In five days, Scotland will vote on whether it wants to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, this referendum is receiving a massive amount of attention given the stakes involved. I won’t go into detail on the issues at play here as they’re being covered thoroughly in other locations, but I do want to say I find the whole topic a rather depressing verdict on the current state of EU integration. Scotland’s choice matters because the EU isn’t a sovereign state. If it were, Scotland could simply become another state within a “United States of Europe.” Sort of like how West Virginia separated from Virginia. Or if Puerto Rico were to decide it wanted to be the 51st state. Such a change, while important and interesting, wouldn’t be nearly as big of a deal as the current proposal. The EU would carry on as territorially whole and without its power diminished. The same cannot be said of the UK today.
If Scotland votes to leave, it will dismember one of the most powerful countries in the world, put a major international financial center at risk, and call into question the future of a nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, Scotland will become an independent country with the right to decide membership in the EU, NATO, and a whole host of other intergovernmental and supranational organizations. Even if an independent Scotland joins the EU and NATO (which is likely), it would contribute to the further fragmentation and division of these organizations; Edinburgh would become just another capital with a veto over EU foreign policy or the right to opt out of, or put limits on, its NATO contributions.
This shouldn’t be happening. Not because Scots don’t deserve a greater say over how they’re governed, but because it’s completely contrary to the direction Europe needs to be going in. More and more these days the world is a competition between big states. Even wealthy countries like France and Italy struggle to maintain equal relationships with powers like China and India. What hope does a state of 5 million people like Scotland have? The West, and especially Europe, needs to embrace integration, not fragmentation. It’s the only way we stand a chance against the mega-states of the future, many of whom are ambivalent about or outright hostile to the prevailing Western international system. Therefore, regardless of how Scotland votes on the 18th, Europe must rededicate itself to integration. A sovereign United States of Europe would allow for social fragmentation, such as with Scotland or Catalonia, while preserving the power and integrity of Europe. In such a polity, a Scottish referendum on statehood wouldn’t matter nearly as much as it does now. Irrelevance, sometimes, is better than importance.