As Scotland Goes, So Goes the European Union
Beginning in 1987 when Estonia demanded autonomy, until 1991 when the whole empire had disintegrated into 15 states, the secession movements across the Soviet Union proved to be rather contagious. And that's how it often goes in large multi-ethnic empires. Especially when one of their member states decides to leave, and they are not met with brutal reprisals from the regime, as appears to be the case with Scotland.
Contrast 1991 with 1956, when the people of Hungary attempted to overthrow their Soviet government, they were met with 30,000 troops and over a thousand tanks who quickly dispatched the rebellion, and pummeled it into a bloody heap. By the end of the 20th century though, the Soviet regime was in such a wretched financial state, and the calls for autonomy so loud and unanimous, that there was no choice but to give in. Once the nation of Lithuania successfully left the union in 1990 it opened a floodgate of separatism that would not be stopped.
That's really all it takes. One member finds the courage to slip out the hole in the prison fence. When everyone else see's that he hasn't been shot, everyone else follows. What makes the situation in Scotland so interesting though, is that they fully intend to stick with the European Union if they succeed in breaking away from the UK. However, Scotland isn't the only secession movement in Europe. It seems like nearly every EU country has at least one burgeoning separatist movement, and it's doubtful they would let Scotland join them.
They want to punish Scotland. They want them to feel the economic sting of a cold shoulder. They want to make an example of Scotland, and show the rest of these movements what will happen if they leave:
"Other countries will look very closely at how European institutions and member states would manage it. In Spain, Prime Minister Rajoy and the Constitutional Court have both ruled out a similar referendum for Catalonia. But a ‘yes’ in Scotland would make for a much noisier situation in Spain. After a ‘yes’ vote, Scotland would effectively become the pioneer, carving a path forward that Catalonia would try and follow."
In addition to Catalonia, the Basque region of Spain also is home to a budding legion of separatists who want to vote for independence. Other, less mature independence movements that could grow include the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium, as well as Venice and other areas in northern Italy.
A "yes" vote in Scotland would likely lead to a tenuous, uncertain situation as it tries to regain membership into the European Union by the time it would become fully independent in March 2016. To get back into the EU would require a unanimous vote by current members, which may be impossible as countries like Spain and Belgium would want to use the situation as a deterrent to separatist movements in their own countries.However, this will probably backfire for the European Union. While the desire for internal secession has been more popular than the desire to leave the EU, that could quickly change if Scotland is pushed into a corner. What happens if Scotland, completely independent from the UK, and the EU, ends up being a very successful nation? Most small nations are in fact, far wealthier and happier than their larger counterparts. If Scotland's gambit is successful, it will not only encourage more secession movements from countries like France, Spain, and Italy, it will fuel the nationalist movements that want to leave the EU as well. They may prove once and for all, that nations outside of the EU are far better off without their bureaucratic overlords.
And in an very interesting twist, Scotland's secession from the UK, may in fact fuel the UK's secession from the EU:
All of those questions would have to be sorted out. But the biggest effect of Scottish independence, Bremmer said, could be the ultimate change of Britain's political landscape. Currently, 40 of Scotland's 59 members parliament come from the Labour party compared to just one from the conservative-leaning Tories.
As Bremmer explained, Scottish independence would "tilt the entire U.K. political spectrum to the right." That would boost the odds of a conservative majority winning in 2015.
Ultimately, he said, it could be a "game-changer" for the chances of a referendum on an "in-or-out" referendum on the U.K.'s place in the E.U. Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a referendum in 2017 if the conservative party wins an outright majority next year.
"If Scotland votes ‘yes,’ down the road would come the ultimate irony," Bremmer said. "The U.K. would be more likely to pull out of the E.U., while Scotland clamors to get in."If Scotland leaves, then they won't be allowed into the EU. Meanwhile, what's left of the UK will become more conservative, and they will likely leave the EU as well. If both cases end up being far more successful without the EU, then separatist movements across Europe will be emboldened and legitimized. “If they can do it, so can we!” the people will say in a dozen different languages.
While the collapse of megastates and multi-ethnic empires are often quite similar throughout history, this one may go down as one of the stranger cases. This would be like Manhattan trying to form a separate state from New York, while inadvertently causing the United States to break apart.
In addition, the UK is one of largest economies in Europe and the only counterbalance to Germany. Without Britain, Germany would have the largest say in a union of countries that largely despises them. Germany doesn't think much of their neighbors either, since they've been the ones footing the largest bill for the EU. I wonder how long that relationship will last? I suspect it will fall apart in piecemeal at first, then rapidly if German decides they don't want to carry Europe's baggage anymore.
And so the European Union will go, one tiny nation at a time. The world will see once again what has happened a thousand time before to massive bureaucratic empires. As for the rest of the 21st century, stay tuned for China, India, Brazil, the rest of Russia, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
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