Despite the serene tone of the debate, the high voter turnout and the lack of incidents to report, the Scottish independence referendum has put the spotlight on the political tension gripping not just the United Kingdom, but Europe as a whole, at an enormously complicated time in its history.
Besides the interest triggered by the vote itself, its result was of historical import, as it could have meant an alteration of Western Europe’s boundaries and the breakup of a centuries-old nation. And that is the reason why a good number of European capitals have viewed the Scottish referendum as a matter of domestic policy.
In some cases, it was because of the undeniable economic repercussions that Scotland’s decision could have had on all EU members, as well as other countries with strong ties to the UK. In other cases, there was the added repercussion on homegrown nationalist movements and on the right strategy to address them.
The Scottish referendum should lead us to reaction, not to paralysis
The Scottish vote has been an impeccable exercise in democracy, yet it is obvious that it has taken place at a bad time, when Europe needs to be bolstered on two fronts. From an economic point of view, the EU is lagging behind in the grand game being played on the global scene by major actors such as China and the United States.
The last thing Europe needs as it continues to struggle against sluggish growth and an economic crisis is to fall behind in the race to recovery because of unpredictable new problems resulting from mistakes made in Scotland.
A slowdown at this particularly delicate period of the European integration process would be negative to production, consumption and employment, and involves the risk of taking steps back – something that Europe cannot afford if it is to keep offering its citizens similar material conditions as it has for decades.
A good number of European capitals have viewed the Scottish referendum as a matter of domestic policy
From the point of view of security, the tension created by the eventual consequences of breakup processes was no less serious. Just when Europe is facing its two largest potential conflicts since the end of World War II – the confrontation with Russia over Europe’s expansion to the east, and the threat posed by the Islamic State – it was alarming to see that Britain, one of Europe’s defensive pillars, a nuclear power and a member of the UN Security Council with veto power, was willing to reconsider how it should resize its defense strategy, where to keep its submarines and what to do with its defense budget.
But the Scottish referendum should lead us to reaction, not to paralysis. It is true that several European countries are going through a combination of economic and social crises leading to demonstrations of nationalist, populist and anti-system sentiment.
But in order to pull out of these crises what is needed is debate, negotiation, reform and a spirit of commitment, just the things that have made the EU a global example for the last 57 years and forged the values that the European project was based upon, values that include solidarity and diversity within a framework of unity.
The experiment that ended Thursday in Scotland should be a lesson to all Europeans. In societies that are committed to being more open, prosperity and integration, segregation – no matter how peaceful and civilized – is always bad news. And everyone pays for the consequences.