The world is changing and the canvas of nations being painted in an age of crisis is very different to the past. This changing canvas cannot be ignored if we are to consider where Scotland’s future place in the world might be.
Today the BBC news website reports that Winston Churchill’s 1946 Zurich speech has been featured on The European Council’s YouTube channel. There are, believe it or not, those who regard Churchill as one of the fathers of the EU.
It is because in Zurich, in the aftermath of the second World War he said, "We must build a kind of United States of Europe” to “turn our backs upon the horrors of the past" and "look to the future".
However, he also said six months before that in Fulton Missouri, "If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealth be added to that of the United States with all that such co-operation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe and in science and in industry, and in moral forces, there will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure." (This was his famous “Iron Curtain” speech.)
For Churchill believed that peace in the post war world and stability in the face of communism would be guaranteed by three things - the United States, a united Europe and the British Empire. He was a great European but he was also an Imperialist (born in the 19th century) and an Atlanticist (he had an American mother). He saw Britain as part of Europe but not of Europe.
Well, that was 1946 and this is now.
In the future, the USA is not going to be the world power it once was.
She must look to the Pacific and China in the east every bit as much as she must look to the Atlantic and Russia in the west.
The Empire is long since dead and the Commonwealth is not what it once was. In fact the Commonwealth may not outlive the present Queen by much. It certainly won’t exist in the same form as the last 40 or 50 years.
Europe has an uncertain future as the Euro currency union seems to have failed so spectacularly.
The world we are headed for will not be a world of fixed blocs, rather it will be a world of more transient treaties and alliances. And these alliances may be with peoples we don’t necessarily have naturally close alignments with. These will not always be homogeneous groupings.
Britain’s links with the east through our mercantile past and through some of our large companies (many of whom have strong links in the far east) will be very important. Our trade with European markets will continue to be a cornerstone of our economy and trade and links with China will be vital both politically and economically.
While the United States will cease to be the world’s super power it will remain hugely important for many many years to come. A close relationship with her will be a lynch-pin of stability but we must be realistic about the ‘special relationship’ as America has more diversified interests than Europe.
We also need to contain the middle-east and support peace where we can. I say support and maintain because the middle east has been a powder keg for two millennia and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. However, I sense that if there are to be dangers that threaten us or troubles that will spill over into wider conflict they will somehow emanate from this region.
This means I think there is still an important place for collective security. True, NATO is an alliance founded in the Cold War but times move on and the landscape changes.
Denmark, a successful comparable country that Scotland often looks to as a model of what we could be is interesting in this case. Denmark sought neutrality for 200 years and to free herself from the armed camps of the empires of Europe. But she was overrun by Germany in the 1940s and suffered under occupation. The war means many in Denmark regretted they were not part of something bigger. Today many in Denmark feel collective security is very important to them and NATO remains popular. This doesn’t mean they believe the Cold War is still with us but they value collective security against any enemies – whether they are known or are yet to be known in an uncertain future.
Today, Danish foreign policy is founded upon four pillars: the United Nations, NATO, the EU, and Nordic cooperation. She is a pretty committed member of NATO – which isn’t true of all members – even though she is a small nation. Denmark is also a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation.
She is a mercantile nation who believes in free trade, collective action and collective security.
This means I think there is an important place for collective security for Scotland in the future. I think this should be as part of what we currently call NATO but that it will continue to move on to take a post Cold War form.
I think also in this uncertain world fragmentation does not help peace or prosperity.
A say in how the globe deals with the forces that affect us is important.
I have limited care for a permanent place on the UN security council, but a place at the top table with the G8 matters. Being part of the UK which has such a place is therefore vital.
Consider this picture. This is the G8 at Camp David earlier this year. It is a small world and being part of the G8 is to have very personal input with the 7 other men and women who take the fundamental decisions that affect the entire world. This is much more than mere tokenism, and while power can often be subverted by greater forces, having a seat at the G8 is meaningful influence.
Free trade is vital to us if we are to have growth around the world once more and if we are to adapt to and make the most of the opportunities brought by the changing balance of economic power across the planet.
Preserving the UK and what is in effect an established and successful single market and currency union is also important. The EU is uncertain, and our relationship with it is also uncertain. I hope it survives with us as part of it because I think the EU has probably done more to ensure peace in Europe after the war than any other body. However, Europe’s precise course is uncertain.
And since the UK operates as a single market and a currency union and we are not envisaging changing that bit, it seems all the better to have some political say in it and some chance of influencing affairs.
But I believe this is best served by the UK following a system of government which allows for the expression of the different interests and identities within it and, at the same time, has the influence and strength which comes with the common purpose that I have been describing. This means a distribution of powers among the nations and regions of the UK, for joint action where we need it, and for significant democratic choice and opportunity where that best serves our interests. This should be combined with the responsibility that comes from significant financial powers. Whether you call this subsidiarity, decentralisation or federal government it should, I hope, go some way towards reducing the alienation many feel in the political process and re-connecting political power to people and communities.
In the world of the 21st century with its transient alliances and changing balances of power, being cut adrift as part of the fragmentation of nations will not serve Scottish foreign interests or trade well. That way is best served by British unity, collective international interests and subsidiarity or decentralisation at home.