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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 11:08 GMT
Europe gets smaller as EU grows
Independence, enhanced devolution or the status quo?

Scotland is not the only European country to be debating its constitutional future.

BBC Scotland's David Miller is travelling across the continent, reporting for Good Morning Scotland from Spain, Italy and Slovakia on the changing face of European politics.

DAY SEVEN - CALEDONIA'S CALLING ME

It's the last day of my European tour. Tonight, I'll fly to Stansted - tomorrow, Prestwick.

No more worrying about how exactly I should pronounce Galicia or Slovakian cuisine's obsession with sausages. (I'm vegetarian.)

Bratislava Castle
Slovakian and European flags flying outside Bratislava Castle

I have learned a lot and, most importantly, I hope Good Morning Scotland's listeners have found my reports interesting and maybe even entertaining.

From the rain in Spain, to the Roman sunshine, and the chill of Slovakia, it's been a long and fascinating journey.

So, what are the lessons for Scotland? Well, as almost everyone has told me, you can't draw direct comparisons between different systems of government in different European nations.

Centuries of social, political and economic development make that just too dangerous.

But there are some striking similarities between the political situation in Scotland and the situation in Spain, Italy or Slovakia.

In Spain, I learned that national identity comes from within, not from above. As I reported from Santiago de Compostela, centuries of being Spanish haven't made the people of Galicia feel any less Galician. They want to make their own decisions, learn from their own mistakes but seem content to stop short of independence.

I have done my best to reflect the reality of European politics from a Scottish perspective

In Italy, I found out more about the Northern League's demands for greater autonomy in the wealthy north of the country. But the party is increasingly being seen as something of a political sideshow.

Italians don't tend to trust the politicians they already have and seem unlikely to support any major political changes any time soon. Corruption scandals and the huge cost of the lavish political system in Italy have taken their toll on a weary electorate.

In Slovakia, independence has been a success and has made a real difference to people's lives. Slovakians are wealthier than they've ever been. But can that success be attributed to independence or free-market economics?

Could those advances have been achieved within a united Czechoslovakia? Even the most senior politicians here in Bratislava can't decide on the answer to that question.

To be honest, there are more questions than answers. It's an old cliché, I know, but it's the best I can manage at this late hour.

But I do know someone who can sum it all up rather better than I can.

I have spent more time than I care to remember in airport departure lounges over the last couple of weeks.

I have passed my time reading "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck, in which the celebrated author drives across America, rather than flying across Europe as I have done. (By the way, Charley was his French Poodle.)

Steinbeck sums it all up when he writes: "I've always admired those reporters who can descend on an area, talk to key people, ask key questions, take samplings of opinions and then set down an orderly report very like a road map. I envy this technique and at the same time do not trust it as a mirror of reality. I feel that there are too many realities."

Yes, there's a reason why Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are, indeed, too many realities.

But I have done my best to reflect the reality of European politics from a Scottish perspective. I hope you've found it useful.

DAY SIX - GOOD MORNING BRATISLAVA

Well, it turns out I had more preconceptions than I thought about Bratislava, and most of them were wrong.

This is a city divided into two distinct parts by the River Danube. To the south, the sprawling Petrzalka housing estate is home to a large percentage of the city's population, and some particularly depressing architecture.

Bridge
The south of the city is dominated by the Petrzalka housing estate

I had been expecting Bratislava to have more than it's fair-share of Soviet-style concrete housing blocks.

But I'm told by local people that Petrzalka is actually a popular place to live and lacks many of the social problems we'd associate, rightly or wrongly, with peripheral housing estates in Scotland's big cities.

And that's only part of the story. To the north of the Danube, Bratislava's old town is a symbol of Slovakia's new found prosperity. Historic buildings have been renovated, their facades painted, and the streets repaved.

On the riverside, huge blocks of luxury apartments are being built. Demand for high-quality housing here is being driven by the growing wealth of the Slovakian middle classes and investors from elsewhere in Europe, notably the UK.

Difficult years

The country has made huge economic strides since independence. Unemployment has fallen from 21% to 10%. That's still high, but no longer the highest in Europe.

Major companies have moved in. Peugeot, Volkswagen and Hyundai employ thousands of people here and Slovakia now claims it produces more cars, per capita, than any other country in the world.

The years after independence were very difficult, largely due to the policies of the country's new government. The sale of state-owned companies was cancelled and other economic reforms were postponed.

But today, just over 15 years after independence, Slovakia's economy is growing fast.

It successfully negotiated membership of the European Union and Nato and is about to become one of the latest countries to use the Euro.

