Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, July 24, 2014

When, not if

Neal Ascherson, a Scottish journalist writing in The New York Times, says he'll vote for independence, but even if the coming referendum fails, Scotland is on the road to independence.

Scottish Independence Is Inevitable
ONE thing is certain: Whatever the outcome, this referendum campaign is changing Scotland irrevocably. Whether the Scots vote yes or no to independence on Sept. 18, their sense of what is possible for this small nation will have been transformed…

This referendum… dares the Scots to go the last mile: proposing an independent Scottish state within the European Union, sharing a monarch… and possibly a currency, with the rump of the old United Kingdom.

At this moment, a majority for independence looks unlikely…

But it’s the smell, taste and sound of this campaign that should warn us that, this time, a no vote will not be the end of the story. Scotland is changing as we watch…

Flag of Scotland
Where does this come from? In part, from economic confidence. Twenty years ago, postindustrial Scotland was dismissed as an economy shattered beyond repair. Now, even the British government and the “no” campaign admit that Scotland could survive and prosper and be a stable democracy on its own, given wise management of its North Sea oil wealth. The question is no longer “Can we?” It’s “Should we?”

The motives driving “yes” supporters are straightforward. Devolution… needs to be completed. The situation in which a Scottish government’s revenue comes as a block grant from London is irresponsible. The Edinburgh Parliament should be allowed to set and raise its own taxes.

British elections must no longer trample the will of the Scottish people: The Scots are solidly anti-Tory, returning just one Conservative M.P. to Westminster in the last three general elections, yet they are outweighed by southern English voters and regularly have to endure Conservative governments. Scotland should also be allowed to become a full member of the European Union, not a bolt-on to English interests.
Scottish currency

Add social welfare to those motives. In Britain, it’s not only Conservative-led governments but “New Labour” ones as well that now seem committed to Thatcherite economics, to the steady privatization of health, education and welfare. Most Scots hate this…

If Scottish “yes” reasoning is not hard to grasp, neither is Scottish “no” reasoning. Some of it is material: People are not convinced that their living standards would survive independence, and would like firmer promises about pensions and interest rates. Some of it is fear for the economic safety of Scotland, turned loose among the giant predators stalking a globalized world.

Some of it is emotional: a feeling that Scottish and English societies are so closely integrated now that separation (a word the S.N.P. never uses) would be absurd, even anachronistic…

The English media and many politicians explain the independence movement by claiming that the Scots are obsessed by “anti-English racism.” My own experiences tell me the exact opposite. Scots, these days, have almost forgotten about England, so fascinated are they by their own country. (This is sour news for the English, who can bear being hated but not being overlooked.)…

I shall vote yes this September. The campaign has already taught me that if we don’t make it with this third referendum, there will be a fourth. It’s time to rejoin the world on our own terms.

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