Scottish independence and the views of a fellow European


  By Wim van Velzen

Let me introduce myself first – I am Wim van Velzen, born, raised and living in the Netherlands.

Since my first visit of Scotland in 1990 I have been in love with your country.  In so many ways different from the flat, densely populated country I live in.  And yet – as I discovered reading more and more into its history, culture and politics – in so many ways quite related.

Because of this interest I have been following the British, Scottish and Dutch media coverage on the debate on Independence for Scotland.  In this article I want to share some observations from the Dutch media coverage, and even offer some advice, knowing you will feel free to do with it whatever you want!

Making use of the European crisis?
Scotland is well known in Western Europe for its fine scenery, excellent whisky and many traditions (whether myth or real).

Apart from tourism though, not much is covered in the media from what happens in Scotland. Nevertheless, last week the signing of the referendum deal by Cameron and Salmond got some attention.

As it came in the same week as the local elections in Belgium and the turmoil over Catalunya, the stories were presented (at least by some commentators) as a ‘separatist’ trend in Europe.  This is mainly welcomed by Euro-sceptics and feared by those who feel for more European cooperation.

The quality paper I read, Trouw, ran a blog by international security specialist Rob de Wijk, who claims that ´separatists use the wider unrest about Europe for their own narrow minded, nationalistic goals, led by the narcissism of their political leaders. 

A rather amusing detail was his idea that Scotland fits in the list of regions that no longer want to pay for the debt ridden poor parts of the present states they are part of.  Not really the standard Unionist version of the situation in your own media.

Fortunately, comments in the digital version of Trouw made clear that at least some readers know about the real situation of a more social-democratic SNP versus the London centred Unionists, with their fondness for America Neo-conservative style policies.

Or just an articulation of that crisis?
All this is not really surprising.  Europe is in huge economic and political turmoil.  Local issues in other countries are seen in that light, and not for what they actually are. 

Everything is framed within the ‘larger’ picture, where European leaders are to do their job, that is to take care for the European interests.  Nationalist movements are just muddying the water.

Not surprising, but rather wrong nevertheless.

The present crisis is mainly about trust and about democratic deficit. Banks and other (financial) businesses have caused huge problems and are beyond democratic control.  The European leaders are working on solutions for Greece and other problem ridden countries, but without much success yet and without much backing from the electorate.  The entire European project is in great uncertainty.

The independence movement in Scotland (and in other parts of Europe) is exactly about that: trust and democratic deficit.  Is the Scottish electorate truly represented?  Has the Scottish Government the powers it needs to deliver what is good for Scotland?  Can London be trusted to take care of the Scottish interests?

From my standpoint, the Scottish independence movement is not about taking the opportunity of a European crisis for the nationalists own egoistic petty purposes.  The movement I see is internationalist in outlook and is about the questions that are asked globally: what is democratic representation in economic and ecological crises?  What policies do justice to both local communities and the wider perspectives?

A message from the independence movement to Europe?
In all this lies another job for Yes Scotland and equivalent organisations.  To make clear for the international audience what the quest for Scottish independence is about.  This will be very important if Scotland is to be an independent member of the wider European community of nations.

What is Scottish independence about? As far as I can see these are the most important points, that can be explained to audiences that don’t have all the inside knowledge the Scottish people have.

It should be clear for everyone that it is about governance, more than government.

The problem is not that the British government has different policies than the Scottish government but that the present constitution doesn’t do justice to the distinct nation that Scotland is.

So it is not about specific policies either. It is not just about free higher education or not.  It is about the different perspectives on education in Scotland and England, about the right and ability to have different policies on points where both nations diverge.

It should also be made clear that is about civic nationalism, forward looking and internationalist in outlook. Not romantic escapism in patriotic values of the past. It is about democracy and accountability versus the present centralist British state.  It certainly is not a general Scottish people vs. English people.

It is certainly not about oil, wealth or lack of solidarity.  It is about a people who know what they are worth and that the can stand on their own two feet.  Independence won’t be paradise, but Scotland can certainly look after its own.

Of course the first few years will be a bit uncertain, but being in the UK is not really offering a clear future either.  Better make your own mistakes and take your own opportunities.

Above all, be positive and confident about Scotland and the Scots.  It is a distinct nation from England, more and more so since world war two.  There is no need to prove why Westminster policies are bad.  It is just normal that a nation has its own values, its own style of government and its own policies and therefore should have autonomy on as many levels as is practical and the interdependent world we live in.

The advice above is not new.  The points I note are time and again mentioned by those who defend the quest for Scottish independence in the Scottish and British media.  It is just that it needs to be explained and told in Europe as well.

There is one clear advantage to be taken – Westminster is well known for its policy of going alone in Europe, for opting out and for having more neo-liberal policies than most European nations.  It should be relatively easy to explain why Scotland wants to have its own voice in Europe.

Whether that Europe is the present European Union or not, it should be clear though that Scotland wants to play its part in the cooperation of independent European nations.

As someone from another European country, and as a keen visitor to your country, I can only hope that Scotland will vote for this way forward!

Wim van Velzen (1973) studied Classics in Leiden and is now working at a Dutch institute for professional education.

Wim’s travelogue and images here