At the end of the day, Great Britain remains a United Kingdom. By a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, Scottish voters elected to remain part of the realm rather than have a go at it on their own.
The result was met by many, myself included, with great relief. In large part, it must be admitted, that relief is the product of sheer sentimentality. As a Canadian, I grew up if not directly beneath the Union Jack, then in its shadow. For me, the dissolution of Great Britain would be somewhat akin to watching the divorce of a beloved set of grandparents.
The independence movement in the land of Robbie Burns crossed some interesting ideological lines. Patriotic sentiment is not de rigueur amongst leftist orthodoxy. The left, generally speaking, tends towards global homogeneity and the breakdown of borders, ergo its presumptive faith in such globalist structures as the United Nations and European Union. It’s historically rather antagonistic to the idea of the nation-state with its recognition of traditional, historic, cultural and linguistic distinctions. Self-determination is a concept promulgated by the likes of Burke, the American founders and Lord Macaulay that’s more at home in conservative thought.
Yet, many modern nationalist movements are leftist in nature — the Basque separatists in Spain, the FLQ in Quebec and IRA (one recalls that both Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and James Connolly, the executed leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, were committed socialists) come to mind.
Similarly, the Scottish “yes” crowd led by the SNP was predominantly socialist in its outlook. These were less the kilt-clad, claymore-wielding fierce independents of Bannockburn and Culloden and more 18th century Jacobins with a 21st century Occupy Wall Street face. Many of them, I wager, craved independence less as a matter of cultural and national identity than as a tool to create a more redistributive welfare state — a utopia they saw Westminster as a roadblock to fulfilling. It was a tool, however, that tugged at something deep in the Scottish psyche, tinged as it is with cultural reminiscences of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Meanwhile, there existed something of an argument for Scottish independence among British conservatives. Politically speaking, the Tories’ main opposition on the left, the Labour Party, enjoys a firm stronghold in Scotland. Without this base, it seems entirely likely conservatives (or their right-wing rivals UKIP) could enjoy a near-permanent majority in Westminster. In economic terms, the argument England might be better off financially without having to continually subsidize the north is not without merit.
But at the end of the day, Tories are Tories and the devolution of Great Britain was almost universally opposed among them. Scotland’s parliamentary departure would have been seen as a final nail in the coffin of a once proud British nation. Scottish independence would’ve resulted in many changes, and even the symbolic ones would’ve been profound.
The aforementioned Union Jack, for example, would cease to exist, as presumably would the proud historic Scottish infantry regiments, long a staple of the British Army.
This was not lost on many Scots, for whom over the last 300 or so years a new national identity has gradually replaced the regional one, that of Pax Brittanica. This patriotism figured greatly in the Scottish vote.
History, sentiment and tradition aside, Scottish independence would have had hideous economic consequences. An independent Scotland would, at least under the vision offered by its proponents, have been an economic basket case. Sure, the Scots have North Sea oil, and plenty of it, but socialist countries have a habit of squandering national wealth and the tartan-clad socialism of a newly independent Scotland would’ve been no exception. In addition, SNP leader Alex Salmond undoubtedly would have instituted the policies he promised, an ambitious program of state regulation, wealth redistribution and social spending — one that was not accompanied by a plan outlining how exactly to pay for it all. Further, it’s unlikely an already financially shaky EU would’ve added to its list of burdens by admitting a financially shakier Scotland to its ranks.
For its part, Britain’s ruling establishment, including Prime Minister David Cameron, made a glaring mistake in issuing gratuitous promises to Scotland — amounting to increased subsidization and wealth transfers — as a carrot for rejecting independence.
British leaders need to be careful not to sacrifice England in the course of placating Scots. Many in England already view Scotland in much the same way as the Germans view Greece.
British patriotism and prudence won out last week and needs to continue in the form of realistic economic policy. Otherwise, next time, it just might be England looking to claim home rule from the Scots.