BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of European cities and guilds situated along the northern coast of Europe between the 13th and 17th centuries. The League had its own legal system and its members—ranging from cities like Hamburg to Berwick upon Tweed—very often offered each other protection and mutual assistance in times of crisis. Indeed, recently former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (the man who led the first referendum on Scottish independence in 2014) told Piers Morgan that the European Union’s Common Market was not unlike the Hanseatic League.
In 1296, William Wallace, the famous Scottish patriot (made famous in Pop Culture, due to Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him in Braveheart) wrote letters to two important League cities (Lübek and Hamburg) expressing his desire to link Scotland up with the trading alliance (after he liberated his native land from the British, of course). The British had controlled key ports and towns in Scotland that deprived the Scottish of economic prosperity. The strategic lynchpin of Wallace’s liberation of Scotland rested on controlling these pivotal ports and towns.
Of course, (spoiler alert to those who haven’t seen Braveheart yet) these plans were never fully realized. The British ultimately defeated Wallace and his compatriots and Scotland remained an integral part of the larger British Empire. However, that is all changing today.
Preempting British Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that her government would be officially invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (thereby fully enacting Brexit), Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish government would be holding a referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon is the second Scottish National Party (SNP) First Minister to attempt to achieve Scottish independence. The first came in 2014, after a contentious referendum that saw 58% of Scottish voters opting to remain in the United Kingdom. Yet, just three years later, everything is different. Indeed, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. Still, a whopping 62% of Scottish voters opted to remain a part of the EU in the recent Brexit vote. It is this last percentage that is the most important factor in any second Scottish referendum on independence.
You see, if made to choose between being a part of the U.K. and the EU, to the Scots, there is no choice: unity is better. But, if asked as to whether they would prefer to be a member of either the U.K. or the EU, a majority of the Scottish people will likely choose to remain a part of the EU.
Indeed, following the controversial Brexit vote last summer, Mrs. Sturgeon hastily tried to negotiate a compromise settlement with the newly minted British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Sturgeon’s goal was to be able to have her cake and eat it too: she wanted to remain a part of the U.K., thereby respecting centuries of tradition, and also allow for Scotland to remain in the EU, irrespective of whether or not the British government decided to leave the EU. Theresa May’s government refused to negotiate on the matter. As May’s government outlined: Scotland is a member of the U.K. and, should the British government invoke Article 50, Scotland would have to leave along with Britain. To many Scots, the British were dragging Scotland out of the EU, kicking and screaming.
In fact, during First Minister Sturgeon’s recent press conference, she indicated that the May Government was seeking to aggregate “powers in areas currently wholly devolved to the Scottish Parliament.” So, the First Minister has established herself as being to the Right of Theresa May: she is protecting Scottish sovereignty, thereby preserving Scottish democracy. The First Minister has deftly managed to maintain the appearance of being a nationalist whilst advocating for Scotland’s submission to the EU.
Also, Sturgeon has painted Theresa May and her Tory allies in Westminster as committed Statists intent on devouring Scotland, just as the British Empire had done before. Somewhere, I imagine that William Wallace (or, rather, Mel Gibson playing William Wallace) is looking down upon Mrs. Sturgeon yelling, “They will never take our freedom!”
Clearly, Sturgeon has deftly played her cards. While her predecessor, Salmond, resigned from his post following the crushing defeat in the first referendum, the political situation has drastically changed. With her declining approval numbers, the First Minister has little to lose from going back on her promise that the previous referendum vote was a “once-in-a-lifetime” vote.
By tying her fortunes to the popular “remain” movement in Scotland, Sturgeon may be securing her political future. After all, in 2016, the pro-unionist Scottish Conservatives replaced the Labour Party as the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament (behind Sturgeon’s center-Left SNP). In particular, the leader of the Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, seems intent on challenging Sturgeon at every turn.
