Category Archives: Europe

Why did Swiss vote to restrict immigration?

In Sunday’s referendum voters in Switzerland narrowly voted, 50.3%, in favour of imposing strict quotas for immigration from EU countries. It is not easy to make a great deal of sense about this vote. Previous attempts to restrict immigration, going back to 1968, have all failed. In particular the Swiss have voted four times since 2000 in favour of the free movement of people from the EU. So why the difference this time around? Though the referendum was sponsored by the right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) the support for the proposal does not seem to fit into the usual right wing, anti-foreigner campaigns to be found elsewhere. To try and understand the vote, here is a bit of context.

Switzerland is and probably always has been a country with a high proportion of migrants. Even before the First World War the percentage of immigrants was around 15%. Today is stands at around 23%, defined as those who do not have a Swiss passport. This compares to the EU average of 10%. However even this apparently high figure may not tell the whole story. Some 35% of Swiss come from a migrant background and given the difficulties and cost of acquiring Swiss citizenship many people born in Switzerland to migrant parents never take out Swiss citizenship. I know this from personal experience. My son-in-law was born in Switzerland to Italian born parents, but he only acquired Swiss citizenship a few years ago, after the birth of his son. This son, my grandson has both an Italian and UK passport, but as yet, no Swiss passport. I am not sure where either of them now appear in the statistics, but it illustrates how difficult it can be to determine just how many foreigners are living in Switzerland. Almost certainly less than 23%.

As regards the opposition to further immigration it is unlikely to have been based on the fear of unemployment and the threat of losing jobs. Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world. Currently it stands at 3.5%. If anything Switzerland still needs immigrants to power its industries and tourism. It is also noticeable that, with the exception of Ticino, the Kantons with the lowest rate of unemployment, less than 2%, were the ones most in favour of quotas. On the other hand, the Kantons with the highest rate of unemployment, over 5%, voted against the proposal.

Though there has been a steady increase in immigration over the last decades, this has not translated into the kind of social and economic breakdown and violence that has from time to time disfigured countries such as the UK, France, the Netherlands for example. By and large the Swiss have managed to accommodate this large scale immigration quite remarkably well. Another curious aspect of the referendum vote is that, again with the exception of Ticino, on the whole Kantons with above average levels of immigration, Zürich, Geneva etc voted against restrictions. While Kantons such as Uri, Obwalden, Aargau etc with below average levels of immigration, all voted strongly in favour of quotas. An illustration of this voting pattern can be found here.

So what did cause the vote in favour of quotas for migrants from EU countries? One clue may come from the countries of origin of most immigrants. Two countries stand out as sources of immigrants – Italy and Germany. As noted above, the highest votes in favour of restrictions was found in Ticino, the one Italian speaking Kanton in Switzerland. While many Italians will have migrated to other parts of Switzerland, a significant number will have settled in Ticino, just across the border. Add in that Ticino has an above average level of unemployment and we may be discovering one of the factors in the vote. It is also worth noting that Ticino has always voted in favour of restricting immigration. The other fact to note is that apart from Zürich, Zug and Basel Stadt, all German speaking Kantons voted in favour of quotas. The reason for this may be similar to Ticino. The overwhelming majority of immigrants from Germany will have settled in German speaking Kantons. It is also a fact that in recent years the largest influx of migrants have come from Germany. This is a relatively recent, post 2000 experience for Switzerland and one that a lot of German speaking Swiss do not like. German language newspapers have regular articles on this issue. It has not gone unnoticed in Germany. The German online magazine Die Zeit entitled one of their reports on the referendum vote thus: Fuck you, Deutschland. It is a fascinating read which you can find here.

That headline perhaps best sums up the referendum result, though it should be matched by a smaller one reading Fuck you, Italy. Despite the best efforts of the anti EU brigade this was not in essence a vote about the EU. The result was massively influenced by anti German and anti Italian feeling. But, and this is the most fascinating aspect of the vote, the most anti German were Swiss Germans and the most anti Italian were Swiss Italians. For one reason or another a majority of Swiss Germans and Swiss Italians feel more threatened by their fellow language speakers than by other immigrants. This aspect of the result deserves a post on its own, but alas it will have to be by someone with more knowledge of this subject than I.

