David Maddox: Independence may not be the answer to releasing Scotland from chains that bind

IN ALL the clamour over the “Yes to Independence” campaign launched last week, it is easy to forget that Scotland is not the only historic nation looking at breaking away.

In Europe the climate of economic uncertainty and upheaval has served to fuel other moves towards separation, which is how this writer found himself taking part in a conference comparing three of those states last week – Catalonia,

Flanders and Scotland.

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While the conference organised by the London School of Economics’ (LSE) philosophy department looked at many different aspects of comparisons between the three, the issue drifted on to what independence would actually mean in the European Union and in particular the eurozone.

The agreements late last year to deal with the Greek crisis means that countries which belong to the euro zone are in effect having to get permission for their budgets from EU officials and European Central bankers. Already this is causing anger in Holland.

The one thing that unites the three claims to independence in Scotland, Flanders and Catalonia is a perception among separatists that all three lose out too much to the larger state. Flanders is the productive industrial heart of Belgium, Scotland has its oil and Catalonia is possibly the only Spanish region which if independent would be a contributor state to the EU.

But what if they were independent and still members of the EU? It is a matter that has not been resolved yet in terms of automatic membership but all three would be members of the euro, assuming it still exists, which means that their economic policy would be dictated to outside their borders. And if the euro is to survive then the integration will only become greater.

For the Catalans at the conference this was not such a problem because EU membership for them is a guarantor of freedom after decades of Franco’s dictatorship and would be a means of formal recognition for their language.

But Rik Van Cauwelaert, director of the influential Knack magazine in Belgium, was not so sure and suggested that already resentment is growing over this centralised control.

The unanswered question was whether a state in the eurozone could any longer describe itself as independent? For many in the audience of academics the answer was probably no.

This may be the reason, more than the economic turmoil, that the SNP has become very quiet about euro membership, something it once espoused and why Alex Salmond and John Swinney are also very keen to say Scotland would not have to join the euro if it applies for EU membership post independence.

Given that Scotland would almost certainly lose its share of the British rebate, and in effect be paying more per head for EU membership, the issue of being dictated from Brussels or Frankfurt may yet become an important question in the referendum debate.