Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Cries for Secession
Contrary to what some think, the area of modern Belgium has been a distinct political area for quite some time before the declaration of independence in 1830. It was distinct during the period it was united to The Netherlands after the Napoleonic Wars and before that it had long been the westernmost outpost of the Hapsburg empire. Wallonia as a part of the French Republic holds no romance for me and would be an odd fit; the similarities of language aside. However, Wallonia is not the driving force behind this but rather Flanders. What would become of Flanders? There are two options: either Flanders remains independent or joins their fellow Dutch speakers in a “Greater Netherlands”. Neither option appeals to this monarchist. First of all, let there be no confusion on this point: an independent Flanders would be a republic. Period. Without doubt. So, in that scenario, Europe loses a monarchy and is cursed with another republic. In the second case; Flanders being annexed by The Netherlands, no new republics are created (assuming Wallonia joins France as is most likely) but Europe is still down one monarchy. Not good. Furthermore, I do not believe Flanders would be happy in The Netherlands anyway. They have too much of a regional mindset and are too used to being treated as something special for me to believe that they would be content to be just another Dutch province. So, I say “no” to a Flemish republic and “yes” to the Kingdom of Belgium (which, lest we forget, has been a country longer than Germany, Italy, Poland and a number of others).
It was not long after the First Carlist War, still during the reign of Queen Isabella II, that republicanism began to be a major force in Catalonia and, for the most part, it has only grown stronger since then. Today the Catalan nationalist movement is almost totally dominated by republicans and more often than not, republicans of a very radical stripe. It is also true that the Spanish government, in the past, bent over backwards to please Catalonia, which has long been the industrial heartland of Spain, such as in placing tariffs on imported goods that benefited greatly Catalan industry but which hurt the poorer, more rural areas of Spain. Since that time the local politics have grown ever more radical. Most were on the side of the republicans in the Spanish Civil War (and the Second Republic had made numerous concessions to them) and they regard it as the darkest period when Generalissimo Francisco Franco emerged victorious and reunited Spain under a central government that abolished all special privileges for individual regions. Today, an independent Catalonia would still join the European Union and would solve none of her economic woes based on the voting pattern of the populace that supports the nationalist parties and it would be a cause for potential trouble within Europe because the most ardent Catalan nationalists also claim territory that is currently within the borders of France. So what would be the result of Catalan independence? Another leftist republic, possibly the loss of a monarchy and even more republics, as well as potential danger over territorial claims. On every front the only answer is “no”.
Personally, I cannot help but have a bit of nostalgia for the old, feudal Kingdom of Scotland and had I been alive at the time I would probably have favored the later Stuart policy of three kingdoms in personal union under the Crown rather than under one centralized government in London. The Scots would seem to have a good case to argue when it comes to demanding independence. After all, England did use some rather coercive tactics to gain their consent to it, England had been extremely brutal in the aftermath of the 1745 Uprising and the English had executed two Scottish monarchs in the past. However, many Scots have a selective memory when it comes to these outrages. The Scots had actually been the first to rebel against King Charles I long before the civil wars that brought about his eventual execution and Mary Queen of Scots was only in England to be executed because her own Scottish subjects had chased her out of the country with English support. Likewise, in the 1745 Uprising, although the highland clans are the most remembered, at least a third of Scotland was staunchly on the side of England and King George II (just as some Englishmen were for the Stuarts). So things are not always as simple as they seem by those who look at everything as “us” versus “them”. Even going back to the romantic days of Sir William Wallace, it is often forgotten that King Edward I of England only became involved in Scotland in the first place because the Scots themselves could not settle on a monarch and asked for his arbitration (big mistake).
All of that, however, is only of secondary importance to me. What I look at is how Scotland has fared since the union as compared to before. When England, Scotland and even Ireland were all playing on the same “team” (some, admittedly, more willingly than others) the result was the largest and most successful empire that had ever existed in the history of the world. Nor was this, at any point, an Anglos only club. The Gaelic Irish might have been excluded from the halls of power but the Scots most certainly were not. Scottish politicians pulled considerable weight in the government and, even in the eighteenth century, Scottish officers so dominated the British army one could be forgiven for thinking some sort of conspiracy might have been underfoot (though there wasn’t of course). What seems to make Scotland stand out today, as far as separatist movements go, is the fact that I see less going from Scotland to England and more going from England to Scotland. Again, partly because of the economic policies Scotland has embraced in the past. I know many Scottish nationalists will say that there is oil in them thar North Seas and that will allow them to all live like kings and laugh at the misfortune of poor, impoverished England. However, I have a hard time believing such a rosy picture considering that Scotland just doesn’t look like a very prosperous country these days. Most of the Scots seemed to have moved to England (or if they have the money of 007 to Bermuda). People do not tend to flee states that are economically strong.
