I'm originally from Switzerland, and I must confess that before I came to live in the UK, my knowledge of the whole Scottish independence debate consisted of vague memories of a face-painted Mel Gibson. I doubt I was the only one - this is why many international observers are genuinely surprised that a referendum on independence is scheduled to take place soon. To its future European and international partners, Scotland has yet to make the case that it isn't synonymous with England, Britain or the UK, but rather a nation founded on wholly different principles.
The white paper released today is certainly a step in the right direction, for it highlights what these differences specifically are: a more positive approach to the EU and European integration, a will to be more of a team-player than the UK currently is, and the promise to display less insular tendencies. The Scottish people, according to most polls, tend to have a more favourable view of European cooperation compared to the UK as a whole. This has not gone unnoticed in Brussels, Berlin and Paris.
On the other hand, many in Europe are also worried that Scotland might set a dangerous precedent, as it would be the first time a region of a member state becomes a member on its own right. The problem is not really institutional (although Scotland's EU membership would require some interesting treaty-twisting), but rather symbolic; and this is why independentists and their opponents in Catalonia, Pays Basque or Flanders follow the Scottish debate attentively. But perhaps it isn't fair to make this an argument against Scotland's independence, slippery slopes and all that.
More broadly, and from a European perspective, I feel this is the first opportunity for a radical rethinking of what a modern state should look like since 1989. The white paper displays the same type of optimistic voluntarism many Eastern Europeans felt when the communists regime crumbled; soon we will have a brand new state, it will be perfect in every way and we'll all be happy forever after in solidarity with each other (here Vaclav Havel would have added his trademark heart). Yet this didn't really happen, and although the Czech Republic or Poland look nothing like twenty years ago, many of these initial hopes were met with very harsh realities. I am not suggesting the situation, or indeed the underlying ideals, are the same, but rather than one should always be wary of overenthusiastic promises.
If Scotland casts a 'yes' vote in September next year, the road to the ambitious goals the Scots set for themselves will be long. But they should rest assured that they will be warmly welcomed as the 29th member of the European Union, and perhaps their dedication will even inspire some much needed efforts to democratise the EU - this is why I believe the European peoples should make clear they side with an independent and democratic Scotland.
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