Why does the Scottish referendum on independence matter for Turkey?
On Sept. 18 Scotland will undertake a referendum, historic not only for its own destiny, but also for the destiny and unity of the entire United Kingdom. The question is simple: Should Scotland be an independent country? A “yes” answer will change a lot, and a “no” answer, one may think, will result in “business as usual.” I have doubts on the latter. The fact that Scotland has reached a point in its history to vote on independence is already a sea change in the status quo. In any case, one may suggest that the vote on Sept. 18, without any prejudice to its outcome, will result in a significant redefinition of the U.K.’s political and economic parameters.
For an uninformed Turkish reader, the Scottish referendum may appear to be an utterly irrelevant matter. Yet Turkey, as a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, OECD and many other European organizations, institutions and agencies, must watch developments in Europe with serious attention.
In 1997, Scots went to the polls to show that they were in favor of a “devolution of power,” namely to have a separate a Parliament of their own that enjoyed taxation powers. After 17 years of experience in this devolved parliamentary system, Scots today want to acquire powers beyond devolution. They aspire for independence.
There is no doubt that history is a strong source of references from which to derive conclusions for today or tomorrow. But the Scottish referendum is very likely to change the future significantly. A “yes” vote will result with the end of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” This will place a very sensitive issue on the agenda of the European Union. Scottish independence is perceived as a centrifugal development. Brussels would not be in favor of immediate membership for independent Scotland, particularly at a time when similar drives have been observed in countries like Spain (Catalonia) and Belgium. Matters would not be easy for future NATO policies either, for an independent Scotland does not appear to favor NATO’s nuclear policy and is strongly against the presence of Trident missiles system in its ports and maritime area. Certainly, a renegotiation between Scotland and the rest of the U.K. will affect British nuclear policy, not to mention its implications for NATO.
A “no” result will also hold complicated outcomes. Some argue that the vote, no matter its final decision, is going to be a close one. If the vote ends up with a very close outcome of “no,” those in favor of independence will aim to revisit the issue again. This will certainly affect British politics.
Furthermore, one should not forget that the U.K. also plans to hold a referendum in 2017 to decide whether or not it will remain in the EU. Should the U.K. choose to leave the European Union in the 2017 referendum, Scottish independence activists will definitely and immediately revisit their case, as Scotland does not want to part from the EU. In these circumstances, Scots would more strongly support parting from the U.K.
Europe is redefining its parameters. The new EU will have to face growing tendencies of centrifugal drives and increased demands of centralist, regulatory policies for its own matters. It’s no wonder why most European nations anticipate the results of the Scottish referendum with enthusiasm, because they are aware of the forthcoming policy changes the outcome may induce.
Turkey has long been fixed on EU accession negotiations and this has resulted in a particular focus on the opening of chapters. Such a “sheer formality” has inevitably resulted in the oversight of changes and developments in the EU, which are more of structural nature and hold implications for the evolution, transformation and sustainability of the organization. Relations between Turkey and the EU are not limited and cannot be reduced to the opening of chapters.
Turkey should ask for active participation in the EU’s structural discussions. But one can only take part in such processes by successfully convincing one’s partners that one is genuinely interested. Unless one ceases to misinterpret European policies and remain indifferent to their developments, one could hardly avoid creatively misunderstanding developments in other geographies, including one’s own. This is why a seemingly trivial issue, such as the Scottish referendum for independence, matters for Turkey.
*Ünal Çeviköz is the former Turkish ambassador to the UK.