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.)

Should Americans Care About Scottish Independence?

Robert L. Goldich thinks so:

What would be the foreign policy of an independent Scotland…? Would it join NATO? How much, if at all, would it cooperate with the armed forces of a truncated United Kingdom? With the armed forces of other Western democracies, including, but not limited to, those of the United States? Would it cooperate with the British intelligence services in the maintenance of internal security against terrorism in the British Isles? Would it cooperate with other countries’ intelligence services, including those of the United States? Would it look more leniently on the presence of embassies and diplomatic representatives, and their activities, from anti-American and anti-Western states such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela?

Mr. [Alex] Salmond and his Scottish Nationalist Party, and the dominant political culture in Scotland, is quite far to the Left, for a variety of internal reasons that don’t matter here. This doesn’t augur well for a positive answer to any of these questions. It suggests that we have to consider that, a la the Republic of Ireland, Scotland might well be aggressively neutral, and avoid involvement all kinds of Euro-Atlantic collective security agreements that have been so important in maintaining European stability since 1945.

Scotland: a lost cause or merely unwon?


Humble apologies, gentle reader, for the lack of posts from these parts. The information superhighway, it turns out, is potholed in the Scottish Borders. No matter.

The question is, then, the old one: stands Scotland where she did? Well, no, not quite.

Next May should be a time for celebration. But it remains to be seen whether we lament the end of one old song or welcome the chance to play a new tune. Is the end of Britain – long forecast, never quite delivered – finally upon us?

Cautiously one may say “perhaps.” Opinion polls show that the Scottish National Party – a rare left-wing nationalist party – is poised to become the largest party after next May’s elections to the Scottish parliament. The SNP is pledged to hold a referendum on th eindependence issue within four years if it comes to power in Edinburgh. Those ame polls report that 51% of Scots support going it alone.

May also marks the 300th anniversary of the formal Act of Union between Scotland and Edinburgh (the crowns were united a century before, in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I of England – the first move in what might fairly be judged the most sucessful reverse takeover in politcal history.) Might this anniversary also mark the final nail in the Unionist coffin?

The SNP has a history of surging once or twice a generation. But there are signs that its tide is running stronger this time. For one thing independence is increasingly popular amongst young Scots. for another the performance of Labour in power in Edinburgh (and London) has been enough to scunner any right-thinking patriot.

And some o them really are right-thinking. The most interesting development recently is the emergence of a strain of conservatism prepared to embrace independence. Historically the idea of independence has won hearts not minds; now it is the Union’s turn to be on the back foot. The Union has history and sentiment on its side, but common sense and a harsh pragmatism make independence seem like the coming idea. Just 20% of Scots see themselves as being primarily “British” – down from 38% in 1979. 78% of Scots now say “Scottish” “best describes” their nationality.

One example of this: the argument has moved on to what sort of Scotland we’d see post-independence. In one corner there are those like the exiled Scots historian Niall Ferguson who see a sad, shrivelled country that has abandoned even the memory of its glory years. Scotland, he quips, is “the Belarus of the west.”

Ferguson – like many Scots in exile views his native heath with great ambivalence (a sentiment not so often shared by exiles from other countries, in my experience). Certainly surveying the solidly-statist, rock-solid consensus that prevails in Scotland one’s forced to fear that there might be 20 years of appalling government before prosperity and progress returned. (The Scottish conservatives – who would fit solidly into the Democratic party in the United States – are considered dangerous radicals when, that is, anyone remembers to consider them at all.)

On the other hand, the maverick Tory historian Michael Fry recently wrote a Prospect Magazine story urging conservatives to accept that independence is likely to happen sometime and therefore they should try and steer the debate in more fruitful drections.

Why is this happening now? Well Fry rightly notes that the end of Empire is a crucial component (he might add that the EU offers a sanctuary for those Scots wary of “going it alone”):

The end of empire is one, because Scots had invested so much in it and got so much out of it and because, once it ended, their confinement inside Britain with a bigger and stronger neighbour suddenly seemed much more stifling. If postmodern doubts have made multicultural England less confident of its national traditions, in Scotland they have reinforced a small-country nationalism which never died away, even at the high noon of union and empire.

Will independence come this year? Perhaps not. But will it come? Yes, I think it will. These will be interesting, tubulent times in Scotland. It’s far from clear what all the consequences of this will be for Scotland and England alike.