Economics of Independence

Europe’s independence movements signal the end for centralised nation-states

In world politics nothing really happens in isolation. Shocks such as Brexit and Trump becoming US president are often viewed as bumps in the road rather than obvious symptoms of a larger trend. Many think politics will return to normal sometime soon, but I think the definition of political/economic normal is changing in response to global trends.

I am very wary of drawing comparisons between Catalonia and Scotland. Sure on the face of it, they are two nations where secessionist movements run devolved Parliaments and where referenda will play major (but very different) roles in shaping those nations constitutional future.

However, Scotland earned the right to hold a referendum on independence thanks to a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. Catalonia is denied this basic democratic right by a ham-fisted constitutional block.

Spain’s Government is also just stupid enough to believe that force and legal threats will be anything but counter-productive, but the UK Government at least knows that if the Union is to survive it will have to pass another democratic test at some point in the future. All they can hope to do is put that off for as long as they can.

Once the Brexit deal becomes clear, the required material change will have happened and denying a referendum under those circumstances would only intensify support for independence.

One thing that does link Scotland and Catalonia is the global trend towards localisation and subsidiarity of which both nations’ independence movements are part. This trend will eventually change the world, but as usual it will change Europe first in a way reminiscent of the renaissance, the industrial revolution or more recently the formation of the Common Market and the EU.

Information technology has taken knowledge from the elite and given it to the masses. People can control more of their lives and the failure of the political elites to meet the needs of society or to demonstrate any competence in dealing with the financial crises means that people are claiming a greater personal say in the economic and social decisions that affect their lives.

That change is triggering an irresistible move towards self determination. Not just political self-determination — economic self-determination, localisation of decision making, devolution, federalism and even ultra-local and co-operative democracy. Secure electronic (blockchain) voting systems can take the pulse of the nation an issue instantaneously, making five-year plebiscites and big referenda look positively medieval.

Centralised government was a historic necessity, but modern communication technologies leave people hungry for information, for their opinions to be heard and acted upon instantly and big government just isn’t flexible, fast or local (relevant) enough. Devolution, proportional representation and localism are becoming the watchwords of political change across Europe. The next generation of decision makers, today’s young people, have been brought up with social media and they expect to be engaged, not to be ignored, between elections. To them, the idea of controlled media, political spin and old fashioned Governmental control is becoming more and more unacceptable by the day.

There may be as many as 100 independence / self determination movements in continental Europe. So complicated are the reasons for these movements in each country that you simply can’t compare them. It is tempting to look at the Catalan (Barcelona area), Basque (Bilbao area) and Veneto (Venice area) independence movements and compare them to Scotland, as they are former countries absorbed into larger colonial powers.

Issues of Gordian knot proportions challenge those on both sides of the Belgian constitutional debate. Would Brussels have to reapply to join the EU if Belgium split? Many predict the 2019 Belgian elections will be the nation’s last. The prospect of the European Parliament being in a non-EU member state is hilarious, in a black comedy sort of way. Con-federalism is the buzzword in Belgium; independence within a larger union meaning the component parts of Belgium will have a relationship to the larger state similar to that of a member nation state to the EU. Con-federalisation to the Belgians is the idea of maintaining an consortium of states in which each part has extensive, independent powers over internal and external affairs. In other words Belgium ceases to be a country and becomes an alliance of micro states within the EU.

The decentralisation movement feeds off the trend for localisation and it will impact on all forms of national and local government. This is not a trend for separation and isolation as represented by Brexit and British Nationalism, but for self determination, whilst recognising the need to share legislation to protect the social interconnectedness and economic interdependence with trading partners. Something British Nationalism has rejected, yet still the media refers to independence movements as “separatists” when Westminster’s Brexit plans are a case study in separatism and the Scottish independence movement has always been internationalist.

Continues after video – Watch BfS CEO Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp interviewed about this article on Russia Today

Rajoy is a nationalist too. Constitutional battles are fraught between two nationalist movements the UK/Spanish Nationalist movement who want to maintain control and the Scottish/Catalan Nationalists movements that want to gain more self determination.

Every nation where its component parts see themselves as nations their own right, or as culturally differentiated by language, religion or simply political outlook will see a rise in calls for devolution and decentralisation of power. Those in power will resist that but it will be as effective as yelling at the tide not to come in or the sun not to rise. Rajoy and May are fighting to maintain a style of governance that does not fit with the emerging social, technological and cultural zeitgeist of today.

Power devolved by today’s central governments is only done to maintain power, not to distribute power to those closest to the problems for the benefit of the nation. “It’s not real independence” Unionists shouted at the white paper, but post-Brexit we now know that their definition of real independence is as outdated as their centralised Governmental systems.

It’s an awful word, I know, but what if the only way to govern in a modern world is through independence and alliances as with Belgium’s planned con-federalism? Independence without separation, self determination without isolation, power without corruption, Government without the distance or the disinterest?


About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • Good article and I believe the various independence movements reflect the situation exactly as you say. May’s answer, and Rajoy, to this new world is to tighten security and prevent vocalising which is just what her government accuse others of doing.
    Watched the piece on RT and enjoyed it.

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