Scotland vs Britain, Round II


Massie thinks that September’s referendum on Scottish independence might pass:

Real Scots vote ‘yes’; timid Scots vote ‘no’ — and doubtless, in time, will fill a coward’s grave. This might seem a form of emotional blackmail, but it is a mightily effective one…

At the same time, Salmond argues that very little will change. The nationalist campaign might be subtitled ‘Project Reassurance’. Nevertheless, despite presenting his case as a question of fiscal accountancy and common sense, the true appeal of independence is still emotional. What kind of country, Salmond and his colleagues will ask, rejects the chance to govern itself? It is a good question. The answer, of course, is a country that rejects as false the choice between two identities. You can be a Highlander, Scottish and British — just as you can be Cornish, English and British. Even so, Salmond articulates a vision of a better, purely Scottish future in ways that no unionist politician has yet matched.

I saw the inexorable logic of this as far back as 1999:

Blair has allowed the Scottish Parliament the leeway to lower or raise the British rate of income tax by only 3 percentage points. But the direction is clear enough. Blair clearly believed that by devolving some power to Scotland he would defuse the independence movement. Instead, the opposite could happen. The latest polls suggest that in the new Edinburgh Parliament the largest single party may well be the Scottish Nationalists, who see the new Parliament as a way station to full independence. Of the dozens of conversations I had in London about the future of the United Kingdom, literally no one I spoke with believed that Scotland would be a part of Britain in 10 years’ time.

And since then, as Alex notes, the momentum has been pretty steady and, with a few setbacks, in a pretty clear direction. You see the impact of this in England too, where the flag of Saint George is far more popular now than the old Union Jack. And when Scotland competes in international rugby, it takes part in the Six Nations Cup – those six nations being England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.

Party politics has only made the Unionist case less potent:

The Tories, bashful as ever, are reluctant to campaign vigorously for the Union lest their unpopularity in Scotland weaken the overall case for unionism. Labour are reluctant to be seen within spitting distance of any Tory. Moreover, the unionist alliance allows the SNP to argue that there is no functional difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. Only the SNP will stand up for Scotland’s interests by putting Scotland first.

Larison likewise argues that opponents of independence are defeating their own cause:

[I]f the unionists mainly rely on painting a gloomy picture of what post-independence Scotland will be like, enough people may conclude that there is no positive unionist case to be made and will decide to vote for the referendum whose advocates at least pretend to have a clear idea of where they want to take their country. I still doubt that Scotland will vote for independence in the end, but it is a lot more likely than it was just a few months ago.

Yglesias declares himself “favorably disposed” to Scottish independence:

The main reason is that it seems to me that in the European context where everyone is a stable democracy with a mixed-market economy, the small countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, etc.) are generally a lot better run than the bigger ones. For one thing, smaller countries have simpler institutional arrangements since you’re not trying to accommodate size by embedding complicated federalism mechanisms into the already complicated framework of the European Union. But for another thing, I think the debate over welfare state design gets more sensible when you’re talking about a small jurisdiction. A place like Scotland is a sufficiently small share of the United Kingdom that it makes sense for a Scottish political activist to be more focused on “how much money does this program bring to Scotland?” than on “how good is this program at generating social benefits in a cost-effective way?” An independent Scotland—like an independent Wallonia or other possible new European mini-states—would have politics that I think would ultimately be more constructive.

(Painting: The Battle of Culloden (1746) by David Morier, oil on canvas. It was the last real battle between the forces of the Crown and Scottish insurgents.)