A few words about what will happen next. The short answer is nothing, as it seems there is a three year period before any changes to the current regulations need to be enacted. What these might be are completely unknown. Even the SVP had no answers to questions about how these quotas might be constructed. Will there be separate quotas for different sectors of the economy? for different regions of the country? Who will determine how high to set the quota? And most important of all, how can any quota system be compatible with the various Bilateral Agreements with the EU? By substantial majorities Swiss voters have approved these Bilateral Agreements, which enable Switzerland to participate in the Single Market. This includes the Free Movement of People. It is almost inconceivable that Switzerland can have one without the other. Perhaps someone should have pointed this out first. In any case I would not be surprised if a new Bilateral Agreement between Switzerland and the EU was to be negotiated, one which again included the Free Movement of People. This will then be put to the voters in another referendum in say two years time. It will be very interesting to see if those who voted to restrict immigration would do so again if it meant leaving the Single Market.

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World War 1 – A Tragedy, not a Crime?

Gavrilo Princip AssassinationThis phrase, without the question mark, is used in the concluding chapter to Christopher Clark’s illuminating book, The Sleepwalkers – How Europe went to War in 1914. In this carefully argued book, Clark is at pains to counter the notion of a guilty party. And it does seem to be true that none of the belligerents planned for the actual war that began in August 1914. On the other hand as Clark makes clear all the major powers were to a greater or lesser degree prepared and willing to go to war, if not in 1914, then sometime soon. Though all the main countries involved in the war were in extremis prepared for war, it seems to me from reading Clark’s book, that some were more willing than others.

In the case of France and Serbia there is much evidence that both countries were not just willing to go to war in the years from 1913 onwards, but that both countries needed a general war in order to achieve their own national objectives. This is clearly the case of Serbia, the instigator of the assassination that proved to be the catalyst for the war. The aims of just about all Serbians, especially the elite, both political and military, was to create a greater Serbia. Their notion of what constituted this enlarged Serbia included all the places where Serbs used to live and all the places where Serbs currently lived. To further complicate matters the Serbian elites regarded Croatians, Bosnians and Macedonians as Serbs, who just weren’t aware of it yet. Serbian policy was to achieve the union of all these lands within a greater Serbia. This aim could only be achieved by war, as most of this notional greater Serbia was currently part of other states, most noticeably the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hence the deep antagonism of most Serbs towards the Hapsburg Empire. On its own Serbia was most unlikely to defeat the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a war. A local war was of no use to Serbia, as it could not win it. Only with the destruction of the Hapsburg Empire could Serbia hope to achieve its aim of a greater Serbia. This in turn could only happen in the context of a general European war. Russian support for Serbia in a war with Austria-Hungary would of course trigger off the intervention of Germany, which in turn would trigger off the intervention of France. Thus it would seem that in 1914 Serbia needed a general European war and at the very least would do nothing to prevent one from starting.

Something similar could be said for France in the years preceding the war. The main aim of French policy was to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, lost to Germany in 1870. Much like Serbia, France could not on its own militarily defeat Germany. Hence the need to develop the military alliance with Russia. However the Russians were unlikely to go to war with Germany just to help France recover Alsace and Lorraine. Only in the context of a wider war would Russia participate on the side of France. As Russia did not have major issues with Germany, this wider war would have to start elsewhere. Which takes us back to Serbia and the Balkans. Russia’s main opponent in the Balkans was Austria-Hungary, and Russia’s main ally in the region was Serbia. The French had for some time realized that a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary would provide the trigger for involving Russia and thus in turn involving Germany as outlined above. Thus the French too had reasons for wanting a general European war as the most likely way to win back their lost provinces.