Slovakia has embraced the free-market economic policies and democratic values of western Europe and it's reaping the rewards.

DAY FIVE - FAREWELL ROME

It's Sunday afternoon and it's time to bid farewell to the Italian capital, its beautiful winter sunshine and blue skies.

I'll miss the long list of things which make this city special - the people, the architecture, the inescapable sense of history. I'll miss the ice cream too.

It reminded me of family trips to Nardini's in Largs during my school summer holidays in the 1970s. A little bit of Italian glamour in the midst of the Ayrshire drizzle. It's been good to experience the real thing, 30 years later.

Nardini's/Pic: Undiscovered Scotland
Scotland has always had strong connections with Italy

Right now, I'm waiting to board a flight to Bratislava, the capital of one of Europe's youngest independent nations - Slovakia. This is the last leg of my European journey and potentially the most interesting from a Scottish perspective.

Slovakia became independent on 1 January 1993. It has a population of just over five million, so it's not much larger than Scotland.

I want to discover how the country handled its journey to independence and how its economy has coped since the split with the Czech Republic.

This will be my first time in Slovakia and I'll be on a steep learning curve.

To be honest, it's probably a good thing for a journalist arriving in a new country to do so with an open mind and a fresh notebook.

I have few preconceptions and its better that way. My aim is to see as much of Bratislava as I can in the next 48 hours and to speak to as many Slovakians as I can too.

I'll let you know what I discover tomorrow.

DAY FOUR - PASSIONATE PEOPLE, PASSIONATE POLITICS

Rome. As the Americans would say, what's not to love? Fantastic food, beautiful people. This is a country of passion - above all, a passion for the good life. La Dolce Vita.

David Miller
David broadcasting back to Scotland

That means there's a passion for politics too, which explains why Rome is the latest stop on my tour of Europe.

Remember those questions I asked before I caught my flight to Rome's chaotic Ciampino airport?

Is Italy more united than the United Kingdom? Or are historic regional rivalries combining with modern day political pressures to expose a system of government which seems, well, out of step with the devolved politics and newly independent states which provide the building blocks for modern Europe?

After just 48 hours in Rome, the picture is becoming clearer. Italy operates a two tier regional political system.

The regions are equal, but some are more equal than others. Sicily and Sardinia in the south and parts of northern Italy enjoy the greatest autonomy.

The regional administrations don't have anything like as much power as the Scottish Government. Or the Xunta in Galicia.

They can veto national policies and often do. But as one political columnist here told me, they aren't historic European nations and can't expect the same treatment as Scotland.

'Velvet divorce'

So, is Italy more united as a result of Rome's reluctance to give up a significant amount of its political power? Well, it's certainly more united than some in Italian politics would like.

Take the Northern League, the political party which wants a federal Italy. Truth be told, it still hankers for independence for Italy's wealthy northern regions. But the party has been struggling of late, and has turned its attention from independence to immigration.

It may see Scottish politics as a source of inspiration, but its policies, often described here as racist and xenophobic, themselves seem alien when viewed from a Scottish perspective.

Rome skyline
All roads lead to Rome

I'm taking a day off to explore Rome. I have 24 hours to cram in as much cappuccino, ice cream and culture as I can. If you know me, you'll realise that's probably the order they'll come in.

Then, it'll be time for the final leg of my journey. On Sunday, I fly to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

The break-up of Czechoslovakia became known as "the velvet divorce". It's a divorce which has certainly been peaceful, it's allowed Slovakia to emerge as a modern European nation, free to shape its own political future and build its own prosperity.

But have the people of Bratislava and the rest of Slovakia lost more than they've gained?

What are the lessons for Scotland, where independence is firmly on the political agenda? I'll try to provide the answers on Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday.

DAY THREE - STORMBOUND IN SANTIAGO

One down, two to go. Good Morning Scotland broadcast three live reports from Santiago de Compostela today.

Umbrellas
The weather was enough to make a Scotsman feel at home

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

It seems that listeners in Scotland are genuinely interested in European politics, presented from a Scottish perspective.

I certainly hope that's the case, because now we have to do it all again from Rome and Bratislava.

Rome is the glamour leg of the trip and I can't wait to get there.

If you were listening on Tuesday morning, you'll have heard me describe the storms which have been lashing Galicia for almost 24 hours now.

There's no sign of the weather improving, so it seems like a good time to move on.

I counted 12 crumpled and abandoned umbrellas in the street outside my hotel at lunchtime. We're experiencing the kind of weather I would expect in Stornoway in January, not Spain.

I guess that's final proof, if we still needed it, that Scots and Galicians do, indeed, have lots in common.

