Based on the results of the historic Scottish referendum announced on Friday, nearly half an educated electorate in a Western democracy has shown more emotional intemperance than it has reason. To follow one’s heart is one thing, but to do it at the expense of the economy and national security is quite another. Even the respected actor Sir Sean Connery, also known as Bond, James Bond, weighed in with a vacuous opinion: “Simply put — there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation.” By that relativist standard, all forms of creativity, however outlandish or exhibitionist, should be embraced for the common good. And it is ironic that Scotland, a land contributing so much to science and technology — the steam engine, penicillin, and equations of electromagnetism to name just a few — should eschew the values of the scientific method and demonstrate such self-destructive irrationality.
Until a few weeks ago, the English were dismissively napping and did not see it coming. Suddenly what looked like a 25 percent splinter movement became an election too close to predict. From their leafy suburban homes, policy-makers failed to see the phalanx of malcontented Scots metaphorically wielding their dirks, convening in polling stations in the Highlands and Lowlands alike.
While the vote to remain within the United Kingdom passed with 55 percent of the Scottish electorate favoring unity, the angst about national identity that we have just seen is a continuation of centuries of antagonism and also the beginning of new agitation, also leveraging the youth vote and social media for its ends. The government of David Cameron, if it survives this grotesque embarrassment, will need to make concessions to Edinburgh to allow devolution of more power and the expenditure of more resources on social programs — applying more North Sea oil revenue to the benefit of Scotland.
In the future, Scotland will be viewed from London with more distrust than ever — why would an Englishman go bird shooting there, kitted out in tweeds and Green Wellies, shouldering a handsomely engraved Purdey 20 gauge — knowing that about every other person on the street has no use for him? And why would a chappie endure gazes of ridicule en route to Royal Troon or the Old Course at St. Andrews?
What is so disturbing about the Scottish independence movement is that only 1.6 million votes were cast in favor of secession. Great Britain has a population of 64 million: less than 200,000 more “yes” votes of the Scots could have brought a G7 nation to its knees — raising profound questions about the nature of governance in a democracy.
Doubtless some will say about the English, “They had it coming.” But heightened political risk would have damaged investment prospects not only in Scotland but throughout the British Isles. Following the unseen hand of Scotsman Adam Smith, flight of capital out of Scotland would have had a recessionary effect there, ironically much of it going to London as a safe harbor. Were an independent Scotland to apply to join the European Union, to dilute its reliance on the remainder of Great Britain, it could take eight years, according to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain. Joining the Eurozone also has its risks: while rejecting English financial hegemony, Scotland would find itself under the influence of the largely successful German economy, metaphorically dragged behind Angela Merkel’s giant Mercedes Maybach.
While those favoring independence generally want to keep the pound sterling, currency union is not as effective without political union, and shared values about export policy, consumption, and inflation. Reflecting the realpolitik of finance, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank announced their intention to relocate to England should the “yes” vote win — giving them access to the Bank of England in the event of a future funding crisis.
With regard to national security, the last thing the NATO alliance needs now is divisiveness. Scotland is not impressed with being a nuclear power, and were it to have voted for independence, by 2020 Great Britain would have needed to have found an alternate base for its Trident nuclear submarines now kept at Faslane. Further, it is said that there are no other ports in Great Britain that can currently support that small fleet, raising the issue of developing a deep water port de novo or using the port facilities of others. An independent Scotland seeking to join NATO would be unwise to position itself as compromising the nuclear deterrent.
An independent Scotland might have raised many what ifs. For example, what would Scotland do if Vladimir Putin ordered Russian reconnaissance or fighter aircraft to test Scottish airspace? It might then wish it were still part of a G7 nuclear power. Without Scotland, would Britain limp into the next G7 meeting?
Other secessionist movements have doubtless taken note and encouragement from Scotland’s aspirations, perhaps thinking, “If a western country can do it, so can we.” Some of the obvious candidates who want more autonomy are the Kurds and Pashtun, and well as the region of Catalonia in Spain. Moreover, Kashmir separatism has been a force for decades — a serious challenge to the architecture of South Asia that would bring two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, eyeball to eyeball. Even the Texas Nationalist Movement has taken comfort in Scotland’s quest.
The people of Scotland have cried out, and for many the importance of identity trumps the exercise of reason. One can only wonder when the separatists will try again.