Russia too had its own reasons for wanting a general European war. These were twofold and both related to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The first was to secure and if possible increase Russia’s control and influence in the Balkans, which of course brought her into direct conflict with Austria-Hungary. The other and probably deeper reason was the age old Russian ambition to control Istanbul and the Straits. In this ambition Russia was opposed by just about everyone, not just Austria-Hungary. The Ottomans themselves were none too keen and were desperate to modernize their military forces on land and at sea to secure their capital. So the Russian leadership came to the conclusion that they could only secure control of Istanbul as part of the upheavals that come with a European war, when the British and others would be unable to prevent a Russian attack. There was also the factor that if the Russians did not act sooner rather than later, the Ottomans may have improved their military sufficiently to ward off any Russian attack.

Austria-Hungary was in as the saying goes, between a rock and a hard place. Internally it was beset by all kinds of problems due to the unique nature of the regime and the large number of nationalities living within its boundaries. Many of these nationalities had brethren in neighbouring states and the Empire was always at the risk of irredentist campaigns. The rapid decline of Ottoman power in the Balkans only exacerbated this trend, as Serbia in particular became a larger and more powerful state, with ill-concealed ambitions on Hapsburg land. Austria-Hungary was in no position to seek to extend its territory, it had more than enough problems as it was. But how to thwart the aggressive intent of the Serbs in particular. This was the question which most pre-occupied Hapsburg leaders. Most were strongly opposed to war, but the recent rise in Serbian power and the strengthening of Russian support for Serbia made this line more difficult to hold. The assassination of the heir apparent changed this completely. A local war against Serbia quickly became regarded as the only option to maintain the integrity of the Empire. But could a war against Serbia remain a local war? Given the strength of Russian and French support for Serbia this was most unlikely. Yet the Hapsburg leadership felt they had no alternative. If the Empire was to survive then it would probably involve sooner or later, a war with Russia.

This feeling that if there was to be a war then it was as well to fight it now, seems to have been the main thrust of leadership opinion in both Germany and Britain. Neither country had a direct interest in the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. However both were bound by treaties to come to the aid of others if war did spread beyond these two states. This was particularly the case for Germany, which pretty much had no option but to come to the aid of the Hapsburg Empire if it was attacked by Russia. There is no evidence that the Germans were actively seeking a wider war in 1914, rather the opposite. However they did very little to “lean” on Austria-Hungary and try and find a peaceful settlement with Serbia. Then again no-one was “leaning” on Serbia to try and get the Serbian leadership to co-operate with Austria-Hungary. Indeed the opposite is the case. If the Russians were determined to go to war against Austria-Hungary, then Germany would accept the challenge. But they did not seek it. In which case it is hard to see why Germany should continue to be singled out as the guilty party for the war which followed.

Something similar seems to have been the case with Britain. Largely on the outside of developments during July, the British had no particular wish for a general European war, but were like Germany tightly bound by alliances with Russia and more closely with France. Much like Germany, Britain did little to try and prevent a war in 1914. Rather it let it happen and then willingly participated int the war.

Not a happy tale, with no country covering itself in glory. All contributed to one degree or another to the war, but it seems to me that Serbia, France and Russia were the countries that acted in ways that made the war more rather than less likely.

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Catalunya – the Battle for a Referendum

This is a brief introduction to the political situation in Catalunya, in particular with respect to the campaign for independence. It is a slightly longer version of an article that I wrote for Radical Independence Dundee. Catalunya is in some ways a bit behind Scotland in that there is as yet no agreement with Madrid on the holding of a referendum and thus no question. However polls consistently show a large majority in favour of holding a referendum.
For Independence
Surprisingly there has historically only been one party that has campaigned openly for independence. This is the Left Republicans – ERC – one of the historic parties in Catalunya. After a brief flirt with the right in the early post Franco era, ERC has rediscovered its leftist and republican roots. It has also for many years led the call for independence in the Catalan parliament. Its electoral support fluctuates between 8 – 14% of the vote. Recently they have been joined in parliament by another pro-independence party. The Popular Unity Candidacy – CUP – is made up of autonomous local groups based in municipalities. This new community based party comes from the radical alternative left and won 3% of the votes at the last election.

