LETTER:Quebec's political conundrum

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The Independent Online
From Mr Simon Partridge

Sir: It is clear from Alex Salmond's views on the referendum in Quebec (Another View: "Choose wisely, Quebec", 30 October) that he misunderstands the nature of the British state.

First, it is not a nation-state, it is a multi-national state and has been ever since the Act of Union with the Welsh in 1536. It would be more accurate to describe the present UK as a "unified parliamentary state" which nonetheless recognises considerable administrative and cultured autonomy, particularly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is ridiculous for Mr Salmond to describe Scotland as "powerless" when it has its own legal, educational, arts and broadcasting systems, including specific arrangements for Scots Gaelic.

Second, whatever else the British state might be, it is not locked into the 19th century. As historians of nationalism such as Professor Hobsbawm have shown, the idea of the "small country", and the associated principle of national self-determination, only rose to prominence in the latter part of the 19th century, and might be said to have ended in Europe in 1951 when the Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of today's European Union.

It is true that the further development of the EU towards monetary and political integration poses difficult questions of readjustment for all its member states, whether mono- or multi-national. But a little reflection shows that the "Europe of small countries", which the Scottish National Party advocates, cannot be a solution to the conundrum, for the simple reason that several of the nations are intrinsically large, for example the French and the English. To create viable political formations for the next millennium, we now need to move beyond the late 19th and early 20th century "principle of nationality" to create accountable institutions that are, at once, larger than existing large states and smaller than small nations (whether states or not).

Given the global moves towards ever increasing urbanisation, we should probably be thinking of continent-wide confederations based primarily round cities and their attendant hinterlands. What has been called, in shorthand, the "city region solution" - in which, no doubt, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen would play their full part within a wider British Isles and European setting.

Yours faithfully,

Simon Partridge

London, N2

30 October