If prudence and reason prevail, Scotland will vote “no” on Thursday in its referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. The “yes” vote has the momentum and has been surging in the polls, causing the Better Together campaign to dispatch the leaders of the three main British parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats) north last week to make the case for preserving the proud union that dates to 1707. The last-ditch efforts at staving off an irreversible separation seem to have stopped the bleeding and the smart money has returned to the bet that Scots will decide in the end to remain a part of Great Britain.
The most intriguing aspect of this independence debate is the degree to which Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond is telling the truth to his enthusiastic would-be William Wallaces. The Westminster political class have moved quickly from elitist nonchalance to panicked desperation as the polls have shifted and the prospect of Scotland leaving the UK has become a potential reality. As a result, the Bank of England has warned that Scotland would not be allowed to remain with the British pound, that divorce proceedings over assets such as North Sea oil will not be easy or appealing to Scots, and that basic legal and commercial contract disputes will drive the bureaucracies of London and Edinburgh to (more) drink. UK Defense voices have suggested that Scottish and English national security would suffer were the union to dissolve. All of these warnings are met with cheery brush offs and cocky dismissals by Alex Salmond, a tactic Daniel Hannan believes is working to the SNP’s advantage:
The SNP has grasped that elections are generally won by the more optimistic side – a truth its leaders apparently learned during a session with an American political consultant, who handed out bags of pennies, and made them put one on the table every time they said something negative. Alex Salmond has, since that session, been relentlessly upbeat, both about the prospects of a “Yes” vote and about the prospects of an independent Scotland. Any problems – currency, disinvestment, EU membership, funding shortfalls – are swallowed up in a supernova of cheeriness.
Salmond has taken all the warnings of dire economic, security and logistical consequences and essentially said “so what?” He has successfully leveraged the quite socialist Scottish youth, which is more aptly described as a belligerent anti-English (and anti-American for that matter) mob, and cultivated an environment where anything coming out of England is received by Scottish nationalists as just “more Tory lies.” The “yes” voters don’t believe anything the English say because Salmond has stoked the sentiment from the beginning.
But it is on the basic question of independence that Salmond has told the real lie. The SNP’s platform is to break away from the UK in order to join the EU. Which would be like California seceding from the United States to become a satellite state of China. If Scotland joined the EU as an independent nation (a big “if” if ever there was one: Spain, for one, would be mightily opposed to Scottish membership lest it lend encouragement to the Basque separatists of Catalonia), it would have to adopt the euro. The euro sucks, and everybody knows it. It especially sucks if you’re a smaller nation with socialist passion and are intent on maintaining your giant welfare state while having no say on your currency or monetary policy. Membership in the EU further weds you to the European Court of Human Rights as well as primacy of Brussels law over your own. Border sovereignty and foreign policy are immediately forfeit to the larger plans of the mandarins at the European Commission. Whatever discontents currently exist in Scotland concerning the House of Commons in Westminster, joining the EU would quickly cause the people to yearn for those bygone days once they’re forced into complying with the maze of law and regulation emanating from Brussels.
The principle of self-determination is not to be downplayed, however. If Scotland votes for independence, the vote should be respected and the Scots should be praised for believing in themselves and their ability for self-government. But leaving the UK to join the EU is not a vote for self-government, but a vote for being absorbed into a plainly anti-democratic political union on a stagnant continent where you will have less say over local affairs going forward, not more.
For a whole host of reasons, I hope Scotland stays. The union that has lasted for over three hundred years has been one of the most successful and prosperous political integrations in history. Anyone who has seen Braveheart knows that these peoples haven’t always seen eye to eye, but the marriage into Great Britain has allowed some of humanity’s great achievements to flow from the British Isles, as once they were united, we had the Scottish Enlightenment and historic names such as Adam Smith and David Hume introduced to the world. Scottish soldiers proudly fought and died for English, Welsh, and Northern Irish brethren in the 20th century. A great bit of nostalgia for the union jack and the Kingdom as a whole persists today. Deep down, a large majority of Britons really aren’t in favor of seeing Scotland leave.
Another part of me hopes it will happen. And I’m just some Yank with no skin in the game. There are many sentimental “no” voters in England who agree with me and are frankly fed up with Scotland and its dead-weight welfare statism which, under the SNP, has morphed into a more virulent form of activist socialism and militant anti-nuclear crusading. Much of Scotland’s younger generations believe they are more kin to Scandinavia than to the English. They find it beyond the pale that Great Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine docks in Scottish waters. They curse that they haven’t been granted “devo max,” a near-total devolution of powers from Westminster back to Edinburgh in the event of the union staying together. Never mind that the Scottish parliament and “home rule,” two things they had to give up in 1707 to join the UK, have been incrementally restored and are poised for even more devolution now that the English are essentially grovelling for Scotland to stay.
But many English wonder why they should beg Scotland to stay. England subsidizes Scotland’s welfare state, of which more than 50% of the population is on some form of government benefit. Scotland is represented in the House of Commons (59 MPs) while the rest of the UK is not represented in the Scottish Parliament. There is only one Tory MP from Scotland, meaning that if the “yes” vote wins, English Labour will be in a sudden bind politically, as they currently reap a good deal of Labour votes and money from Scotland. There’s also Margaret Thatcher’s timeless truth about socialists and other people’s money. It might be a fun and enlightening experiment (if painful for the Scots) to see a newly independent Scotland have its socialist dreams shattered within a couple years. No lesson learned like a lesson lived.
I wish the best for Scotland, and in that vein I hope they vote “no” in two days. But if they do vote “yes” I will not be entirely chagrined to witness the inevitable comeuppance for Alex Salmond and the SNP, and especially for his army of militant millennial supporters who make America’s progressives look almost like free market libertarians by comparison. I also wish the best for the United Kingdom and hope for a “no” vote all the same. Yes, the cynical political calculations of a “yes” vote would mean a neutered Labour Party in England as well as a forced economic correction in Scotland once they were hit in the face by reality. But Great Britain is bigger than short term ephemeral politics; it is our ancestor, our patrimony, our sacred lineage. The British and American peoples share a genetic coding for how to do statehood: the citizen above the state, not the other way around.
Scotland may be flirting with rebellion, adolescent contempt for the hand that feeds, and nationalistic confusion about the practical meaning of independence all at the same time, but that still should not be enough for those of us who value their vital contributions to human freedom to abandon them now. There will be no shortage of scoffing and vitriol and also plain indifference among the English if this divorce does happen, but at the end of the day there are definitely many more English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) who want Scotland to stay than to see it go.
Let’s just hope the same is still true in Scotland.