Everyone who knows me is aware that I come from Milan. I love Milan and I am proud of my city and my city’s history. I try to encourage people to visit it and enjoy it, because it is far more beautiful than a lot of them imagine; I promote our cuisine, my favorite dish in the whole world is the Risotto alla Milanese and I always argue with my Austrian friends over the paternity of the Cotoletta alla Milanese, also known as Wiener Schnitzel (it is ours, debate over). I sometimes get emotional when I think about the Duomo and about biking during the first hours of the morning around the streets of the City Center. I love the fact that we are the Capital of Fashion, that we have the most famous Opera house in the world, La Scala, and that we also have La Scala of football, the San Siro Stadium, home of A.C. Milan (and another team whose name I always forget). “Milan, l’è on gran Milan”, “Milan, is the great Milan”, they say back home, and I am not shy to endorse this way of saying.
Milan is a city in northern Italy, but it used to be the center and capital of the Duchy of Milan. Before the times of the Duchy, it had been, briefly, the Capital of the Roman Empire. The Duchy of Milan has a great and proud history and many of the symbols of the city were created then, from the already mentioned Duomo, to the Sforza Castle, for example.
What I am trying to say is that Milan is a city with plenty of history, a tradition of independence and sovereignty and, most importantly, proud inhabitants.
What does all of this have to do with anything? The point I am trying to make is that it is possible to be proud of one’s own regional identity, history and culture without necessarily having to fight for independence or wishing for a return to a world that does not exist any longer.
So, as you may have guessed, what I am really trying to say is that the demands of Scottish independence are not any tiny bit more legitimate than any similar request that would come from the people of Milan or the people of many other other Italian cities, for the matter, or most regions or former Duchies in Europe. After all, if Luxemburg is a country, Milan could be one as well.
In 1707, the Scottish people, approximately the great-grandparents of the great-grandparents of the great-grandparents of any Scott born in 2015, voluntarily signed a treaty to create the United Kingdom and recognize the King or Queen of England as the legitimate ruler over what was then known as the Kingdom of Scotland. How one can cling so long to the idea that 1706 was much better than 1707 and every year since is a mystery to me.
This is not to say the issue of identity is insignificant or mockery material. As a European enthusiast, I realize that the issue of identity is a key one to address if further integration at the European level were to ever work.
The problem, however, is that the idea that each identity needs full sovereignty over a certain land is simply unfeasible. And undesirable. Problems arise when certain people feel they need to limit and restrict the concept of identity rather than broadening it as if they lived in a vacuum or when the idea that identity does not evolve over 300 years is considered acceptable.
After more than 300 years from the Treaty of Union, the people who inhabit the region of Scotland are British Scots, at least on a collective level: it is an undeniable fact. An argument could be made that they are actually Europeans from Britain, specifically from Scotland.
But name-calling is really not the point. The point is that being a proud Scott and celebrating Scottish history and culture, recognizing it, in a sense, does not imply the necessity to have a nation called Scotland, with its own foreign policy, defense policy and so on, as a testament that anyone who desires can be part of that history, traditions and legacy: this makes the Scottish state a whim, at best. Frankly, Scotland today, as in the region that is part of the United Kingdom, has already plenty of autonomy.
In any case, there may be a solution to all of this, after all. There is a solution for the Scottish people and the Catalans, for the Flemish people in Belgium and for Basques.
That solution is Europe. The answer to the problem of regional identities in European nations is further European integration in terms of foreign policy and defense; in terms of the establishment of real European Intelligence Agencies and a real European Police; in terms of giving the European parliament full legislative authority on certain specific matters; in terms of directly electing key European political figures, such as the President of the Commission and the President of the Council of the European Union.
If that happens, then, there can be Regions, such as Scotland and Catalonia, with high levels of autonomy, from tax collection, to social security, to whatever else, in full respect of their own identity, history and culture. At the same, all these different truly amazing, proud and rich cultures and identities add up to form another bigger common identity: the European identity.
There is nothing wrong with being multiple things. No law says that having multiple identities is not allowed. Being Milanese, but also Italian and European, in whatever order, in my case, is permitted. Maybe it is time for many of the inhabitants of Scotland to realize that being British as well as Scottish as well as European is a thing that takes nothing away to their being Scottish.
It may actually be an improvement. As my philosophy professor in High School taught us the first week of class: philosophy was born in Greece when the Greeks came in contact with the Barbarians and civilization clashed. From different cultures and identities came some of the greatest thinkers and ideas in human history.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this would have never been such a potentially devastating issue had Mr. Cameron not used such a sensible item for his own political gain. In October, I wrote an article with James Lees, ahead of the referendum and we got it right:
“In Mr. Cameron’s thinking, the issue of Scottish independence could be addressed once and for all [with the referendum -ed], while he could be hailed as a truly democratic leader, not afraid to let ‘the People’ decide their own fate. Furthermore, the vote on Scottish independence could have locked up his re-election campaign for 2015, suggesting that the decision may have had an internal, political motive. It is no secret that Scotland is a strongly pro-Labour stronghold, and Ed Miliband would need the region’s support in order to defeat the incumbent Prime Minister. Mr. Cameron believed that a vote on Scottish independence could gain him some popularity among nationalist voters and, even more importantly, undermine the support for Labour in the region. This strategy seems to have partially worked: even though Tories have not racked up much support in Scotland, Labour seems to be losing a good deal of its own. In an October 2014 poll, support for the Scottish National Party had reached a historical peak of 52%, meaning they could feasibly win 54 seats in the British parliament [they won 56 -ed], leaving Labour with only 4 in the region—an historical low. With these numbers, it is extremely hard to imagine that Mr. Miliband could become the next Prime Minister, unless he forms a coalition government with the SNP.”
Mr. Cameron made the Scottish people believe that they could go back to the world of 1706. He did it to break up the Labour Party and may have broken the Union for good in the process. And he is not stopping there, as the issue of Scottish independence will explode again with the referendum on British membership in the EU, if it will not reemerge sooner, with 56 members of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons.
In conclusion, strong identity is not a sufficient condition for independence and identity is not a static concept. It evolves, with experiences and integration. With encounters with people with different identities and, yes, even culture clashes. If it is used as an excuse to regress, exclude and restrict, if it is used as an excuse to create boundaries and erect literal or metaphorical walls, I have just one thing to say: do it in the privacy of your own home. Furthermore, everything would be so much better if politicians acted as statesmen, instead of fueling issues that should not even be on the table for their own personal good.
I am not ready to go back to 1706. Please, wake up.