In fact, Ruth Davidson is the only hope for Theresa May and the Brexit crowd to keep Scotland in the U.K. But, while Davidson’s popularity may be higher than that of Sturgeon, the issue of remaining in the EU will likely stunt whatever popularity she possesses. Davidson, despite having made comments offering her support for remaining in the EU during the Brexit vote last summer, is firmly pro-U.K. (she previously served in the British Territorial Army as a signaler from 2003-06). Wherever Britain goes (in this case, away from the EU), Davidson will seek to maneuver Scotland in that direction as well. Still, though, if there is one Scottish politician who might be able to stem the tide of the remain crowd, it would be the highly unorthodox Davidson. But, the deck is seemingly stacked against her.
Thus, First Minister Sturgeon’s decision to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence was perfectly timed. It is more than likely, barring innovative politicking on the part of the unionists, that a majority of Scottish voters will opt to remain within the EU over the U.K. Scotland’s Labour Party is in disarray. The SNP’s only serious rival is the Scottish Conservatives, and they are against the popular opinion of the Scottish people.
One must remember that roughly 42% of all Scottish trade is done with the EU. Not surprisingly, four out of Scotland’s top five trading partners are: the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Norway (the United States is Scotland’s number one trading partner). In all, Scotland’s exports totaled about €76 billion (or, $80 million) of its economy, with 64% of it (that’s €48.5 billion, or $51 million) going to trade with England. If Scotland were fully independent and became a part of the EU, it would be the 12th-largest economy in the EU (possessing a GDP of €152 billion, or $161 million).
Therefore, the chances are very high that Scotland will kindly take its leave of Great Britain and fulfill William Wallace’s dream of independence (and closer economic ties with continental Europe). This situation is compounded by the fact that the May Government in Britain refuses to compromise on the issue of Scotland remaining a part of the EU (which even the unionist, Ruth Davidson, advocated for).
Prime Minister May has very strategic reasons for not even entertaining the notion of compromising with the Scottish on the matter of Brexit. Firstly, an overwhelming number of Britons voted to leave the EU. Secondly, the British understand that keeping Scotland a part of the U.K. while allowing it to remain within the EU, would leave Britain at a severe disadvantage. Besides, the EU High Commissioner, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already insisted that Brexit must be a clean-break with the EU—which means that, without a referendum on independence, Scotland must go as well. Of course, Juncker and Sturgeon have been courting each other since June of 2016.
There are even more reasons for Britain resisting Scottish independence. The first and most important issue is that the British Trident nuclear arsenal is housed at the Faslane naval base in Scotland. Should independence go forward, Faslane (and other U.K. military resources) would be lost to the Royal Navy and be placed under the control of a Scottish Defense Force (SDF). The British would then have to find a suitable port to house its nuclear forces. This would be a costly endeavor.
“Even from this cursory examination of Scottish facilities, it is obvious that replicating them in England would be exceptionally expensive. Although some equipment could be removed for transporting it is clear that huge investment has literally gone into the ground, tunnels, roads, jettys and buildings that can’t be moved. There has been phased construction and development going back more than 50 years at these sites and the armament depot would have to be built from scratch, even if suitable new sites could be found. A very optimistic estimate made by RUSI in 2014 that extrapolated historical costs put the relocation figure (using Devonport) around £4Bn. In the much more regulated environment of the 2020s, such a project would surely run into the £10s of billions. Against this it should be remembered that to decommission the entire nuclear weapons infrastructure in Britain the estimated cost would be around £10Bn.” – Taken from Save The Royal Navy.org
Interestingly, in 2013 the Scottish government produced its White Paper on independence in the run-up to the abortive 2014 independence referendum. Among the many things the Scottish assessed was that of the €93 billion U.K. defense budget, the Scottish are entitled to roughly €7.8 billion worth of England’s military assets in Scotland. This means that on top of the British military bases, the Scottish would lay claim to a handful of Royal Navy warships—including two of Britain’s coveted 13 frigates. Such an outcome would not bode well for the Royal Navy, as their force is already overburdened.
The fear among the British defense policy community was that, rather than make up for the lost capabilities, the British government would merely increase the burden on the existing British military. In fact, many believed that Scottish independence would forever relegate the British military merely being a regional military force as opposed to a global force. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this fact is already a reality, irrespective of a Scottish vote for independence.
