Later this year, Scottish voters will get another opportunity to take part in an important referendum, this time on memebership of the EU. Opinion polls suggest a growing disparity between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Scots do not appear to share the euroscepticism of much of the rest of Britain. At the 1975 referendum, Scottish voters, though voting in favour, were notably less enthusiastic than those in England; 58% 'for' in Scotland; 68% 'for' in England. Between times, Scotland's political culture has changed. Now, at its core, there is a need to assert Scottish identity as different from England.
If Scots decide to vote to stay in the EU because England looks like doing the opposite, it may prove a grave error. There are sound reasons for Scotland deciding that the EU is something we would now be better off without. The central problem with the EU in 2016 is that it has developed into a utopian project and such political projects rarely end well.
When it started life, as an attempt to prevent a fourth Franco-German war within a century, it was not utopian. Later, it grew because other countries wanted to share the prosperity which became the defining mark of the Common Market in its first two decades. That is, of course, where, why and when we joined.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a wrong turn was made, though it was nearly 20 years before this became clear. The collapse of communism offered countries in the east, led by Poland, the chance of a quick route to prosperity. Successfully integrating these countries into the EU would in itself have been a massive undertaking. Potentially, it was a very worthwhile one.
For the European elite this was not enough. Simultaneously they decided to further integrate Europe by adopting a common currency. Those involved were fully aware that a common currency implied common taxation policies and, in the end, some type of United States of Europe. There was little popular demand for this. That did not deter the elite. They were committed to 'deeper integration'; another concept towards which ordinary voters were mostly indifferent if not hostile.
Even during its most successul decades, there had been little growth in the sense of European identity. The French remained stubbornly French and so on. In part this was because the Euro elite, none too keen on participatory democracy, made little attempt to foster such an identity. A genuine sense of European identity would have implied genuine European democracy. Such a democracy might have cast a critical eye on the corruption at the heart of Europe.
A second problem was that, for the elite, European integration was a self-evidently good idea. Outside the elite, things were not so clear cut. By the 1990s, few believed the EU was still needed to prevent us reverting to the carnage of 1914-1945. That being the case, why was more European unity needed? For some, it was to create a counterweight to the USA. However, this smacked of 'Great Power' politics, just what so many Europeans were cheerfully turning their back on.
What followed is well-documented. A number of years of prosperity, much of it fuelled by large-scale borrowing. Then bust, which has been vastly worse for the south of Europe than for us. This downturn showed how hollow the concept of a united Europe is. The failing states, most noticeably Greece, were bludgeoned into accepting inappropriate austerity policies. This episode brought the whole project close to collapse. The most recent crisis, over immigration, has convulsed the northern countries of the Eurozone. Its origins are instructive.
A well-intentioned speech by Angela Merkel led to a huge influx of refugees/migrants. The crisis came from the action of a national politician. No significant European figure, elected or unelected, was involved. The result has been near panic in some of the countries most affected. Their response has led to comparisons with Nazi-Germany trotted out, as ever, a bit too quickly. Thus the countries with the strongest social democratic roots in Europe find themselves vilified for their response to a crisis following on from the actions of one foreign, national political leader. All this without mentioning the coming demographic crunch.
A brief recap of British history shows that in the past, with the Gold Standard in 1931 and with the ERM in 1992, we were told things would lead us to disaster, only to find that the unthinkable proved liberating.
It is quite possible that our experience with the EU could end similarly.