Maybees Aye and Maybees No
This is pretty much the position of two other left wing parties which campaign together at elections. ICV-EUiA represent two different political traditions, marxist and green. Initiative for Catalunya Greens – ICV is a merger between what remained of the once powerful Catalan Communist party and the Greens. Some of its members split to form their own little party, one that was formally linked to the Spanish wide United Left party – IU. In Catalunya they are known as the United and Alternative Left – EUiA. Despite the schism they work with ICV as a combined list for elections and win between 7-10% of the vote. They are very strongly in favour of a referendum and the right of self-determination. They are though split around how to vote. Some favour independence, while others want a New Federalism for the whole of Spain. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much of an appetite for any kind of federalism in the rest of Spain.

The Nationalists
In Catalunya as in the rest of Spain, Nationalists have not been historically in favour of independence. They don’t really want federalism either, they want a special status for the country within Spain. In Catalunya there are two Nationalist parties, a small Christian Democrat party – UDC, and a larger Liberal party – CDC, which work as one at elections as Convergència i Uniò – CiU. They have been the dominant force in electoral terms post Franco, winning between 31-47% of the votes. They represent the catalan speaking middle classes and have close links with the business sector. Initially their main aim was to protect and promote the catalan language, but now they want greater fiscal powers. CiU have recently moved even further to the right and are following with gusto the dominant neo-liberal austerity agenda. But then so is just about every other party, including some so-called left parties.

No, No and No
As in Scotland there are three parties campaigning against independence. The main one is the Spanish conservative party, the grandly named Popular Party – PP. Even more right wing than CiU, they are totally against not just independence, but against just about everything to do with Catalunya. No referendum, no new powers. Though popular in most of Spain the PP have never achieved much electoral success in Catalunya, and win between 10-13% of the votes. They are however ably supported by a relatively new formation, Citizens – Party of the Citizenry – C’s. Just about their sole purpose is to oppose independence and the promotion of the catalan language. They have jumped from 3% to winning 8% of the votes at the last election. The third party in the No camp is the party of the Catalan socialists – PSC. They are also part of the Spanish wide party – PSOE. PSC are in a difficult place just now. They are in favour of more powers for Catalunya, but when last in office, a few years ago, they failed to achieve much in this respect. Despite the fact that there was a socialist government in Madrid at the time. They support the referendum and talk vaguely about federalism, but offer nothing specific. Their big problem is that some of their members and more of their voters are in favour of independence. Their fellow socialists in the rest of Spain are as hostile to the referendum and to Catalan independence as the right wing PP. They even use the same pejorative and negative language.

Recent Developments
The above is a rough outline of the political parties represented in parliament. However most of the progress towards the holding of a referendum and towards independence has come from grass roots, community based groups up and down Catalunya. Only the CUP has actively participated in these movements. It was these groups which from 2006 onwards organised a series of mass participation campaigns which has propelled independence into the forefront of the political debate. These included unofficial municipal referendums, mass rallies and this year’s Catalan Way. The most spectacular of these campaigns was the one in September 2012 which brought out more than a million people under the slogan – Catalunya, new state in Europe. This was a game changing event. The ruling CiU coalition decided, after the event, to support their demand for a referendum. The Liberal part of the coalition has now come out in support of independence. The first time a Nationalist party in Spain has declared for independence. Their junior party, the Christian Democrats have so far remained behind, and now talk vaguely about some kind of third way. As mentioned above this massive grass roots campaign is causing grave problems for the Catalan socialists.

