Britain isn’t the only European country on the brink of division. Richard North writes:
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans packed the streets of Barcelona yesterday. They were there to demand the right to vote on a potential split from Spain, their ambitions boosted by the Scottish referendum, scheduled for next week.
Participants, estimated as many as 1.8 million, dressed in red and yellow, the colours of the Catalan flag, and lined up along two of Barcelona’s main arteries to form a huge “V” for “vote”, visible in aerial footage. Many wore T-shirts saying Ara es l’hora (“Now is the time”) in the Catalan language, in a festive atmosphere on Catalonia’s national day.
And he points at one of the principal reasons why this is happening:
And there lies an interesting dynamic. With Scotland, “on the slab”, so to speak, other European separatists are watching developments with more than academic interest. If Scotland does manage to break away, there will be plenty of other movements wanting to repeat the experience.
The interesting thing here is that the growth of separatist movements is in part a reflection of the weakness of the national governments which have hitherto held together the disparate parts of their domains.
Now enter M. Monnet, his friends and successors, who have spent lifetimes undermining nation states, all in the interest of creating their glorious supranational state.
But the irony now seems to be that, rather than paving the way to a United States of Europe, weakening the nation states is lifting the lid on a wholly different can of worms. Instead of unifying states, reducing their power is having the opposite effect, fragmentation rather than unification.
The “colleagues” might thus have to confront the daunting prospect (for them) that their great guru was wrong. Far from being the fount of all evil, nation states were (and are) the only thing standing between us and a fragmentation that, once started, will only continue.
At the end of the line are the terrors of tribalism, and the Scots may find that they have unleashed forces over which they have no control. A spilt from London may not be the end of it, with the Orkney and Shetland islands to follow.
That dirty word, “nationalism” may have to be rehabilitated. The nation state may be the only thing standing between us and chaos.
In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says much the same:
Europe is disintegrating. Two large and ancient kingdoms are near the point of rupture as Spain follows Britain into constitutional crisis, joined like Siamese twins.
The post-Habsburg order further east is suddenly prey to a corrosive notion that settled borders are up for grabs. “Problems frozen for decades are warming up again,” said Giles Merritt, from Friends of Europe in Brussels.
He sets out the prospect of a chain reaction:
“If the Scots and Catalans go, the Flemish will follow. The precedent creates so much pressure,” says Paul Belien, a Belgian author and Flemish nationalist. The separatist Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie is the biggest party in the Flemish parliament.
“I am not happy. I fear the Scottish experiment will end in economic disaster and discredit our cause. We are the ones who subsidize Wallonia, so we’re really in the position of England,” he said.
Less understood is how this domino effect is spreading to a new group of stranded people, the irredentists left on the wrong side of Europe’s borders at the end of the Great War, victims of Versailles and Trianon. You can feel an icy chill of history. “We thought we had solved the problems of Europe’s borders, but as the glue comes off in one place, it is losing its hold elsewhere,” said Mats Persson, from Open Europe.
“Scotland is our example,” says Eva Klotz, leader of Süd-Tiroler Freiheit movement in the Italian Dolomites. “What is happening in Scotland changes everything for us. That the Scots can vote – and crucially that England respects it – shows that it’s possible to achieve self-determination democratically, without war and violence,” she said.
Yet there is a twist. The sub-plot of the Süd-Tirol campaign is reunification with Austria, 100 years after it was torn away and handed to Italy as a strategic barrier, or spoils of war. There are many such pockets across Europe: the Swedes in eastern Finland, the Germans on the wrong side of the Belgian border or indeed across much of Alsace, the Irish Catholics of Derry, and soon perhaps the Shetlanders within a new Scotland. Above all there are the Hungarians.
Europe’s stability since 1945 is built on the sanctity of borders, a universal acceptance that nobody will reopen this Pandora’s Box, even if they have legitimate cause. It is why Russia’s seizure of Ukraine has been such a shock, so dangerous since it drew a chorus of apologists within the EU, some aiming to exploit it, others useful idiots.
The problem may be that, with the entire European political class in thrall of the EU, and largely ignoring their own citizens, while imposing more and more EU rules and regulations on them, the ignored citizenry now seek to escape from what increasingly seems like tyranny, and become their own masters again. And for some, the means of escape is independence. And for many Scots, independence looks like independence from the UK. For many English (like me), and the UK Independence Party, independence looks like independence from the EU. But the motivations are all essentially the same: to restore autonomy.
And if the European Union might be thought of as being a couple of dozen large sacks of flour, bound together by an ever-tightening rope of “ever closer union”, the outcome may well be that, as the rope tightens, the sacks simply start bursting, and what’s left of the European Union will be a few empty, ragged sacks tied together at a single point of “closest possible union”.