Paul Malgrati writes on the Unsubmissive France project, and the prospects for Scotland and EU reform of a Mélenchon victory.
For the last few weeks, the British media have been discovering Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French left-wing candidate currently surging in the polls, between 18 and 20%, just below Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Mélenchon could indeed be the surprise of this election. Calling for a new, more democratic constitution, proposing a Keynesian economy recovery together with an ecological energy transition, and advocating a more antagonistic approach against the EU’s neoliberal model, the rising to power of the “Unsubmissive France” (Mélenchon’s political movement) could lead Europe and the whole European left on a whole new track.
What would this mean for Scotland?
On the contrary to the other main presidential aspirants of the French election, Mélenchon has been a long standing and consistent advocate of Scotland’s cause. One week before the 2014 referendum, interviewed by the French radio RTL, he stated that he “obviously” supported independence according to Scotland’s status as “our oldest ally”. Moreover, he added that Scotland’s independence movement stressed the failure of monarchy to unite different peoples compared to the unifying and equalitarian qualities of the Republican regime. This position was reiterated in July 2016, after the Brexit vote, when Mélenchon wrote on his blog that “from a French perspective, and considering our long history, the Irish reunification and the Scottish independence are very comfortable thoughts”.
Since then, Mélenchon’s position has not changed. Yet it has deepened. Last month, on his Youtube channel, the left-wing candidate took several minutes to explain that the Scottish question, revived by Brexit, had to be thought together with the many frontier crises affecting the whole of Europe, from Belgium and Catalonia to Ukraine and Crimea. To avoid the many bilateral tensions entailed by these crises, Mélenchon then proposed — in the casual tone characterising his popular Youtube interventions — “to organise a great security conference from the Atlantic to the Oural mountains so that all these questions can be dealt with. […] Everybody’s got to discuss. Frontiers, in the west of Europe, are already being discussed, and we can’t tell people to piss off. You can’t do that for Scotland and Ireland. Sooner or later this question will have to be solved, and we will solve it all the easier as we solve it globally, making sure that no one is humiliated, neither though the negotiations nor through the referenda that will have to take place”. In other words, this “great security conference” would change the nature of the Scottish question from a bilateral dispute between the Scottish and British governments to a multilateral negotiation. This latter would likely result in a new referendum, legitimized by the common agreement of the international community. Needless to say that such a case would prevent anyone to call the legitimacy of the Scottish referendum into a question. Furthermore, the international integration of the independence process would certainly facilitate the subsequent incorporation of the Scottish State within European and worldwide community of nations.
On the side of the “great security conference”, Mélenchon’s grand plan for Europe would also enable the Scottish government to play its cards right. The position of the “Unsubmissive France” on Europe can be summarized by two plans. Plan A: France will propose its partner to pull out of the European budgetary treaties — enforcing austerity and preventing social and fiscal harmonization over Europe— and to modify the status of the European Central Bank so that member States of the Eurozone can borrow money directly from it, without resorting to private banks, and therefore plummeting the interest rates weighing upon their public deficit. If a satisfying agreement is reached, the French people would then have to ratify it by referendum. On the other hand, if the negotiations prove fruitless, Plan B would be triggered, that is to say a referendum on the EU membership. Mélenchon’s Frexit, however, would neither be Le Pen’s Frexit nor May’s Brexit but would immediately seek a new form of cooperation with the many European nations whose interests lie in the ending of austerity and the development of an international social law.
Whichever way the whole process follows, Scotland would always have an interesting part to play in it. Indeed, Plan A, whose negotiations would spread over several months, would enable the Scottish government to call for a fairer and more progressive EU, as it used to advocate it during the Greek crisis and before the Brexit vote. This move would overcome the rather simplistic division between “right-wing brexiters” and “progressive remainers” which has been prevailing since June 2016, likely to put off many “Yes-Leave” voters. Instead, Scotland’s support for France’s Plan A could unite the pro-EU side of the Scottish electorate with those who resent the neoliberal and antidemocratic sides of the EU—a popular coalition which, by the way, would be crucial to secure a “Yes” majority for the next referendum. Furthermore, Scotland’s advocating of a different, more social Europe, could assert her voice within the European debate, becoming a necessary ally to France, Greece, Portugal and the many other nations which have an interest in the EU’s reform. Similarly, in the case of a French Plan B, which would mean the collapse of the EU as we know it, Scotland could present herself as a central partner for the European nations willing to create a new and fairer union, at the opposite of the xenophobic and isolationist Brexit.
In any case, Mélenchon’s victory would certainly allow the Scottish left, to impose a progressive and anti-austerity narrative on the EU, a move which, so far, has been prevented by the xenophobic hijacking of euro-scepticism in the UK. In short, Plan A as well as Plan B would enable Scotland to show that her opposition to Brexit did not mean that she suddenly and gullibly fell in love with Brussels and that the radical hopes conveyed by the 2014 “Yes” campaign are more than ever needed to assert Scotland’s original place within the international community.
Of course, without independence Scotland’s room de manoeuvre in the European debate is still limited and it is impossible to tell how her own agenda would deal with France’s “great security conference”, Plan A and, possibly, Plan B. What is certain, however, is that Mélenchon’s election could open windows of opportunity which, if the Scottish government knew how to use them, could haste a progressive and forward-looking independence —together with the profound renewal of a seven hundred years Auld Alliance.