Of course, I could be wrong, but the Scottish Nationalist Party is not doing a very good job of reassuring me by their reluctance for a total and complete break with England or their continued devotion to the European Union. That is one of the biggest problems I have with most of these independence movements is that it seems like everyone these days has completely forgotten what the word “independence” means. It means you have no one above you, you are utterly free and unattached, you are making it on your own Mary Richards. Today it seems more like a teenager telling their mom and dad that want to be treated like an adult but still want to live at home rent-free without paying utilities and instead of having their parents boss them around (never stand for that), will instead allow the parents down the street to boss them around at will. They seem to want to keep most of the benefits of United Kingdom membership while at the same time rejecting “rule from London” while openly embracing rule from Brussels. That may make sense to some people but I am certainly not among them. It also seems to me that when you want to extend the franchise to 16-year-olds you have pretty much admitted that you are not counting on rational, reasoned decision-making by the populace when referendum time comes.
At the end of the day, declaring “independence” while remaining in the EU is not to declare independence at all and certainly the Scots have more in common with the English than they do with the French, Germans, Poles, Belgians etc. Not only are there probably more Scots in England than in Scotland but most people have, by now, both Scottish and English (and Irish) blood in their veins who live in most any populated section of Britain. And, of course, there is the monarchy. The SNP, as far as I can tell, do not claim to be officially republican -which is a far cry from claiming to be officially monarchist. Their official position is that HM the Queen would remain their monarch after independence. However, balanced against that is the torrent of abuse I have seen myself leveled against the Queen and the monarchy from SNP supporters. Certainly most of the members that I have heard from in articles and interviews have been ardent republicans. True, one can still find the occasional, frustrated Jacobite who supports Scottish independence in the hope that the Queen will be given her walking papers and the Duke of Bavaria will be invited to take up residence in Edinburgh but there is about as much chance of that happening as there is of the Chinese Communist Party offering to kowtow to the Emperor of Japan. From all I have seen there is not a doubt in my mind that an independent Scotland would become just another minor leftist republic in the European Union. Under different circumstances I would have no problem with a reversion to simply a personal union as existed prior to the reign of Queen Anne, but that is not what is on offer today and that is why the only answer to the Scottish independence question is “no”.
For the most part, this system worked. Some still sympathized with the Americans, but even most of them did nothing about it and the local leadership and the Catholic Church firmly supported the Crown in the Revolutionary War because they realized that they enjoyed a special status as part of the British Empire that they would certainly not enjoy under the United States government. It is worth looking at areas like Louisiana in the U.S. and comparing that state to the province of Quebec. French is still the spoken language in Quebec but practically no one in Louisiana speaks French anymore. A large majority in Quebec are still (nominally) Catholic whereas in Louisiana, where, while the Catholic Church is the largest single religious group, the majority of the population is Protestant. No matter how you look at it, the fact is that Quebec has remained unique and distinctive within British North America and later Canada whereas otherwise they would be just like Louisiana; different but not in any dramatic way.
And, of course, the bottom line for me is the monarchy and the Quebec separatists make no secret of their hatred for the monarchy and pretty much for anything associated with Britain or English-speaking Canada. Likewise, they too don’t really want true independence but want a status in which they still receive all the benefits of being a Canadian province without any of the obligations. North America does not need another republic and no matter what language they speak those who push for independence as a republic are simply traitors to HM the Queen of Canada and nothing more. I cannot even give them the slightest minimum of respect I might if these were French nationalists longing for reunion with the French motherland. They seem whiny (and you don’t have to forget something to get beyond it), spoiled (special privileges no one else has and it’s never enough), disloyal and additionally, unserious. Again, what they want is not real independence anyway and if they really wanted it, they would have it by now. The only answer for any monarchist to the secession of Quebec is a resounding “no”. Am I against secession on principle? No. Have I been against every act of secession in history? No. However, I am a monarchist first and foremost (when it comes to politics) and none of the secessionist movements going today are ones that I, as a monarchist, could ever support. Not every secessionist movement in history has been bad for monarchy but, from where I sit, all of those agitating now certainly are.