Why Eurosceptics Speak Norwegian

The language of resurgent nationalism and enthusiastic devolution has swept into the mainstream of British politics and it would be extraordinary if some English MPs did not get lifted by this wave of the zeitgeist.

Members of the House of Commons will today spend several hours debating the Silk Commission – the body launched to consider giving tax-raising and other powers to the Assembly.

The commission will not meet for the first time until Friday so there is no report to discuss. MPs will therefore have the time and opportunity to share their deepest hopes and fears about the future of the United Kingdom.

The prospect of a referendum on Scottish independence – or at the very least full financial autonomy – is all but inevitable.

There is often a sense of fizzing outrage that Scottish students are spared tuition fees while English youngsters must take on years of debt as the price of entry to higher education.

But amid these outbursts of angst, English MPs must surely find themselves imagining life in an independent England.

At the last Westminster election the Conservatives won 298 seats in England, ahead of Labour on 191, the Liberal Democrats on 43 and the one Green MP.

Conservative MPs denounced as rebels last week for calling for a referendum on EU membership must shiver in excitement when dreaming of the policies such a country could pursue.

England could, theoretically, pull out of the European Union and pursue the example of Norway. Its 4.9 million oil-rich citizens rejected EU membership in 1972 and 1994 but the country is a member of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association.

Instead of hammering at the gates of Brussels, people living in the land where the paper clip was invented seem to be happy eurosceptics. Polls show overwhelming opposition to full membership and the chaos in the eurozone is unlikely to woo them to the federalist cause.

But an independent England might not be a Conservative fantasia. The permanent seat at the UN would go, reborn radical liberalism might take root in the downturn-battered cities and socialist voices in local government might demand full regional devolution to challenge the dominance of London.

Cornwall, a region of beautiful landscapes and tangible deprivation, might be the setting for a modern nationalist revival.

Such scenarios are hard to imagine but the Scots have the power to force a revolution on all of us. An independent Scotland is a distinct possibility in the near future.

What once seemed a pipedream is perhaps easier to imagine than a United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland hanging together without Scotland.

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