Why diehard nationalists and Brexiteers are wrong about ‘independence’ – Kenny MacAskill

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In the modern, globalised world, most nation states share sovereignty in one way or another while their people can choose to relocate to a new country, writes Kenny MacAskill.

It’s inevitable say some, it’s not say others. But just what constitutes independence in an age of globalisation and transnational alliances; and might its definition offer a solution to the current Scottish constitutional impasse, which sees the country almost evenly divided.

A pro-Brexit demonstrator stands with a Donald Trump-inspired "Make Britain Great Again" banner outside the Supreme Court in London (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

A pro-Brexit demonstrator stands with a Donald Trump-inspired "Make Britain Great Again" banner outside the Supreme Court in London (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Whether at any time any nation was ever entirely independent is debatable. Trade and defence mitigated against that. Instead, it’s been a fluid rather than static concept throughout the centuries that nation states have existed.

Client states and formal alliances testify to that and migration has changed societies and states from the days of One Crown, One Faith, One Flag.

Approaching the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it’s clear that none now are. Whatever diehard Nats or hardcore Brexiteers may say, no nation is either absolutely independent or totally sovereign.

Even those who proudly proclaim their super-power status such as the USA or protest their splendid isolation like North Korea are affected, not just by trade, but climate change and terrorism.

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What matters though is whether you’re recognised as a nation state and then what you choose to cede or share. Being a nation is essential as regions, no matter how large or powerful, aren’t granted a seat at the international table whether in the EU, the UN, or indeed most other international organisations.

Meanwhile, the likes of Malta and Luxembourg sit at the Brussels table with all the rights and power that goes with it. In the UN, Belgium and Equatorial Guinea sometimes sit on the Security Council, despite limited military power. So being recognised as a nation state’s essential and cannot be ceded.

Corbyn’s interest in shinty

Many who so far haven’t been persuaded about independence have preferred federalism. But two issues mitigate against that. Firstly, there’s no real clamour for it south of the Border.

For sure the large cities are benefiting from the power and status they’ve been granted, but there’s little push for it elsewhere in England.

Moreover, with the Tories intent on offering no more devolution – or even removing some rights – and Jeremy Corbyn having as much interest in it as in shinty, then it’s not happening. That’s even before the difficulties of asymmetrical federalism are considered. That’s where you have one large and one small entity which international examples show to be much harder to operate than the normal situation of numerous members of varying sizes, in the style of German lander or Canadian provinces.

Secondly, and more importantly, federalism doesn’t provide the nation state status necessary for international recognition and, most vitally, for EU membership. Many voted No in 2014 worried about an independent Scotland losing it, now it may be the only way of retaining it.

A devolved or even federal Scotland wouldn’t be a member of the EU, never mind other international organisations. I hope the rest of the UK choose to remain but it’s looking finely balanced with the most likely option being some soft Brexit with a consequent loss or rights and influence. For many, that makes an independent Scotland in the EU preferable.

Pan-British institutions

So could what constitutes independence and how it operates offer a solution and assuage the concerns of nervous federalists? After all, what constitutes a nation state has moved on markedly since the UK last reconfigured in 1922 with the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Then, partly through the desire to show their independence and partly through organisations being run by the state, pillar boxes were painted a different colour and other offices similarly rebranded with the removal of crown insignia and the insertion of the harp.

But nowadays many of those entities are multinational and often numerous firms, local and international, operate in every jurisdiction. That applies in Ireland as well as the UK with Eircomm privatised and Ryanair almost the national carrier.

Over recent generations nation states have been coming together to cooperate. The Nordic union predates the EU, and allowed for free movement and other shared rights long before the EU was born. Now it allows for the sharing of other aspects of sovereignty across Scandinavia for mutual benefit over and above the EU. It’s inconceivable that an independent Scotland would seek to replicate the Free State. Some separate state institutions there must be but many others could continue to operate on a pan-British basis.

Representation and value for money would need to be available but it would be a better use of state resources than simply putting a tartan label on some.

Ironically, the endeavours of Brexiteers to provide a solution to the border in Ireland offer a template for future relations between Scotland and England.

Let the nations go their own way with the EU but allow free movement of citizens, the absence of a hard border and continued shared institutions.