Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nation, state, country

This op-ed essay about the vote for Scottish independence is worth the time it takes to sort out the analysis (that includes references to Thomas Hobbes).

BTW, does writer Neil Irwin properly use the terms nation, state, country, government, and regime?

Why Does Scotland Want Independence? It’s Culture vs. Economics
It’s been a good three centuries, but now Scotland may want out of the United Kingdom.

The stakes are enormous for Scotland, and quite high for the rest of Britain. But the debate over Scottish independence also sheds important light on how debates over the nature of the state that are as old as Hobbes and Locke apply in a modern world of instant communication and cryptocurrency.

Alex Salmond, Scottish leader
The latest polling on the referendum, to be held Sept. 18, points to a narrow edge for Scots who wish to pull out of the state that they have been part of since 1707 and go it as a nation of their own. Previous polls, by contrast, had given the edge to those who wish for Scotland to remain part of Britain. Both betting markets and forecasting groups are now putting the odds that Scotland will pull away and form its own state at something like 30 percent.

What’s all the more remarkable about this possible secession is that major, specific grievances over public policy between Scotland and the rest of Britain are hard to identify…

Many Scots feel as if they have more to gain from governing alongside people who look like them and talk like them than they have to lose from no longer being part of a bigger, more powerful nation…

One could point out that Britain as it exists today is the very model of a liberal democracy, that Scots are amply represented in Parliament, and that they have a great deal of control over day-to-day governance within their borders. The government has offered to expand those rights of local control over taxes and public administration if Scotland sticks with Britain. But it may not be enough…

In the 18th century, it was the creation of what is now the United Kingdom out of England, Scotland and Wales (and, presently, Northern Ireland). In the 19th century, it was the expansion of the United States to span a continent and the centralization of smaller states into what are now the nations of Germany and Italy. In the 20th century, it was the creation of the European Union, in which people from Finland to Portugal share a common market and common currency…

Among democracies, the march has been toward greater scale and reach, at the cost of less distinct national identity. There have been flare-ups of resentment in these large democracies… But none have come as close to getting their wish as the Scots will in just over a week…

If Scotland chooses to go independent, it will shed the advantages that come from being part of a relatively large global power (Britain’s population: about 64 million. Scotland’s population: about 5 million) for the chance to be governed by people with whom they share a deeper cultural affinity.

Paradoxically, pro-independence Scots have argued that they will recapture some of the advantages of size by joining the European Union. It seems slightly bonkers for Scots to get so frustrated about ceding power to bureaucrats in London and turn immediately to bureaucrats in Brussels, but there it is…

The Scottish referendum isn’t just about whether a few million Scots will govern themselves. It is a fight over the world of multicultural modernity that makes today’s global economy possible, but also leaves many people with a deep hunger for the sense of national identity it obliterates.

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