The main struggle at the moment is to secure a legal basis for holding the referendum. The Madrid government is adamant that such a referendum is unconstitutional and will do everything in their power to prevent it happening. The Catalan government of CiU with the support of ERC are threatening to hold a referendum anyway. They claim they have the right to self-determination. Underpinning all this is the grave economic and financial crisis which is causing enormous suffering to millions not just in Catalunya, but in the whole of Spain. Both the conservatives and the socialists share the blame for this appalling state of affairs. For many on the left in Catalunya the economic mismanagement and the negativity on constitutional change of both Spanish parties raises some real challenges. In essence, can any Spanish government be trusted to bring about real progressive social and economic change? No one knows how this will develop in Catalunya, but the two largest political groups could be on the verge of a massive split into pro and anti-independence sections.

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Initial Reflections on First World War

PAIU1989_140_01_1Next year will see the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The UK and Scottish governments have already announced that plans are afoot to commemorate this tragic event. Though the specific events are nearly a year away, it seems appropriate to make a start now on reflecting on the war and in particular its causes and what we can learn from that terrible struggle.

My first thought is that there was nothing good about the First World War. It was a terrible, brutal and bloody conflict, which brought great suffering and destruction to all sides. There is nothing to celebrate about this war, except its end, which we can do in 2018. There will be no cause for celebrations in 2014.

My second thought is that the war was primarily caused by Empires. Though one small state, Serbia, was involved in the casus belli, the impetus for war came from the Imperial powers of the day. They were fearful of each other and were if anything, even more fearful of the threat from within. The growing demand from subject peoples for greater self government was a constant threat to the survival of Empires. They, the great imperial powers of Europe – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and the British and Ottoman Empires – were all willing to go to war to preserve their empires. War was seen as an acceptable, indeed noble, way to maintain power and influence.

This leads on to my third point of reflection. Not only was the war caused by these Empires, the war was primarily fought by these same Empires. Many smaller countries in Europe and subject peoples in other parts of the world were drawn into this war, but it remained a bloody struggle for supremacy amongst Empires.

My fourth point is that all of the main participants lost to a greater or lesser extent. Though the Franco-British alliance, with the indispensable assistance of the USA, eventually won on the battlefield, they were so weakened as to make this a most bitter victory. Within 50 years even the French and British Empires would cease to exist in the same way as the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires, which all collapsed in 1918. The only long term victor was perhaps the USA, not something any of the European powers anticipated nor wanted.

The fifth point that strikes me is that the war resolved nothing. Some Empires disappeared for good, others lost but survived in a truncated form, while some got bigger, but only for a short period. But the fundamental issues around imperial rivalry and self-government were not in any sense resolved and the world, particularly the rest of the world, remained much the same. It was the Second World War which finally resolved many of the key issues, by bringing about a new balance of power in Europe and most of the rest of the world.

My sixth point of reflection is that though many of the underlying issues remained, the war did bring about enormous change. In particular the post war map of Europe looked very different. Many new independent countries emerged from the war. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were all recognized as independent countries. The uncertain and difficult future which awaited all these countries was to illustrate just how little the war had resolved many of the underlying conflicts, in particular the right to self-determination.

Even the UK was not untouched by the creation of new countries. Though little is said about it now, it was during the First World War that the seeds for the first break-up of the UK were sown. The bloody uprising of Easter 1916 was to be the precursor for the formation of what is now the independent Republic of Ireland. Shortly after the end of that war the UK itself had become a truncated state.

A seventh point would be that most of the continuing problems in the Middle East can be traced directly back to the insistence by the British and the French to deny the peoples liberated from Ottoman rule the right of self-determination. In particular the Israel/Palestine conflict has only developed because the British were powerful enough to impose their rule over most of the Arab world. With this came the commitment to create a Jewish state in Palestine, against the wishes of the Palestinian inhabitants.

My final point for reflection is that the mess that was the First World War and the legacy it left behind is a direct product of the Victorian and Edwardian ages that our elites seem so keen to extoll. We badly need a serious re-evaluation of that period and how its inequalities and iniquities helped create the conditions for the First World War.

