On March 13th, BBC correspondent Allan Little, the 2018 UC Berkeley Regents' Lecturer, delivered a talk to over 30 students and community members on UK-Scottish Relations After Brexit. Little, a native of Scotland, drew upon his experience growing up there, as well as his work with the BBC in Europe, to approach the question of whether the Brexit phenomenon would eventually lead to the breakup of the entire United Kingdom.
Little began by describing the EU’s current situation as “two kinds of mess,” both economic and political. The economic mess stems from a “one size fits all” monetary policy that a single currency necessitates, though the Euro does not in fact fit all when every EU economy differs massively. The political mess followed when the EU’s economic problems brought out tensions between countries and problems by holding power accountable.
Little then gave a brief overview of Britain’s Euroscepticism to prove that Brexit wasn’t simply a manifestation of current European malaise, listing various reasons including a sense of detachment from the rest of Europe that is often seen as superiority or British exceptionalism. In fact, Little claimed that Britain continued to see itself as an imperial power even after World War II, basing its trade system on imperial preference and continuing to prefer trade with its colonies over trade with its neighbors in Europe.
The European project, Little noted, was a top-down economic project generated by an elite, which succeeded in creating Europe, but not Europeans. The lack of a unifying European identity, he claimed, is the root of many of the EU’s problems and part of the reason that the British never felt themselves fully integrated as “Europeans.” The British always saw the EU mainly in terms of economic benefits, as evidenced by Thatcher’s approval of the single market in the 1980s, counterposed to her rejection of Jacques Delors’ vision of a social Europe. UK contempt for Europeans became more open and blatant in the late 1980s. New problems arose in the 2000s, when the arrival of immigrants from newly integrated Soviet Bloc countries elicited anti-immigration sentiment that eventually set the stage for the Brexit referendum.
Little then turned to Scottish history in particular, beginning with the shared British identity that tended the unite the UK, especially as Scotland remained economically dependent on Britain. He marked the 1990s as a turning point for the Scottish independence movement, as the conservative policies that the Scottish people consistently voted against continued to be imposed by British politicians. Today, the Scottish National Party is the largest party in Scotland, and Little claims that the popularization of independence was driven by shifting political values in the rest of Britain—the same political values that caused a majority in England to vote leave while the majority in Scotland voted remain.