I have always found it surprising that the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, never mentions other small or relatively small countries in Europe. Well they do sometimes, but usually only to disparage or insult them. Overwhelmingly the message from the No campaign is that the benefits of being part of a larger and more powerful state are only needed by Scotland. Better Together is quite a powerful call, but if it is to have any meaning other than a PR slogan, it should be applicable to at least some other countries. Otherwise it is devoid of any real meaning and is simply a cover for the assertion that Scotland is too wee, too poor to be independent. The problem for the Unionists is that there are numerous countries in Europe that are much smaller than Scotland, both in terms of size and population – think of Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, Estonia to name but a few. All independent and all now part of the EU as full member states. Tiny Luxembourg was even one of the original six founding members of the EU. So smallness is no barrier to independence nor to success. In fairness to the Better Together campaign they do not claim that Scotland could not survive as a separate country. Their claim is that there is a better choice for Scotland – namely to be part of the UK. But this better choice must logically be a better choice for other small countries.
Let us take Austria as our example. While Austria is a little bigger than Scotland, it is not by much. The landmass of Austria is 83,855 square km and that of Scotland is 78,387 square km. The population of Austria is 8.5 million, while Scotland has a population of 5.3 million. So we have two relatively small countries, one lying to the north of a much larger country with which it has much in common and one lying to the south of a much larger country with which it too has much in common. So, surely Austria, just like Scotland would be better together with Germany. Why not? After all the two countries have a lot of shared history and customs and a common language – German. Both countries are Federal Republics, so it would be easy peasy for the two to come together. Germany already has experience of this, when the former DDR became part of the Federal Republic in the 1990s. We can take the key arguments from the Better Together campaign in relation to Scotland and see if they apply to Austria and Germany. The following text in italics is taken directly from the Better Together website, with the substitution of Austria for Scotland and Germany for the UK. In this context Germany would refer to a combined Germany and Austria. My comments follow in parenthesis.
Prosperity – Times are really tough at home and really turbulent internationally. In the future Austria’s prosperity will be strengthened by keeping the German connection. In these tough and turbulent times, the size, strength and stability of the German economy is a huge advantage for Austria’s businesses. Austria’s largest market is Germany. Austrian businesses are increasingly having to win orders against smart, efficient and productive firms in foreign markets. These competitive challenges will only get tougher in the years ahead. Germany is better placed than a separate Austria to help our businesses find and win new orders across the world. (Hard to disagree with any of this, after all Germany on its own is much, much bigger, stronger and more stable than the UK’s economy. Becoming part of Germany has to better for Austria.)
Security – In an uncertain world Austria’s security will be strengthened as part of Federal Germany. The German Armed Forces that protect us are the best in the world. As part of Germany we have real clout in the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, and we have Embassies around the world. (We are happy to concede that the German Armed Forces may not be the best in the world – the UK can keep that accolade. The German Armed Forces though are likely to be pretty powerful and reliable. Equally Germany does not have a permanent seat in the Security Council. However I am sure Germany has more than enough Embassies around the world and has without a doubt much more clout within the EU than the UK does, or even aspires to. So, all in all, a good choice for Austria to benefit from all these German strengths.)
Interdependence – As Austrians we believe there’s nowhere better, but we understand there’s something bigger. By contributing to and benefiting from the multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Federal Republic of Germany of the years ahead, Austria’s society and culture will be enriched. Hundreds of thousands of Austrians and Germans have made their homes in each other’s nation. Half of us have German neighbours. Hundreds of thousands of Austrians were born in Germany. This interdependence – the coming together of family, friends, ideas, institutions and identities – is a strength not a weakness, and is an ideal worth celebrating. The truth is we’re better together. (While many Austrians and Germans will have made their homes in each other’s nation, it is unlikely to be as many as in the UK. However I am not sure that there is meant to be some threshold here. Even if only a few thousands have exchanged homes, surely that is still a good thing. And it is hard to argue that Austria’s society and culture would not be enriched by being part of something bigger.)
All in all is hard to argue against this scenario and the overall claim that, A strong Austrian Parliament within the Federal Republic of Germany gives us the best of both world: real decision making power here in Austria, as well as a key role in a strong an secure Germany.
So why does no-one, absolutely no-one either here in the Better Together campaign, nor in Austria, nor in Germany make this claim? It sounds good after all. But, other than in the minds of Unionists in Scotland it is an argument which is simply risible in the rest of the world. I am quite sure that Austrians are well aware that there is something bigger than their beloved Austria. It is almost certainly the EU. Why would Austrians only want to come together with friends and family from Germany or any other one country? Many Austrians will have family, friends and working colleagues from many countries – Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, to name but a few. Why on earth would they want to limit themselves to links with Germany?
Exactly the same of course applies here in Scotland. Most of us are happy to celebrate the coming together in Scotland of people from all over the world – Poland, Italy, India, Pakistan, Republic of Ireland and England. Just why oh why do the Better Together people want us to elevate the English above the others? For when it comes down to it, the Better Together campaign is just a rather parochial British nationalism. Or, given the latest claims by the UK government, should that be Greater English nationalism?
This post was originally published on my previous blog. As the subject is still topical, I thought I would make it my first full post on this new blog.