Then there is the issue of shipbuilding. You see, Govan shipyards is one of the Royal Navy’s most important shipbuilding facilities and it is located on the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Britain’s Ministry of Defence has already indicated that should Scotland declare independence, it would unilaterally sever all contracts with Scottish facilities. Please keep in mind that Britain has just entered into a contract to build eight of its scheduled 26 vital frigates at the Govan shipyards.
While the Royal Navy could move its shipbuilding operations to another part of England, the logistics involved would be needlessly complex. More importantly, Scotland would suffer from the loss of the defense contracts that have provided so many jobs and opportunities to the Scottish people. The most recent deal to build the U.K.’s newest batch of warships was a €278 million deal (that amounts to a little bit more than $295 million).
Of course, from an economic standpoint, the Scottish are in possession of the largest oil reserves in the North Sea. Wherever Scotland chose to go: either with the EU or the U.K., they would bring with them quite a jackpot (despite the fact that the Scottish oil and natural gas industry has been rocked by low prices over the last year). Here’s the rub, though: without the Royal Navy, the Scots cannot defend such a wide area of the North Sea.
And, with the Russians on the prowl, the threat of the Royal Navy is likely the only thing preventing adventurous Russians from trying to illegally grab some of that territory for themselves. In fact, should Scotland ultimately go with the EU, it is likely that the British government would reassert their own claim over the region, seeing as the British have contested the legality of Scotland’s claim for years.
Although it would seem that Britain would get the raw end of the deal should Scotland leave the U.K., in the long run, I believe it is Scotland that is making a horrible choice. Let’s face it: the European Union is in its death throes. Fertility rates among the native European population (coupled with cradle-to-grave entitlement systems) have broken the collective backs of the European states.
What’s more, the ceaseless flow of immigrants from the Muslim world has led to socio-political destabilization of the region for years. Combined with the diminishing returns of the EU economy since the Great Recession of 2008, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that becoming a member of the EU is not unlike being the last passenger to board the Titanic after leaving Liverpool: a death sentence.
Then, of course, there is the issue of Russia breathing down the necks of the Eastern Europeans. With the loss of Scotland as a part of the U.K., the Scots would have not only have to reapply for NATO membership, but they’d also have to reconstitute a military capable of believably supporting NATO’s defense of Europe from Russia.
The 2013 White Paper on Scottish independence offers us further clues as to how a Scottish Defense Force would potentially contribute to NATO (should it even be allowed in). While the Scots would lay claim to advanced British bases in their country, the Scottish force would be woefully underequipped. Even if it did acquire those two Royal Navy frigates, it could do little with them.
Also, as the DailyMail reported, the Scottish plan on maintaining all of their historic Army regiments as the basis for the proposed Scottish Defense Force is unrealistic. This would require funding to maintain 14,000 troops for the Scottish Army. In other words, there would only be 1,000 Scottish troops dedicated to the proposed Scottish air force and navy. What’s more, according to the White Paper, the ubiquitous Eurofighter Typhoon would be far too expensive for the Scottish air force. Both the Tornado GR4 and the Hawk trainer are insufficient to meet the basic air defense requirements of NATO.
Meanwhile, the proposed Scottish navy would be unable to purchase even four diesel-powered submarines. Of course, the SNP supporters of independence counter that these claims are wrong. They assert that the Scottish Defense Forces will have an annual operating budget of €2.5 billion (and, according to reports, would be a €500 million increase on current U.K. defense spending in Scotland). Of course, one wonders how the Scottish will have the funds to do this, given that they are set to lose critical defense contracts with the British (which, as you’ve seen represents a huge share of both the Scottish economy as well as Scottish military capabilities).
Furthermore, the Scottish White Paper outlined just how Scottish military units currently serving in the British military viewed independence: they hated the very notion of it. Or, as one Scottish officer put it, he wouldn’t join a proposed Scottish Defense Force because it would involve “thumb twiddling” in Scotland.
