ON November 18, The Break-up Of Britain conference will be held in Edinburgh, on the future of the United Kingdom, its nations, and the European Union, inspired by the work of Tom Nairn. Here, Anthony Barnett writes on one of the key themes.

SEEN from the perspective of English progressives, we need the Scottish campaign for independence to shift from leaving Britain to leading Wales, and eventually England, into a much healthier Union – the EU.

I’d suggest that such a shift would transform Scotland’s referendum, when it eventually comes, into a better way for all the UK’s nations to come together, as geographically and historically linked member states within a shared European space.

This new perspective is needed now because Europe is focusing on a new, historic enlargement and Scotland urgently needs to be involved. Had the UK still been in the EU, the British would have led the process of accelerating Ukraine’s membership. Now, the London media treat enlargement as an improbable irrelevance, perhaps because progress for the European project makes Brexit all the more humiliating.


But led by its president, Ursula von der Leyen (below), the European Commission wants to secure the expansion of the EU from 27 countries to much more than 30 by 2030. The ambition may be hard to achieve quickly – the number of accession countries is not finalised and the process may necessitate deep internal reforms.

READ MORE: Pro-Palestine march: Major crowds gather in Glasgow as aid enters Gaza

But the issue is no longer “whether” the EU enlarges, as it was before Russia invaded Ukraine, but “when and how”. The commitment to expansion has been made, whatever the scepticism of British naysayers.

The National: Ursula von der Leyen

It’s worth remembering that in 1989, when France and Germany announced they wanted to see the creation of a single currency, the British insisted this laughable idea could never happen. So, beware of Anglo Saxon “scepticism”. All too often it turns out to be a complacent desire for the status quo masquerading as practical wisdom.

How can Scotland become part of the EU’s accelerated enlargement? By calling for the EU to declare in advance that it will welcome Scotland’s re-joining should it become a recognised independent state, and asking that as a historic European country and part of the EU for 47 years, Scotland will be assisted to meet any transition costs in an accelerated accession process, since the country has long fulfilled the core requirements of an open, free and law-based society.

With such a commitment, it is likely (although not inevitable) that an unshakable majority in Scotland will desire membership of the larger union, to the point where Westminster cannot deny their choice. Then, as an advanced economy, Scotland will be able to help make the larger accession process a success, as a full participant in the expansion of the EU.

A standard argument against such a suggestion is that the EU “cannot” offer membership in advance, or even address the issue because Scotland’s constitutional future is the internal matter of another state.

However, while British leaders constantly advertise their “radicalism” to mask their attachment to the status quo (something the late Tom Nairn often ridiculed), the EU is different. It emphasises that the accumulated “acquis” of its laws must be adhered to in order to metamorphose itself effectively. Shapeshifting is in its nature. Indeed, its commitment to cumulative transformation is arguably the most successful revolutionary project of the 20th century.

READ MORE: Israel must follow international law in Gaza - we cannot see genocide

This spirit is something that comes to the fore in a new report commissioned by the French and German governments. Written by a group of 12 (nine women and three men), it was tasked with setting out how the EU can expand. In clear, precise English, the group proposes a flexible outcome of concentric circles of membership and influence.

Two passages are of special interest. The first recognises the need to integrate new forms of participatory democracy into the government of the EU. The second addresses the territorial complexity of enlarging to the East.

What should EU policy be when accession countries include “disputed territories”? A key example is Crimea and Ukraine.

The group’s proposal is that no disputed territory should be brought into the EU without the clear assent of a majority of its population: “The accession of countries with disputed territories within a country outside the EU will have to include a clause that those territories will only be able to join the EU if their inhabitants are willing to do so.”

In other words, the proposers call on the EU to declare in advance of membership terms for including territories that are not nation-states.

The EU could apply the same approach to Scotland. Indeed, during the Brexit negotiations, the EU committed itself to accepting Northern Ireland should it vote to unite with the Republic.

Of course, persuading the leaders of the EU to make such an offer is a matter of politics based on the strength of opinion in both Scotland and the EU.

I’m a supporter of Europe for Scotland with 15,500 supporters (so far) from across all of Europe working to achieve Scottish membership by expanding political support for this across the continent. Early this year, in Edinburgh, I was discussing the idea informally with a leading Labour politician. We agreed that Tom Nairn’s influence was due not to him being a nationalist but to his work on the central importance of nationality. When a mutual acquaintance joined us, I explained that I’m an Englishman who supports Scotland’s independence while our politician friend is a Scot who supports the Union. “There you go again”, he responded, “telling us what to do”.

But the way I see it, the time has come for the Scots to tell the English what to do.

Before 2016, it was still plausible to argue for a capacious, constitutionalised Britain happy in its European skin. But since Brexit, an English majority has turned Britishness into an irrevocably reactionary project. From right to left, from Dominic Cummings to Jeremy Corbyn, and all points in between, Anglo-British politicians maintain that a reformed UK Government can resolve our current malaise. But none of their solutions will be effective because the source of the problem is the British state itself, with its in-built imperial institutions, tax havens, self-regard and obsession with sovereignty.

The British state has become a prison of nations, England included. We need a joint jailbreak. Not so each of us can be “free and alone” but instead to rejoin our European cousins in a larger, better union. And the jailbreak needs a leader.

READ MORE: Call for elected SNP members to push for ceasefire in Middle East

Perhaps “telling” the English what to do isn’t the right way of putting it, with overtones of aggression and resentment.

The first step is to move away from the old narratives and explore how to develop a different kind of conversation; one that isn’t defined by the barking of the right-wing London media and resentful opposition to them. That’s something we’re hoping to achieve at a conference salute to Tom Nairn in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on November 18.

It might seem hard to maintain optimism as the SNP deflate and the national question apparently recedes. But only if your vision is blinkered by Britishness.

The European Union is opening the road to a historic expansion. It will be hard-fought – and every nation in the UK needs Scotland to be an early part of it.

For more information on the event and for tickets or to donate, visit https://thebreakupofbritain.net/