“Ultimately, the member states decide” – interview with Andrew Moravcsik on the Scottish referendum and European Union politics

One week after the Scottish vote, has life for the EU come back to normal?

Life is short, and we should not spend so much time on things that are highly unlikely to occur. About 75% of what we read in the newspaper concerns things that might happen and don’t. The Scottish referendum was one such story. It turned out to be closer than people thought, but the probability that it was ever going to pass was always in single digits. (The same goes, by the way, for the probability that Britain will ever vote to pull out of the EU or that the British government, faced with such a vote, would actually do so.) So why was so much attention paid to it? In ten years, nobody will talk about the possibility of Scottish independence anymore from an international relations or EU perspective.

Insofar as the Scottish referendum is worthy of our attention, it is almost entirely from an internal British perspective. One, if you try to reconstruct rationally the set of considerations for the Scottish people in this referendum, and you see that close to 50% of the Scottish people voted in favor of independence, then it shows that the political process in Scotland got out of control. That is interesting, but not from an EU perspective. Two, it has left the UK in a bit of constitutional turmoil, which could change how domestic politics is made in that country.

Was the discussion on whether an independent Scotland would have been able to remain part of the European Union – both legally and politically – then entirely futile?

This is not an interesting question, because it involves too many hypotheticals. Interesting questions arise from what we know. We know this: the heads of state and government, all 28 of them, are set against encouraging separatist movements within an EU member state ...

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