I’ve been mulling on the tragic story of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France and the current storm over Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign to break away from the UK.
At first sight, the comparison seems a bit far-fetched. However, parallels are of course two lines that don’t actually meet, so please humour me for a while.
First off, the obvious differences. There is no suggestion of a violent struggle for independence. Scotland has a democratic route to achieve this, even though there is a tussle over the timing of a possible referendum. Secondly, Scotland was not forced into the union with the UK in the first place. Though democracy did not exist in 1707 when the union was created, the great and the good in Scotland at the time voluntarily signed up to union with the UK because it gave them access to the lucrative markets of the British Empire. Interestingly enough, the Scots were much keener on joining the union than the English, who rejected the proposal more than once.
Now for the similarities. Both countries are oil rich and have the potential for diversified and prosperous economies that are less dependent on oil in the future. Another similarity is that Algeria is a member of the very small club of countries that successfully left the EU, along with Greenland. In 1962, Algeria was part of France and therefore part of the EEC. That membership lapsed on independence.
However, the biggest similarity of all is that both face difficult decisions about the future nature of the relationship with the countries of which they were a part. The attitude of many Algerians to France is ambivalent, to say the least. The same is true of how many Scots feel about the UK, and about England in particular. It is also the case that many Scots who have no wish to see the UK ripped apart, feel that they have already had a chance to vote in a referendum, and are tired of what they see as the nasty and independence-obsessed policies of the Scottish National Party.
The greatest risk for England and Scotland is that, far from independence leading to a continual improvement in the relations between the two former partners, there could be decades of friction and hurt. What the UK has and Algeria has never had to contend with is the real possibility of a ‘hard border’. This is something the EU may insist on rather than either the Scots or the English, and could be divisive and destructive in the extreme.