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A federal UK ? Not a cat's chance in hell

Politicians like Gordon Brown and the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser have been saying that if Scotland votes No in September we will get federalism in the UK, at the very moment Britain seems about to part company with Europe over federalism in the EU.

It is nonsense of course. There is not a cat in hell's chance of the UK introducing federalism here, as I have explained in previous columns.

There is no demand for federalism in England where 90% of the population reside. The UK is not going to go to the trouble and expense of setting up an English parliament, regional parliaments, a federal level of government and a senate to replace the House of Lords. The Unionist parties did not promise anything like this in their "more powers" prospectuses last month. If such a proposition were ever put to the UK Parliament the response would be a resounding: "No thanks."

England is far too preoccupied right now with its future in Europe to be concerned about a wholesale reconstruction of the British state along the lines of the USA. And anyway, can anyone seriously believe that the UK, which is so hostile to federalism in the European Union, is going to introduce it into the UK?

I've been spending quite a lot of time in England recently and I can confirm that this debate about federalism barely figures on the metropolitan radar. What does figure is a very widespread hostility to the European Union of a kind we very rarely hear in Scotland. This isn't got up by the press. Many ordinary English voters seriously believe that Europe is bossing them around, taking their cash, flooding them with immigrants and generally taking away their liberties. The strength of feeling is quite startling to those of us who have seen European integration as a broadly positive movement - an expression of internationalism.

The delinquent press did its bit for UK-EU relations last week by mounting a personal assault on the character of the proposed new president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. "A drunk who has cognac for breakfast," said the Mail. Even the Daily Telegraph - not a noted champion of teetotal politicians - splashed on Herr Juncker's drinking habits.

Oh, and did you know that he smokes? Shock horror. Mind you, I don't remember the Telegraph being bothered about Winston Churchill's heroic drinking or his fondness for large cigars. The Sun added the helpful information that the future president is the "son of a Nazi". So there you go. But there is worse. Juncker is - whisper it - a federalist.

As David Cameron made clear, what is most objectionable about the new EU president is that he has long supported greater European integration. Like his predecessor, Jacques Delors, he wants to see a European superstate. Well, he doesn't really, but we mustn't spoil the story.

Cameron's other objection, perversely, was that Juncker is the choice of the majority in the European Parliament - the centre-right European People's Party, who should be on Cameron's side. His problem with Europe, though, is that there is too much democracy breaking out. We can't have parliaments electing leaders - you don't know where it will end. Britain should be able to overrule the EU parliament and everyone else.

The other 27 states of the European Union have long tolerated what is affectionately known as "English exceptionalism" but they are no longer in a mood to smooth over the obvious fact that Britain is on its way out. The first sign was in 2011 when Cameron used his veto to try to block the banking union the EU was constructing to cope with the financial crisis. They ignored him and went ahead anyway.

This time they didn't even recognise Britain's right to use a veto under that obscure clause of the Treaty of Rome, which supposedly allows member states to block measures which are "against their national interest". Cameron then demanded a vote - and was massively defeated. Forget Bannockburn, this was a Brussels wipe-out.

But Cameron's spin doctors believe it will do him good in domestic politics because he has "stood firm and put Britain's interests first". He has done precisely the reverse. Britain is weaker than ever in Europe; isolation is no bargaining position. Crucial decisions are being taken on financial integration, US trade, relations with Ukraine. Don't expect Britain to have much of a say on them.

Tory backbenchers are jubilant because they think this brings British withdrawal from the EU ever closer and they are probably right - though they will not be able to stop Europe being Europe. This is the real Europe of 27 states, 500 million people - the biggest economic bloc on the planet, which is not going to turn back, abandon the euro and retreat into introverted nationalism.

The curious thing is that the real nationalists - the SNP - get the point that there is no future for separatism in modern Europe. Alex Salmond persuaded his party to dump that kind of national isolationism 25 years ago in favour of independence in Europe. That carries with it the recognition that no country can be truly independent any more in the age of European political and economic integration.

Unionists like the former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling often complain that the SNP aren't nationalist enough because they want to remain in a monetary union with the UK, leaving much economic decision-making outwith Scotland. But the SNP have been living with the reality of pooled sovereignty for decades. It's the UK that doesn't understand how the world has changed. The old self-sufficient nation state has become an anachronism.

And the kind of independence that the Conservative eurosceptics yearn for no longer exists. There is no British Empire to fall back on. No special relationship: America wants Britain to remain in the European Union, the destination for 50% of UK exports. Even if we left, we would still have to contribute to the Brussels budget to be part of the single market. Only we would have no influence over it.

Yet even Ed Miliband has promised a referendum if there are any further powers taken by Brussels, which of course there will be. The question is whether Scotland will remain in not-so-splendid isolation with rUK. Scottish voters are in the unenviable position of having to decide how best to negotiate this equation in September. Ed Balls says independence would lead to border posts, which it almost certainly wouldn't, ignoring the likely possibility of British withdrawal from the EU, which almost certainly would.

The presence of one Scottish Ukip MEP does not alter the fact that Scotland and England are on different paths. And federalism just doesn't come into it. The caring, sharing, pro-European UK has disappeared and now only exists in the speeches of Better Together. Scots may not be persuaded yet of independence in Europe, but continuing dependency in the UK is looking an increasingly unattractive prospect.

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