Fasten your seat belts, folks, because we are about to do it all over again.
Britain may have survived one recent constitutional crisis – last year’s vote on Scottish independence – but it is already hurtling violently towards another.
The Conservatives’ surprise general election victory two weeks ago means there will be an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017, if not sooner.
In England, the debate over Europe is driven by a toxic coalition of Tory hardliners, UKIP and the right-wing press, which has successfully tied Euroscepticism to the explosive issues of immigration and English national identity.
In Scotland, things are different. Ukip and the Tories have little influence on public opinion. There is no secondary rallying point or grievance around which anti-EU forces can organise. And our two main parties, Labour and the SNP, are staunchly pro-European.
But Scotland’s consensus on Europe disguises serious flaws in the European project. Nationalists, in particular, routinely overlook the pitfalls of EU membership – perhaps because the SNP adopted “Independence In Europe” as its slogan in the late 1980s and hasn’t looked back since.
Take Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that Scotland stands to benefit from up to £700million in EU regional development funds over the next few years. She’s right, but that sum is dwarfed by the UK’s annual payments to European institutions.
According to some estimates, the UK made a net contribution of £9billion to the EU in 2012, of which Scotland’s share would have been approximately £800million.
The EU also restricts the ability of member states to promote their own domestic industries. Indeed, the Scottish Government itself has fallen foul of European rules governing ‘state aid’, which the EU prohibitively defines as “an advantage in any form whatsoever conferred on a selective basis to undertakings by national public authorities.”
Last summer, plans to back the construction of a new Scottish film studio with public money were suspended when it became clear they would clash with European regulations.
Within the EU, even modest acts of state intervention are rigorously policed.
And there’s another problem with the SNP’s stance on Europe. The party’s claim that Westminster is beyond reform but somehow Brussels and Strasbourg aren’t simply doesn’t stack up. Just look at what happened to Greece.
Earlier this year, Greek voters elected Syriza, a coalition of left-wing parties, to renegotiate the €240billion bailout deal Greece signed with Europe after the country’s economy crashed during the financial crisis.
Pointing to soaring levels of Greek unemployment and poverty, Syriza argued that the terms of the deal – which included deep spending cuts and mass public sector redundancies – were too severe.
But Europe, led by Germany and the European Central Bank, hardly budged.
There would be no ‘bridging loan’ to relieve the pressure on Greece’s national finances, no end to the privatisation of Greek public assets and only a slight let-up in the pace of Greek deficit reduction.
Either Greece accepted European austerity or it exited the eurozone.
Scotland, of course, is not Greece. We have a much stronger economy and, were we to become an independent member of the EU, we would not adopt the euro as our currency.
But Europe’s treatment of Greece is revealing. The vision, outlined by former European Commission president Jacques Delors in 1988, of a Europe built around the principle of solidarity, or as a federation of social democracies, is dead.
What we have instead is a Europe dedicated to fiscal discipline and the free market; a Europe governed from the centre by big states in the interests of big states.
Supporters of the EU insist that the European social chapter – a treaty setting out the rights of European workers – has provided vital protections and entitlements (such as longer parental leave) for British employees. In reality, the treaty’s influence has been minimal.
The UK labour market is among the most liberalised in the Western world. Britain has the highest rate of low pay, one of the least generous pension systems and some of the weakest trade unions of any EU country.
So the question for left-leaning Europhiles is this: if Europe acts as a progressive safeguard against right-wing deregulation, why is the UK economy so heavily deregulated?
For too long, there has been an unthinking pro-European bias in Scottish politics.
The advantages of the EU (and there are some) have been asserted rather than explained, the disadvantages flatly ignored.
This is partly the result of Scotland’s tendency to define itself in opposition to England – if they, the isolationist English, want to leave Europe then we, the internationalist Scots, should want to stay in.
But it’s time to grow up. In order to thrive, Scottish social democracy will need an active and ambitious state. It’s not clear that can be achieved as part of a union so closely associated with free-market economics.