Whether Scots choose to go it alone or remain in the UK, Thursday’s vote will serve as an exemplar of liberalism and civility. Never mind what voters actually choose – the process here is what matters most: this is the right way to do things. Irish independence, by comparison, was won through war, and fighting over Northern Ireland persisted for decades. Scotland seems poised to stay or go without a shot fired or a life lost – and that is spectacular progress. The outcome – yea or nay – will be no big deal.
Europe used to be a dangerous place. Just looking at the two most populous countries in Western Europe, Germany invaded France 3 times in 70 years. Areas with distinct languages, cultures and-or histories used to band together for their collective security. This logic factored into England and Scotland’s 1707 union, and has since produced such amalgams as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Austria-Hungary, and indeed even the European Coal and Steel Community (predecessor to the EU).
But the facts on the ground have changed, and it would be surprising if the lines on the map did not shift to reflect that change. Europe is now a far safer place than it has been in centuries. Tiny countries are no longer threatened by larger ones. Policy is no longer set by inbred land-grabbing hereditary dictators, but by middle class voters, who have a far greater affinity for peace and freedom.
One must also acknowledge the omnipresence of NATO, and fairly wonder whether this trend would hold in the absence of a massive military force safeguarding security, backed by the world’s sole superpower. The US, ranked first in military spending worldwide, presently outspends the countries ranked second through tenth combined.
The expansion of the European Union and the concomitant rise of smaller states is no contradiction – the two movements are driven by the same forces. There is more comity among states and peoples in Europe than ever before, and this bonhomie allows states to split amicably, but also facilitates their banding together on the supra-national level. Common defense is simply not an EU priority.
Impressive hay bales are being made over the potential repercussions of Scottish independence. They should be politely ignored. Scotland comprises barely 8% of the UK’s total population; and Scots pay a bit more into London’s treasury than they receive back in expenditures. Scotland and England’s economies are deeply integrated – and will continue to be. The UK will find another place to park its nuclear submarines, or will simply lease a harbor, as the US does all around the world.
That this referendum may fuel independence movements elsewhere should only be of concern to the illiberal. If the Catalan desire their own independent state, they should have it – as should Corsicans, Flemish, and any other group within a discrete, identifiable geographic space, that wants to go it alone. The existence of San Marino, Andorra, Monaco, the Vatican, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg is hardly troublesome to their larger neighbors.
The notion that India will take the diminution of the UK – from 0.83% of world population to 0.76% – as a pretext to more forcefully demand a permanent seat on the UN Security Council is, frankly, silly. India, home to 17% of the world’s population, should have a permanent seat, whether Scotland and England are united or not. The anachronistic fictions that secure to the UK and France (0.9%) their permanent seats can be discussed at any time.
There are several wealthy, successful countries of comparable size to Scotland: Finland, Denmark, Ireland and Norway – the latter of which is ranked first in the world in living standards. There is every reason to believe that an independent Scotland would be as prosperous as these countries. The issue of greatest importance facing an independent Scotland will be its choice of currency. While Scots favor sticking with the British Pound, creating its own currency would be a better bet. (The Euro, under the hegemony of Germany, is not a good option.) But even this is an issue upon which rational minds can differ – it will not be a disaster in any case.
And so we wait – not holding our collective breath, nor ready to gasp at the result – but rather, marveling that western civilization has come so far, that two nations could so painlessly dissolve their centuries-old political union, via a process so eminently reasonable and liberal, that, no matter what the Scots choose to do, we will all be better off for their example.