap to independence comes with some sort of safety net, but then, as Dalrymple points out, there is this:

 Curiously enough, the Nationalists are firmly in favor of the European Union, an entity dedicated to extinguishing national sovereignty in Europe, and the formation of a super state with few effective checks on the politico-administrative elite. (The European Union’s founders were quite explicit about this goal back in the forties and fifties.) It is difficult, then, not to conclude that the real aim of the Nationalists, whether or not they fully acknowledge it, is increased access of the Scottish political class to the European politico-administrative elite.

There’s a lot to that, I suspect.

Those in Scotland who want independence need to wake up: National Independence, EU membership, choose one.

And the English?

 Varadarajan:

[T]he most plausible explanation for what seems to have been a last-gasp surge in [the Conservatives’] favor [is that this] was a “nationalist” election. The Scots have made that clear. The Welsh and Northern Irish have always been tribes apart. The Scots broke away this time — irrevocably, one has to believe — and the English, perhaps the most subliminally nationalist of the lot, have found this strangely liberating. Labour has paid a price, and has been punished for consorting with the SNP. When you compute Tory gains, and the astounding likelihood (as of this writing) that UKIP ranks third among the parties for votes polled in England, you have a picture of a defiant, nationalist England. The Scots will separate, but on England’s terms.

I don’t think that’s quite right. If Cameron can summon up the political will to create a fully federal UK (including an English parliament) then there is a chance that the union will survive. If not, then I think that Varadarajan is right: A split is on the way. The fear for the English is that Cameron will shy away from the federal option, and will instead attempt to buy Scotland off with ever more generous concessions at England’s expense, an attempt that will eventually fail, but will alienate millions of English voters before it does so. 

If Cameron will not go federal, it is best that the break-up of the union were, to use the words of that distinguished Scotsman, Macbeth, “done quickly”.

Over at the New York Times, Ross Douthat worries about the Scots, but he worries too about the prospect of Britain’s exit from the EU (most unlikely to happen, sadly) for reasons that don’t stand up to much analysis, as might be expected from a piece that describes those wanting to quit the EU as “little Englanders”, a stale mischaracterization kept alive by the Brussels lobby.

Anyway:

Abandoning Britain’s “this far, no further” approach to Europe and leaving the E.U. outright, meanwhile, would cede economic and political influence (to France, most likely) for uncertain gains.

Um, no. Even if the “this far, no further” approach were viable (not really, despite the ‘referendum-lock’) the idea that Britain should swap less influence in the EU for more influence within its own country strikes me as a very good trade. And if the result of Britain leaving the EU were to increase French influence in Brussels , presumably at the expense of Germany, that would be fine: The worse the shape the EU that Britain leaves behind, the better for Britain.

Internationally, Brexit would actually increase Britain’s clout, at least on the trade front, as it returned to international rule-making as an actor in its own right rather than through the EU (where it is just one out of twenty-eight).

Faster please. 

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