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What’s the Big Deal with Borders?

page4_1A few days ago George Osborne made one of his infrequent ventures north of the border to lecture us Scots on how damaging independence will be for us. The main subject this time was borders, or to be precise, the result of creating an international boundary between Scotland and England. The headline finding is that the average household will be £2,000 worse off in an independent Scotland than it would be if trade, capital and labour flows continued in the United Kingdom as it is. Now this is a pretty ludicrous and meaningless figure. Nowhere does Mr Osborne provide any evidence as to why trade, capital and labour flows would significantly change just because Scotland became independent. The attempts at international comparisons are far removed from the reality of Scottish – English trade. The experiences of Canada and the USA; Austria and Germany and the Czech Republic and Slovakia bear so little relation to the current situation in Scotland as to make them irrelevant. Even BBC Scotland’s Business and economy editor, Douglas Fraser, felt compelled to write that: “In short, there are assumptions built into this economic modelling by the Treasury which require a dose of freely traded salt.”

It is not at all clear why George Osborne and his Unionist colleagues and cheer leaders in the media have this obsession with borders. Other that is, than to issue yet more unsubstantiated scare stories. All countries have borders and yet international trade, capital and blabour flows have increased substantially since the end of the Second World War. In Europe in particular there has been a steady growth in international trade etc. Even though there are now more borders than before. So borders cannot simply be written off as all bad.

The most interesting case is probably Switzerland. With four international borders to contend with, Switzerland by Mr Osborne’s reasoning, should be one of the poorest countries in Europe. Instead it is one of the richest despite its four international borders. It is not as if these borders were high mountains or other impassable features. Most of the border between Switzerland and Italy, France, Germany and Austria is more or less completely flat and shows no distinguishing features. For centuries the Swiss have successfully traded across all four borders and have developed a very successful economy to boot.

A particular case in point is the Swiss city of Basel, which not only has one international border to contend with, but has two – the Swiss-German and the Swiss-French. Just how do they manage? To make matters even more confusing the Baslers don’t even have their own airport. They have to share one with the French city of Mulhouse. The airport is located in France. How dreadful! Even worse, one of the city’s major train stations is German – the Badische Bahnhof, which is the terminus for German state railways. The other main station is a joint French and Swiss station. The Basel Regional S-Bahn, the commuter rail network connecting suburbs surrounding the city, is jointly operated by the Swiss, German and French railways. Oh how complicated all this must be. Worries about foreign interference and currency uncertainties. It simply beggars belief that with all these problems Basel is one of the richest places in Switzerland. It is also home to many of the world’s most famous chemical companies, such as Novartis and Hoffmann-LaRoche. Borders and currency exchanges do not seem to bother them. What is perhaps even more relevant for Scotland is that the three countries around Basel have used their differences as a marketing tool to promote the whole area. Sometimes known as Dreiländereck in German or as The TriRhena region. It even has its own tourist website, which you can visit here.

The message could not be clearer – borders do not need to be a barrier to trade, capital or labour flows as Basel in particular and Switzerland in general show. Why should the Scottish-English border be any different? Why would patterns of trade that have developed over centuries suddenly cease? Especially when the SNP has indicated that it wants to maintain the existing currency union with the rest of the UK. With goodwill on both sides there is nothing in the experience of Switzerland and the rest of Europe to suggest that Scottish independence would lead to damaging economic consequences.

The key here is goodwill on both sides. The SNP and other pro-independence parties have clearly indicated a willingness to co-operate with the rest of the UK in a spirit of friendship and goodwill. It is only representatives of the UK government and Unionists who have called into question the willingness of the UK to co-operate with an independent Scotland. In the interests of clarity we should be told the truth. Will the rest of the UK work with an independent Scotland in a spirit of friendship and goodwill? As it already does with the Republic of Ireland. If the answer is yes, then there is nothing to worry about. On the other hand if the answer is no, then why would Scotland want to remain in a Union with people who want to treat us as enemies?

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Why Switzerland?

Flag-Pins-Switzerland-ScotlandNow 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.

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