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BOOK REVIEW: Eberhard Bort (ed.), View from Zollernblick: Regional Perspectives in Europe – A Festschrift for Christopher Harvie by Luis Moreno

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Eberhard Bort (ed.), View from Zollernblick: Regional Perspectives in Europe – A Festschrift for Christopher Harvie

Luis Moreno <http://www.euppublishing.com/action/doSearch?Contrib=Moreno%2C+L>

Luis Moreno is Research Professor at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

Citation Information. Volume 25, Issue 1, Page 128-131, ISSN 0966-0356, Available Online February 2016 .  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/scot.2016.0115

This book is a compilation of diverse contributions around the theme of regionalism in Europe. It has been edited by Eberhard Bort as a Festschrift for Christopher Harvie, a scholar with a long-term trajectory of academic excellence and a prolific writer, author of important contributions, such as his celebrated book, No Gods and Few Precious Heroes: Scotland Since 1914 (fourth revised edition published in 2013). The ‘ever-effervescent Chris Harvie’, as the journalist Ian Jack once called him, deserves no little recognition for his achievements. He turned 70 years of age a few days after the celebration of the Scottish referendum on independence. This smörgåsbord of a book, as the editor puts it, is a timely homage to Harvie's fruitful career.

A condensed biographical profile published in the The Guardian regarded Harvie as: ‘… A civic nationalist and greenish republican [whose] beliefs owe much to Marxism, as modified by Gramsci, the sociology of Patrick Geddes and a continually nagging if eclectic Christian socialism. He considers himself fortunate to have been able to teach – and learn from – excellent students in one of Europe's oldest universities [Universität Tübingen]; his loyalties [have lain] awkwardly between his homelands of Swabia, Scotland and Wales…’ Together with his 11 years experience at the Open University and his 27 years at Tübingen, Professor Harvie had a brief incursion into the ‘institutional’ world of politics as an MSP representing Mid-Scotland and Fife for the Scottish National Party in the Scottish Parliament during the 2007–11 legislature.

Before joining the SNP, Harvie had been a member of the Labour Party, fully committed to home rule. He co-authored, with Gordon Brown, A Voter's Guide to the Scottish Assembly (1979). He joined Plaid Cymru in 1991 and has always advocated self-government for Wales. He has also remained a member of the German SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), and the Fabian Society.

View from Zollernblick is the second collection of essays based on the European Regionalism symposia at Freudenstadt in Baden-Württemberg, organised since 1991 by Christopher Harvie and Eberhard Bort. The first volume, Networking Europe: Essays on Regionalism and Social Democracy, was published by Liverpool University Press in 2000. This second crop of papers from the annual gatherings comprise an array of regional perspectives on constitutional politics, policy areas and cultural connections, which reflect the spirit of those meetings in the German Schwarzwald, with contributions by authors from Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland, Germany and other European regions.

Chapters are grouped under five main headings: ‘The ever-effervescing Christopher Harvie’; Constitutional Futures: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Baden-Württemberg; Regional Politics and Policies; and Regional Cultures and Cultural Connections. With a variety of approaches and dealing with diverse analytical lenses, academics, politicians, writers and journalists contribute pieces, many of which revolve around developments in Scotland. Debates in recent years have been galvanised by the Scottish referendum on independence. Bort himself wrote in anticipation: ‘There may well be a No vote in September 2014.’ Such a prognosis is convincingly argued in the book based upon the regularity and stability of the preferences of the Scots during the years prior to the celebration of the referendum. The plausible prognosis has proven to be a sound postdiction.

As had happened with the case of the Quebec Referendum in 1995, early surveys in Scotland advanced a neat refusal of secession. In the Canadian province, nearly two thirds of Quebeckers had expressed their opposition to sovereignty at the beginning of the referendum campaign. However, the outcome resulted in a mere difference of 54,000 votes in favour of the union in an electoral census of nearly 5 million voters. In Scotland, a poll carried out on September 6th indicated that, excluding the undecided, those in favour and against were 51 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively. But according to Bort, with a binary or dual ‘either/or’ type of question like the one addressed in the referendum, the most plausible prediction was based upon the assumption that ‘… the minds of many Scots are made up about how they will vote in September 2014’.

The absence on the ballot paper of a third option between status quo or independence neglected the wish of a majority of Scots for greater home rule. Not surprisingly, and according to a post-referendum survey, two thirds of Scots were in favour of devo-max, with the support of 71 per cent of men, 62 per cent and women, and cross-cutting social classes and age groups. This option for a maximum of devolution was preferred by voters of all representative political parties in Scotland (59 per cent of Liberal Democrats, 60 per cent of Conservatives, 62 per cent of Labour, 71 per cent Greens, and 79 per cent of Nationalists) (The Herald, 5 October 2014).

With varying degrees and angles, Europeanisation is a theme cutting across most of the contributions included in the book. Indeed, developments around the turn of the millennium, and particularly since the onset of the 2007 financial crisis, have dramatically exposed the limitations of the European nation-state as a ‘sovereign’ single actor in global economics. Models of British ‘command-and-control’ majoritarian democracy, as well as of Jacobin vertical diffusion of power, appear now to be in terminal retreat. The ongoing re-scaling of nation-state structures and political organisation is in line with Europe's principle of territorial subsidiarity. This crucial tenet of Europeanisation establishes that policy decision-making should be located at the level closest to the citizen. In other words, the purpose of subsidiarity is to limit the power of central authorities by assuming the criteria of ‘proximity’ and ‘proportionality’. Territorial subsidiarity goes hand in hand with the second guiding principle of Europeanisation: democratic accountability. There cannot be any further development of institutional politics in Europe if decisions are taken behind-closed-doors, as happens in our often opaque state-centred polities.

It can be argued, as Neal Ascherson does in his chapter on ‘Europe's Pasts and its Possible Future’, that the European Union and the Eurozone would be better off without Britain. This statement is to be understood as the acknowledgment of a growing anti-EU sentiment in England, a nation which needs to be incorporated as a committed European partner. In order to envisage such a development, Ascherson considers that England is to strip off not only its Great British pretensions but also its self-deceiving illusion of being a ‘superpower’.

For all those readers interested in the territorial dimension of power this book is to be very welcomed. It is a highly valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion on the trials and tribulations of regions and regionalisms in Europe. Eberhard Bort announces new routes to explore, such as the (mis-) fortunes of social democracy, and the evolving constitutional patterns across Europe. There is no question that Freudenstadt will not run out of topics for debate with an ‘ever-effervescent’ Christopher Harvie.

January 2015

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