By Alex Robertson
I spent last week in Belgium, revisiting a place where I spent a long period of my life, married and raised a family.
I returned with friends and family and one day of the visit was spent ‘doing’ Waterloo and Ypres, scenes of dreadful carnage spanning a hundred years of European history, the most recent being the First World War, the main legacy of which was the Second World War.
I visited Tyne Cot Cemetery again to show my companions, always an impressive but stunning experience. As you walk from the car park to the visitor centre, loudspeakers set beside the pathway carry a quiet voice reading a constant slow stream of those almost 12000 British and Empire soldiers killed there, just names and ages, one dreadful one being just 14 years old.
Horrifying to try to imagine the feelings of these men as they went into what became known as the Battle of Passiondale. In Ypres itself, the Menin Gate is a towering edifice whose every face is covered by the names of almost 55,000 men who were blown to smithereens or vaporized and who have no grave.
Sombre places both, and I left feeling a deep anger at the price ordinary people had to pay for the work of feckless politicians and governments throughout the entire twentieth century. And the legacy lives with us still. The border and state-making of Versailles and Potsdam cost many lives and caused untold misery and suffering right up to the present day.
Anyone doubting that need only look at the Balkans, and even the Greece of today struggling to survive as a state within Europe. And anyone with eyes to read and ears to hear is aware that Europe is undergoing massive and fundamental change now, in our time.
Theoni Papasimacopoulou in an excellent piece here recently showed the links between Greece and Scotland, both within the European Union, and it set my mind racing on the subject of these changes. Lord knows there is a huge need for reform, and has been for a very long time.
It is very germane to the question of the future of an independent Scotland, although I doubt if a great many Scots would see it that way at first glance. Yet just ask yourself how willing you are to allow the present bunch of politicians in Westminster to safeguard Scottish interests and promote Scottish interests first and foremost at the conference tables and summits we are witnessing to thrash out a new Eurozone, for example, which will necessarily entail much closer fiscal and banking integration and control.
The changes set in motion early on Friday morning are profound and yet just a sample of what is coming down the track. The survival of the European Union itself is under scrutiny and by no means assured.
And that last point lies on the straight line joining Waterloo and Ypres and extending to our own day. The EU was forged as a result of the sheer horror felt by Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet, two Frenchmen who had lived through two wars between their country and Germany. The European Coal and Steel Community was brought into existence to so link and tie together the industry and commerce of the two countries such that war in the future would be unthinkable.
And from that beginning grew the European Union of today. But at its heart lies the same simple core: to so tie the nations and states of Europe together that war was inconceivable. And it has worked. And it is utterly vital and essential that it not be allowed to collapse or crumble.
Does Scotland really want to be represented by the shortsighted Europhobic and warmongering Westminster cabal, as feckless as any of the governments who wholly failed ordinary people in the last century?
There are certainly several basic flaws in the EU as it exists today. Not least is the fatal lack of democracy, with appointed Presidents and ministers. The need for reform is pressing and Scotland’s interests are closely tied up in whatever is done from now here on in.
Our commerce, our markets, our legal framework and much, much more affect Scotland and Scots intimately. And nobody can represent the interests of Scots better than other Scots. Waterloo and Ypres are screaming reminders that we cannot ignore Europe.
And European eyes are on us. Just as reform of Europe is being driven by the case of Greece and the domino affected states in the firing line, so places like Flanders, Catalonia, Bavaria, to name just three, are watching Scotland’s bid to be an independent country with the power to decide its own future.
Europe is undergoing huge changes, and one of them will be the emergence of small nation-states. Scotland has a huge opportunity to play a leading and seminal role. But first we have to finish the job and prove it is possible for small nations to win their independent homelands peacefully and democratically.
Europe needs Scotland just as much as Scotland needs Europe though neither side seems to recognise it.