That Scottish independence referendum proved anti-climactic. Had the Scots voted to secede from the United Kingdom it would have been one of the biggest stories in years, roiling financial markets and re-aligning the geo-political order and fueling separatist movements around the world and provoking thousands of op-ed pieces and stirring up God only knows what other sorts of irksome mischief, but the apparent vote to stay put just means that a rather desultory status quo will continue indefinitely.
Disappointing as it might be to the world’s press and other cheerleaders for catastrophe, the result is not surprising to anyone who still credits the Scots with a modicum of common sense. When the United States declared its independence from Great Britain they believed that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” and laid out a litany of complaints that included standing armies quartered among the general population and taxation without representation and an ongoing slave trade, but after 307 years of union the would-be Scottish nationalists were never able to make such a convincing case to their relatively pampered countrymen. Instead they relied on Obama-esque slogans of “Yes We Can” and “hope” and “change” along with a blatant appeal to the most base sort of tribalism and the endorsements of empty-headed show biz celebrities, and apparently that wasn’t enough to overcome a lot of questions about the country’s currency and solvency and place in the security arrangements that have prevailed over the past half century and more.
That the question even came up is prompting some soul-searching all over the western world, with the press in even the more seemingly solid jurisdictions pondering the strange discontent that seems to have settled upon the unwashed masses almost everywhere. The reliably elitist New York Times worries that it’s symptomatic of a global rebellion against the elites, and at the other end of the media spectrum the reliably populist billionaire Rupert Murdoch is saying the same thing without the same fretful tone. All the world’s various secessionist movements, from Spain’s Basque and Cantalonia regions to Flemish Belgium to Italy’s hard-working northern portion to the Kurdish enclaves of the Middle East to Texas and California, all have very specific complaints, but there’s a natural inclination to lump them all together. The independence-minded Scots were dreaming of a country that would levy higher taxes and lavish more generous social services and pursue a more savage-friendly foreign policy, along with the welcoming immigration policies that are not usually associated with nationalist movements, but The New York Times can’t help likening them to America’s “tea party” movement because both represent the same threat to the established order. Those elites and their established order should not be reassured by Scotland’s acquiesce to the status quo, however, because it seems begrudging and disgruntled. There is clearly little enthusiasm in Scotland for Britishness, a concept that has become almost meaningless in the post-war era, but they just can’t muster the necessary Scottishness.
One of our few forays outside the United States was a driving tour of Scotland with our Pop a few years back that seemed to take us through every square mile of the country, and we found it a strikingly dissipated land. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, and you’ll still meet some likable folks in the picturesque villages, but there’s no mistaking that the best of the country is in the past. All of the best architecture is centuries old, and the stubbornly elegant squares of the cities are filled with statuary the great Scotsmen who enriched the world with their genius long ago, and the unattended churches are adorned with the names of Scotsmen who died fighting for Great Britain in wars long since forgotten, but what’s new is shabbily modern and the pubs are likely to erupt in a brawl at a moment’s notice and the mostly tabloid press is filled with tawdry crimes and scandals and the kinds of empty-headed show biz celebrities who endorsed Scottish independence. We had a nice beery evening listening to a Scottish folk band in a gorgeous little seaside pub, and couldn’t help noticing the resemblance to the bluegrass that the folkies are playing down in Winfield right now, but otherwise Scottishness seemed mostly a matter of higher taxes and more social services and the rest of the dissipating socialist agenda, and suspect that in the end that was not enough to persuade the average Scotsman to dissolve a familiar arrangement.
Any American op-ed writers looking for a local angle on the Scottish story would do well to avoid the “tea party” allusions. Limited government and lower taxes and expanded liberty and increased personal responsibility appeal to Americanism in a way that a welfare state does not appeal to any instinct of Scottishness going back more than 307 years, and those who are dissatisfied with status quo here still have what it takes to assume the burdens of nationhood.
— Bud Norman