DURING the BBC’s Politics Live on Tuesday, Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP Westminster Group, was challenged by Jo Coburn and Julia Hartley-Brewer that both he and his party were ‘nationalist’. He replied dismissively that his party had nothing to do with the kind of nationalism that was growing strongly, especially in eastern states of the EU, a manifestation of Right-wing populism. His was a ‘civic nationalism’, based not on identity politics, but on a shared set of values. This occurred in the closing minutes of the show. It would have been very interesting to hear further from Blackwood as to how he would reconcile his civic Scottish nationalism with the diminishing sovereignty inherent in being a member state of the European Union.
Scottish Nationalism promotes the idea that the Scottish people form a cohesive nation and national identity, closely linked with the cause of Scottish independence. For the SNP, this is characterised as civic nationalism (as opposed to ethnic nationalism) in that the Scottish people are defined as all those living in the country, regardless of race or culture, but having shared values. The ultimate objective of the SNP is to break away from the United Kingdom altogether, and become an independent nation within the European Union.
Their concept of shared values echoes the EU’s mission statement regarding values. It states that their fundamental values are respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
This is particularly relevant, given Angela Merkel’s speech last weekend in Zagreb. She urged her Croatian hosts and the other EU member states to ‘shun pro-sovereignty, anti-mass migration policies’ when voting in the current EU Parliamentary elections. She argued that ‘patriotism and support for a federal superstate, in which national sovereignty has been transferred to Brussels, are not opposites’. Shared EU values mean that member states can be proud of their country, and at the same time work to build Europe. ‘Nationalism,’ she continued, ‘is the enemy of the European Project,’ further claiming that Europe is a project of peace, of freedom, of prosperity; and also that populism disdains these values, specifically referring to fundamental human rights and the protection of minorities.
And just in case we didn’t get that the first time round, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), has now stated https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2019/05/22/leading-eurocrat-guy-verhofstadt-admits-eu-wants-empire/ in an interview with CNN that to compete with the rest of the world, the EU must become ‘an empire’. He believes that the world is developing into one not of nation states, but of empires, such as the Chinese, Indian and American empires, and that what is needed is a European Union capable of defending its own interests.
This is in line with Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2018 State of the Union speech, which argued that Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations. European sovereignty is born of member states’ national sovereignty and does not replace it. Sharing sovereignty – when and where needed – makes each of our states and nations stronger.
It can be argued, that even without the additional restrictions of the Prime Minister’s notorious Withdrawal Agreement, the UK has already given up a great deal of its sovereignty. Since 1972, when the European Communities Act was passed through the British Parliament, it became impossible for Parliament to pass any law that was contrary to EU law. As an example, which must have resonance for Ian Blackford and Nicola Sturgeon, the implications of this can be seen in the Factortame case, where the European Court of Justice found that a provision in the Merchant Shipping Act (1988) unfairly discriminated against non-British fishermen fishing off Britain’s coast, and was therefore incompatible with EU law. As a result, the House of Lords had to disapply certain sections of the Act to meet Britain’s European obligations.
The EU’s stated values, including democracy, shared prosperity and the rule of law, appear less convincing when the behaviour of its political structures come under scrutiny. Its unelected Commission and consultative-only Parliament are fundamentally undemocratic. Its member states are governed by a political elite which cannot be voted out of office by the electorate. Furthermore, all its employees are granted immunity from legal prosecution, and their pensions are safeguarded from any tax deductions. Liberty Hall for some.
So, how can Blackford and Sturgeon reconcile their SNP shared values and independence objectives with the prospect of being subsumed into the United States of Europe, with the resultant loss of sovereignty, and inequality at all levels of EU governance? Nigel Farage is quite right to criticise Sturgeon’s SNP vision of independence within the EU – a classic oxymoron. Mr Blackwood would do well to consider the freedoms already bestowed on Scotland as a devolved government within the UK, which would be greatly enhanced after a real Brexit, and compare that with what Scotland, as a very small vassal state within the EU, would be obliged to renounce.