As I was chatting with my dissertation adviser yesterday while in DC (yes, my dissertation was completed in 1993 but the relationship goes on), I had an epiphany that had been on the edges of my thinking but finally popped: the Brexit folks are secessionists.
Sure, the European Union is not a country (nor does it have an army), but the effort to pull the UK out of the EU is very much like the effort to secede from an advanced democracy. How so? While the EU’s democratic credentials have long been criticized (so many articles about its democratic deficit), the key here is that it is not oppressive or repressive. Which makes it hard for those to make the case that their hunk of territory should exit. This is very similar to the problem facing the Scots and the Quebecois–that secession would not solve the problem of political repression, which distinguishes the cases and outcomes of these places with the South Sudans and Kosovos of the world.
When the Scottish separatists sought to win their referendum, they seemed to borrow from the Quebec playbook: minimize the costs of departure (hey, we can get right back into the EU and even NATO, no economic harm will happen, yada, yada) and maximize the expected gains. Indeed, this is rule #1 of secessionists.
While I have not followed Brexit as closely as I probably should, I do see lots of the same kinds of claims being made–that there will be no harm to the economy from departure, that any economic instability/uncertainty would be short-lived, that it will be easy to develop new trade agreements (despite the fact that bilateral deals favor the stronger player, which would not be the UK vis-a-vis the US, China, the rest of the EU, etc), and on and on.
The arguments that this secession would free the UK from its obligations to the EU army is just the silliest bunch of crap. As long as Greece remains in the EU and Turkey remains in NATO, there will be little progress on a common security policy of any kind (I am very much a Common Security and Defence Policy skeptic). Oh, and by the way, any/all coalition/alliance commitments made are, um, purely voluntary. You don’t have to read the Dave and Steve book to understand that [though it helps :) ] The EU could not drag the UK into any commitment that would get in the way of the UK’s NATO commitments. The UK remains very sovereign in that regard.
Indeed, the one very predictable consequence of a Brexit would be bad for NATO–that if the UK leaves the EU, the next Scottish referendum would produce a very different result. And that independent Scotland would be problematic for NATO given British basing of its nuclear subs way up north.
The big question I have for the Brexiters is this: what will British politics look like without Scotland? Is that something you desire? Because the Brexiters on the right find that future appealing, but the Brexiters on the left? Hmmmm.