Dennis Macshane: Here's to the union with Europe and Scotland

Those who want to repeal both acts of union have never been cockier or more strident


The year 2007 sees the anniversaries of two acts of unions which altered profoundly the nature of our nation-state. Three hundred years ago England and Scotland co-joined to produce a success story in turning an off-shore European island into one of the most powerful states in world history. Fifty years ago another Act of Union was signed - the Treaty of Rome, which Britain signed up to 15 years later. Just as with the Anglo-Scots fusion, so to joining the European Union, has altered fundamentally our country. The 50 years of European union have been the best half century in the continent's two-and-a-half millennia of existence. No wars. Democracy defeating left-over fascism then east European communism. A surge in middle-class prosperity reaching out to the poorest parts of Ireland, southern Italy or Andalusia.

So 2007 might be a good year to celebrate both Acts of the Union. Instead, the defenders of both the United Kingdom and the European Union are "wee timorous beasties", to quote Robert Burns, nervously unwilling to assert it's good to be British and it's good to be European. While those who want to repeal both acts and hate both the Anglo-Scottish and the European unions have never been cockier or more strident.

When Edward Heath, the prime minister who took the UK into Europe, was first a cabinet minister more than half of Scotland's MPs were Tories. Today's Tories have spent the past decade as little more than an M25 party. Labour has become Britain's main unionist party and as a result every discontent in Scotland can be laid at Labour's door.

This fuels Scottish separatism and the most potent of populist political beliefs that all would be well if it were not for alien rule denying full sovereign identity. Alex Salmond's vision of a sovereign Scotland with its own embassies, each complete with his portrait in the entry hall, belongs to national romanticism but is seductive. It is the same language of separatist movements elsewhere in Europe, who raise the flag of the Basques, or the northern 'Padanian' Italians, or the Flemish on the basis that all would be well if only Spain, or Italy or Belgium were broken apart.

Scotland for the Scots is matched of course by the clamour of England for the English from the right of the Conservative Party. David Cameron has so far avoided the trap of proclaiming the Tories an England-only party but if Alex Salmond leads the crusade against the 1707 Act of Union, Mr Cameron has no compunction in leading the most anti-EU of any mainstream conservative party in Europe.

In this, Mr Cameron feels, with justice, that he has much public opinion, most of the mass circulation press and a good deal of British business on his side. The CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, and the other business groups are irritated about EU regulations but have forgotten that most are in place to enforce a single market. To read the French press or listen to the Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, is to have the EU described as a giant Atlanticist capitalist conspiracy to force countries to accept rules which undermine sovereign social protectionism.

But the voices to defend the Treaty of Rome appear as muted as those ready to defend the Act of Union. The best of Scottish communicators and politicians make their careers in London. Having done so well out of being British as well as, like me, being born in Scotland, the time has come for some of them to make the case for union. In 2007, can the BBC give a sabbatical to Andrew Marr, Jim Naughtie and Andrew Neil and can gifted Scottish political communicators like Douglas Alexander, John Reid, Malcolm Rifkind and Charlie Kennedy be relieved of some of their Westminster-Whitehall duties and make the case for the reinvigoration not the destruction of the 1707 Act of the Union?

In his last few months in office can Tony Blair make the case for the European Union and a celebration not a condemnation of the 1957 Treaty of Rome? Millions of business pounds now fund the pullulating anti-EU policy groups as well as the publication of expensive advertising campaigns aimed ultimately at separating Britain, or perhaps soon enough just England from Europe. The pro-European voices lack money, leadership, confidence and clout.

This year should be the moment to celebrate the two great unions which have done so much for our country. But instead it is the voice of separation and dislike of London and Brussels which prevails.

The author was the Minister for Europe until 2005. His biography of Sir Edward Heath has just been published

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