Sunday, February 23, 2014

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 2 - Independence

What is a "country" or a "nation"? Do you start with the political borders, with a language group or simply with a bunch of people who define themselves as a nation?  What happens when opposing religions divide the populace? These are difficult questions to answer and the more you (or me, at any rate) think about them, the harder they get. Do you need to be born in the territory that defines the country? Or have parents who were? Does it matter where you now live or where you aim to live in the future?

What are the classic reasons for any country to emerge as independent?
  • Where an existing country has been conquered or absorbed into another and then re-emerges - Poland, destroyed in the 19th century and reborn in the 20th. albeit with shifted frontiers is a good example, as are the Baltic states and indeed all of the 19th Century Russian empire.
  • Where the previous arrangement forced people of different languagues and cultures into a polity neither would choose freely - Czech and Slovakia perhaps, or East and West Pakistan.
  • When a group of people are oppressed by another and only a full separation can relieve the problem - South Sudan, the nascent Palestine
  • When stupid borders have been created by previous empires or colonial administrations that divide people who would naturally wish to be united, though forming new countries by merging old ones together happens pretty rarely and is, I believe, frowned upon by the UN. Kurdistan is the obvious case.
I have been trying to see how Scotland fits the case. The country has had its territorial integrity for a very long time and has never been subsumed into another. The UK was effectively a new country, not a takeover (unlike in the case of Wales). Whether Scots would have chosen the Union freely in 1707 is a matter of debate but not relevant now - what is relevant is that Scots consistently show a preference for staying in. It does seem that the case for independence is not based on any of the classic reasons. Indeed, given that Scots as a people are totally in control of their culture, their media, their police, education, health and legal systems, and compete in the football World and European cups as a nation, one wonders what difference it would make were the Act of Union to be repealed. For the huge number of Scots living elsewhere in the UK, one might think not very much at all.

So it comes down to the ordinary bloke (or blokes) in the street. After independence will they cease to be oppressed? Will they have freedoms they do not have today? Will they be able to worship as they wish, bring up their kids in a system that works for their benefit, work as they choose, live where they like, pay reasonable taxes and spend the remainder as they choose? Yes, I would think so. The SNP's domestic policies are pretty close to the standard European left-leaning Social Democratic norm (as far as I know).  But my point is that this is already pretty much the case.

What then is the true meaning of independence in this special case, a country that has its economy massively integrated into its neighbour and with whom it has lived peaceably and with full participation in national government for three hundred years (skipping over the odd Jacobite rebellion)?

The answer, I think, is that independence for Scotland really won't mean a lot. They already have it in all but name. So why bother? Pride? Maybe. But pride has never been a really good reason to break up a marriage if everything else is working fairly well.

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