Another wondered why any young Scot seeking to join the military would choose to go into the SDF, “to sit on the border in Cyprus or Lebanon with a blue beret and no rounds in his rifle” when they could join the British Armed Forces and fight? Then there would be the other issue of Scottish military recruits losing the ability to train at the prestigious Sandhurst military academy in Berkshire. The Scottish officer asserted that “the SDF would be staffed by ‘second-class Scots soldiers.”
Or, as British military expert, Professor Hew Strachan said:
“I can envisage a two-tier military service, where ambitious young Scots join the British Army, and then, once he’s married and got children and wants to calm down a bit later in life, he transfers to the Scottish Army.”
Whereas most commentators assume that Scotland would be making the prudent choice, I beg to differ. Yes, it’s true that the EU is currently the largest single market in the world. But, for how long will this last, given everything that I’ve outlined above?
The world is currently going through a counterrevolution not seen since the Thirty Years’ War, when the Treaty of Westphalia created the modern nation-state system. While many globalists assume that the nation-state is an antiquated concept whose time has long gone, people around the world—especially in the West—are reaffirming their commitment to the Westphalian nation-state system. Fertility rates, immigration, and declining economic opportunity throughout the world are exacerbating these reactionary trends.
As a result, it is likely that the British voters who opted for Brexit were ahead of the curve. Anti-globalization nationalism is the thing driving global politics today. The United States with its election of Donald Trump and the British with their vote for Brexit detected these changes in the international system and have positioned their countries to best capitalize off of these trends. Those who follow suit will benefit as well. The states that refuse to make necessary changes will be left behind.
Scottish independence is one thing (after all, every democratic country has a right to self-determination). But, Scottish independence aimed at continuing its association with the European Union is feckless. The Scottish government believes that it might beat out the British by remaining a part of the EU. This is a myopic view. The Scottish have close cultural and historical ties with the British; these two states are stronger united than they are divided. The British have correctly anticipated the changes in the international system. They will be far stronger in the long run than Scotland, should the Scots vote to remain in the EU.
And what of the aforementioned Hanseatic League? Well, by the 16th century, the League fell under its own weight. By that point in history, the League had become bloated and came to be dominated Lübek. It was soon challenged by newer, rising powers in Europe (i.e. the rising Swedish Empire). At the same time, parochialism had come to dominate the affairs of the League, as individual member cities of the League began placing their own interests ahead of their supposedly common Hanseatic interests.
It was also consumed by religious turmoil (the Protestant Reformation), Muslim incursion (via the Ottoman Empire), and the rise of economic rivals in the form of English and Dutch merchants. This is a pattern that the current incarnation of the Hanseatic League, the European Union, finds itself in the middle of. Therefore, even if Wallace had managed to free Scotland from England, it is likely that the Scots would have had to contend with the League’s eventual collapse. Thus, it is quite likely that the Scottish would have found refuge in the waiting arms of their English neighbors.
Even still, however, it would seem that the old flames of separatism that fueled William Wallace’s desire to drive out the English and get closer to Europe have been fanned. There is little that the British government can do to goad Scotland into remaining with the United Kingdom. There is but one force in this world that is greater than the superficial economic promise of the EU’s single market and more important than the cultural, historical, and military ties with the British.
That force is the United States.
I submit that there is a chance for a great deal to be brokered by the United States. I have long advocated for a greater union between the English-speaking peoples of the world. Until now, however, we have all been content to let sleeping dogs lie. But now, today, with this great tidal wave of counterrevolutionary nationalism washing across the globe, the opportunity exists to craft a Transatlantic Free Trade Area.
The U.S., the U.K., and Scotland should form the bedrock of this new movement. Combining our countries would create economic opportunity as never before. Add in both the military capabilities of the U.S. and U.K. as well as the North Sea oil reserves, and this triple alliance would be unstoppable. The Trump Administration should recognize the deep divisions tearing the Anglo-Celtic world apart.
What’s more, President Trump should realize that the Anglo-Celtic world has formed an important bedrock of Western and, specifically, American society. He should work to preserve this unique civilization by seeking far greater ties with these two states. The promise of mutual defense and economic opportunity can keep the United Kingdom together and it can align the U.S. and U.K. even closer than previously thought possible, just as Churchill envisioned when he wrote his history of the English-speaking peoples.