Unionism has been a motif of the modern period. A principle through which, irrespective of nationality, culture or creed, people come together for a better future. Lincoln was such an ardent follower that he plunged the United States into a near suicidal civil war. England and Scotland ended conflict and ruin after the failed Darien Expedition to mend their relationship in perpetuity, constructing over the following 300 years a democracy enviable to all. Europe, from the ashes of war, utilised Union for reconstruction and cooperation.
It is not without its challenges. Preserving unity means working with socialists, conservatives or nationalists to achieve a better, more representative society. It is a principle that rejects diminishment, tribalism and reversions to medieval nations. The belief that, when we work as one, we advance as one.
In the UK and Europe, it falls on our generation to determine whether this principle continues to underpin modern political structures or whether it is dislodged forevermore. Scotland will remain in the UK foreseeably; future prospects are more difficult to ascertain.
For now, Europe is the one facing a crisis of union. The ‘In’ campaign is likely to emphasise the persuasively effective arguments of stability and security against uncertainty and weakness. ‘Out’ shall argue on lost sovereignty, national revival and belief in an independent future, wrested from overarching external government and bureaucracy. Run of the mill, eye-wateringly dull, heard-it-all-before referendum chat. It is like the sequel in a trilogy: disappointing and unfair to the viewer but necessary to keep the plot moving.
The rise of nationalism in European nations is the singular source of this new challenge to unity. The SNP have led the charge in attacking the United Kingdom, arguing for complete independence from the unrepresentative and asymmetrical Union. ‘Stronger for Scotland’ slogans and independence, not exclusively nationalist pursuits or rhetoric, appeal to the regionally-minded and to self-defined progressives.
In real terms, Scotland is less progressive. Presently, we have less MPs in Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions than in recent history. Scottish interests are represented by a nationalist party purporting progressiveness with little interest in advancing UK-wide policy. Rather, grandstanding at PMQs, ostentatious speeches and raising the stakes in endless supply-demand chains for more devolved power apparently pass as being ‘stronger’ for Scotland in the UK. Politics as usual.
And yet, in England, a nation without devolution and sparse forms of multilevel representation, we see a similar force mobilising. A majority of UKIP MEPs represent the UK. They engage in European democracy in a not too dissimilar way to the SNP, supported by near mirror image rhetoric of ‘wanting our country back’. Again, regional and nationalist politics capitalising on votes against the removed and defenceless ‘other’.
Union, in truth, opens our borders, allowing us to travel, work and study in all neighbouring nations. You can find you true love, settle your family and build your dream life anywhere because of that principle of unity. It has allowed economically weaker nations around us to receive support in time of need. It is this togetherness which allows us to tackle our environmental, political, and economic problems together. It is the facilitator, the initiator and the foundation to build political processes on, for Scotland in the UK, and Britain in Europe.
This principle, simplistic and beautiful, may have political structures, processes and policies enacted on it that are poorly constructed or unfavourable. Does that make the principle of Unionism devoid of worth, one which we should abandon as a consequence? Does this suddenly undermine the benefits of Union? Each of those policies are reversible and can be undone. With the loss of Union, we lose that which should be untouchable. The true progressivism, the free movement of people, the binding solidarity unhindered by a border, a wall or a new tribe committed to one colour of flag over another.
When confronted with the EU referendum, or any referendum with the aim of ripping apart unity, remember that those beautiful principles that underpin union are worth so much more than the alternative. We have them now. The truly unprogressive and downright unforgivable thing is to abandon it all after so much has been given to attain them.
Image : Yan-