Now that I am back in Switzerland for our annual holiday, it is a good time to reflect on the possible links between Switzerland and Scotland. At least as far as the referendum on Scottish independence is concerned. For the continued existence of Switzerland must be a galling afront to the members of the Better Together campaign. These Unionist are forever asserting that Scotland needs to be part of a bigger country – the UK – in order to prosper. Yet never a word is mentioned about Switzerland and how it continues to survive and prosper as a small independent state.
Switzerland is like Scotland a relatively small country in both landmass and population. In fact Scotland is almost double the size of Switzerland in area – 78,000 square km to 41,000 square km. On the other hand Switzerland has a much larger population – almmost nine million to Scotland’s five million plus. Overall not much between the two countries. The current constitutional set-up in Switzerland only dates back to 1848. Even its formal origins only go as far back as 1291, when the three very small Alpine cantons came together in a defensive league. By then Scotland had existed as a successful kingdom for some 400 years. Yet Switzerland is undoubtedly very rich and successful. It is also on the whole a country admired throughout for its contributions to peace and harmony in the world. How does Switzerland manage all this, all on its own?
Switzerland does not appear to have much in the way of natural resources, certainly nothing like the oil and gas from the North Sea. Its main strength seems to have been its location – as a transit zone for trade between Italy and Germany. It has since become famous for various industries – watches, chemicals in particular – and of course banking and tourism. In addition many international organizations have their headquarters in Switzerland. The Red Cross, FIFA and UEFA are just a few examples. Even the UN has a substantial presence in the country.
Perhaps its status as a small independent state is a key reason why Switzerland is so attractive to international bodies and to international companies? Perhaps Unionists might like to reflect on this before lecturing us all with yet more Better Together assertions.
But the biggest challenge to all Unionists is why Switzerland exists at all? After all the country is made up of three major language groups – Germans, French and Italians. Why on earth do these three groups not know that they would each be much better off by joining Germany, France and Italy respectively? Surely it is obvious that with the support of three of the biggest and most powerful countries in Europe, the various Swiss peoples would feel much more secure and prosperous? Alas for our Unionist friends this is all too obviously not the case.
In fact the exact opposite may be the reason for Switzerland’s continuing success. As a small independent state, its citizens are able to decide for themselves what is in their best interest and not have that decided for them in Berlin or Paris or Rome. And each language group can still participate in the relevant social and cultural unions that continue to bind them with German, French and Italian speakers everywhere. So in reality, it is the Swiss who get the best of both possible worlds. They have their political and economic independence and get to share in the wider social and cultural world of their fellow language speakers.
Sounds like a very good deal to me. Independence offers all Scots similar benefits as the Swiss enjoy – the right to decide for ouselves what is in our best interest and at the same time to continue with our social and cultural links with people in the rest of the UK and indeed in the wider English speaking world. Independence = Better For All.