Our partner publication, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, recently released a new issue on the theme of “Trade and Conflict”. Below is a summary of Herbert Rioux’s article “Rival economic nationalisms: Brexit and the Scottish independence movement compared

The recent resurgence of economic nationalism, protectionism, and “authoritarian capitalism” has been polymorphic and contradictory. Moves away from multilateralism have often been justified by pleas in favor of “free but fair” trade, and bilateral liberalization. The United Kingdom (U.K.) is a particularly interesting case. Among the paradoxes having surrounded the Brexit process, one stands out which underlines another manifestation of this polymorphism. The Scottish government (SG) announced its intention to hold a second referendum on independence in the wake of Brexit, which is illustrative of the wider dynamism of regionalism and secessionism. As the U.K. tries to regain some autonomy from the European Union (EU), internal challenges to its sovereignty also intensify. So far, the mainstream Brexiteers’ and Scottish nationalists’ pursuit of economic autonomy has had little to do with autarky. In fact, both movements highlight how economic nationalism should perhaps not be reduced to protectionism.

Although they are opposed in their stances towards the EU, mainstream proponents of Brexit and of Scotland’s independence indeed share relatively similar (yet largely incompatible) objectives: that of diversifying their country’s commercial relations, and that of regaining control over economic policy through enhanced autonomy from specific political ensembles. Both movements face similar difficulties. Aside from a small group of radical “maximalists” that wish to cut most ties with the EU and resort to protectionism (sometimes referred to as the “Little Englanders”), the majority Brexiteers try to safeguard the U.K.’s trade relations with the EU while deconstructing the surrounding political and regulatory edifices. This has proven to be easier said than done. Scottish nationalists would like to see Scotland partly emancipated from its deep commercial and political dependency on the U.K., by seeking to reinforce ties to the EU. This pursuit has been waylaid by U.K’s withdrawal from the EU. Scotland’s secession, followed by EU membership, may lead to trade barriers with the U.K. (Scotland’s leading export market).

Hubert Rioux’s article, “Rival Economic Nationalisms: Brexit and the Scottish independence movement compared” aims to answer the following three related questions on the subject:
1) How to characterize the economic nationalism put forward by mainstream Brexiteers and Scottish nationalists?
2) What are the main implications of these economic nationalisms for international trade policy?
3) What are the main difficulties these two movements encounter in the “selective reduction of [their] state’s level and scope of integration” with other specific states or unions, or what Schimmelfennig calls “differentiated disintegration”?

To answer these questions, Rioux’s article proceeds in two stages.

Firstly, he evaluates how Brexit compares to wider trends of resurging economic nationalism gaining ground elsewhere, and some of the difficulties the movement is facing in its pursuit of “differentiated disintegration” from the EU. To that end, he draws from literature distinguishing economic nationalism from protectionism and insists that the former is not incompatible with liberal trade policies. More specifically, Rioux adopts a “nationalist” perspective on international political economy, which focuses on economic nationalism’s “directionality,” namely on the idea that governments can seek autonomy from specific states or unions while liberalizing their trade relationships with others.

Secondly, Rioux focuses on the Scottish independence movement, providing an overview of the ways in which Scottish nationalists’ perspectives on European integration and international trade have evolved, adapting to circumstances and opportunities. Major commercial debates surrounding the September 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence are investigated. Ultimately, Rioux analyzes the ways in which Brexit has and may continue to affect the objectives and strategies of the Scottish independence movement with regards to trade and European membership.
Rioux concludes that Brexit and the Scottish independence movement are not indicative of a backlash against liberalization or integration per se, but rather of obstacle-ridden attempts to reclaim the means for more selective approaches to liberalization and integration in global markets and value chains. In this sense, the U.K. offers a number of pivotal lessons regarding the current resurgence of economic nationalism.

Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

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