Santiago de Compostela
The city is an administrative, religious and academic centre

The weather is more than an inconvenience. I use a satellite link to communicate with the Good Morning Scotland studio, and really wet and windy weather can wreak havoc with the technology.

The satellite dish isn't much bigger than a laptop computer and can easily be blown over by little more than a stiff breeze.

But I want to assure you that I'm not travelling to Rome purely to enjoy the winter sunshine.

Italian politics will provide a fascinating contrast to the situation here in Galicia.

The regions of Italy also have their own strong and distinctive identities, but political power is much more centralised than it is in Spain or Britain.

Does that mean Italy is politically stronger than Spain? Is it more united than the United Kingdom?

Or are Italy's historic regional rivalries combining with modern day political pressures to expose a system of government which seems, well, out of step with the devolved politics and newly independent states which provide the building blocks for modern Europe?

We'll find out on Good Morning Scotland on Friday. But you'll get a sneak preview of what I discover here first.

DAY TWO - FEELING AT HOME

Galica
The devolved government is very similar to Scotland's

Scots arriving in Galicia tend to feel at home pretty quickly. I landed here in north west Spain yesterday morning, in the midst of a torrential downpour. But Galicia has more in common with Scotland than wet and windy weather.

Galicians regard themselves as a breed apart. They're Galician first, Spanish second. Sound familiar? Then there's the Celtic connection.

In summer, bagpipers busk on the streets of Santiago. Galicians have their own language, which is increasingly used in education, and on road signs. And don't make the mistake of calling this a "region", for the people of Galicia, this is their "country".

My guide book says: "In contrast to the dark-featured Iberians, the Celts were fair, drank beer and ate lard". Yup, I feel right at home.

I have come here to speak to Galicians about their system of government. As I have discovered, politicians here are well aware of the latest political developments in Scotland too. The Scottish National Party's election win has aroused a great deal of interest.

Spain is made up of 17 autonomous communities. Nationalist sentiment is strongest in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia.

'Never again'

The devolved government here, the Xunta de Galicia, is very similar to the Scottish Government. Economic development, health and education are priorities.

The relationship with central government in Madrid isn't always easy. In fact, it's often difficult. The sinking of the oil tanker, The Prestige, in 2002 led to a crisis of confidence. Fishing and tourism are vital to Galicia. People here expected swift and decisive action to tackle the unfolding environmental disaster.

Prestige oil spill
Oil poured onto more than 100 beaches in the Prestige disaster

But the politicians and civil servants in Madrid failed to deliver. A grassroots political campaign, called Nunca Mais, was born. Translated, the phrase means "never again". Voters wanted Galician answers to Galician problems.

Today, that's more or less what voters here get. And political analysts reckon the public is pretty much happy with the system of government in Galicia. They might not always think their politicians do a great job, but there's no significant support for wholesale constitutional change. Independence isn't on the agenda.

So what are the lessons for Scotland from Galicia? Well, I reckon it's too risky to draw direct comparisons. But I would make two observations.

First, national identity comes from within, not from above. Centuries of being Spanish haven't made people here feel any less Galician. Second, voters want their politicians to deliver. For the people of Galicia, their system of government is less important than the results it achieves.

DAY ONE - PRESTWICK AIRPORT

Prestwick airport
Prestwick airport is a gateway to dozens of European destinations

Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire wouldn't be my number one choice as a location for a fun Saturday night, but it is an ideal starting point for my 12-day Euro trip.

Why? Well, the growing number of budget airline routes means it's more affordable than ever to report on European affairs from a Scottish perspective. And that's something our audiences tell us they want.

For less than £200, I will be able to fly from Prestwick to London and then on to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Rome and, finally, to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.

But Prestwick is also a real life, work-a-day example of how Europe is getting smaller, while the European Union just keeps on getting bigger.

I'm following the traditional route to the continent.

Budget airline

In a few minutes, I'll be boarding a flight to London where I'll spend the night, before flying on to Santiago de Compostela in the morning.

But the last flight to Stansted will be followed by a budget airline service to Stockholm.

Then on Sunday morning, passengers will start queuing for flights to Wroclaw, Paris, Niederrhein Weeze, Kaunas, Dublin, Gothenberg, Brussels and Oslo.

Not bad for an airport which used to handle just a few charter and freight flights a week, and proof, if it were needed, of how Europe feels much closer than it did when I was growing up and going to school just down the coast from here in Ayr.

If I had paid more attention during my school days, I might even have recognised the names of all of those destinations.

But I do know a bit about the politics of Galicia, and once I arrive there, I'll try to explain why they're relevant to those of us in Scotland.

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