Saturday, December 1, 2012
Thoughts on Scottish Nationalism
The big political question in Scotland at the moment is the question of Scottish nationalism, or alternately phrased, Scottish independence. There are several prominent schools on the issue, with the most vocal seeming to be those pushing for Scottish independence, which is to say, actually becoming a political entity entirely independent of the United Kingdom. Others advocate for home rule, which is more autonomy in Holyrood (Edinburgh) without secession from the United Kingdom. Still others favor the status quo of having some degree of governance from Holyrood, and administration from Westminster (London) for more strategic matters.
The zeal for independence seems to be associated with the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which currently enjoys a small majority in the Scottish Parliament, but that's a majority against six other parties who share the remainder of the seats. According to Wikipedia, the undisputed and infallible source of all knowledge, the 1995 film Braveheart may have contributed to Scottish nationalist sentiment, though the Proclaimers song at the top of this post dates back to 1988, so there are some among the Scots who have supported independence for much longer.
Of course, for anyone who's seen Braveheart, a question arises: if William Wallace and Robert the Bruce won Scottish independence in 1328, then how did Scotland come to be part of the United Kingdom? YouTube's CGPGrey does a good job of explaining a very complex series of historical events in this video.
As CGPGrey points out, the Scots have maintained cultural independence since the unification of Great Britain, and their nationalist sentiment endures to this day. (CGPGrey also does a fantastic job of explaining the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and a variety of other things, in this video.) At any rate, a referendum has been planned for 2014, at which point the Scots will be asked either one question, or two, these being variations of the following:
1) Should Scotland secede from the United Kingdom?
2) Should more powers be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood?
I should preface my own thoughts on the subject by saying that I hate when ignorant non-Americans opine about American politics. I've had to endure this quite a lot lately in the wake of the recent U.S. General Election, and let me tell you, as much as I love my friends from across the pond, the vast majority of them are ignorant as muck when it comes to American politics. As such, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I'm an outsider looking in, and I don't claim to have all of the information or all of the answers.
That disclaimer having been entered into the record, I have a hard time taking the concept of Scottish independence seriously. I'll outline some of my thoughts in a scheme that I learned from my AP US History teacher all the way back in 1997: ESP, or Economic, Political, and Social.
Economic: The basic economic concept driving Scottish independence is the idea that, according to some literature that was shoved in my hand the other day, Scotland pays 9.6% of the taxes in the United Kingdom, but only receives 9.3% of the benefit. I'm not sure how they came to the 9.3%, and I'm positive that there are both Nationalists and Unionists much more intelligent, and far more invested in the matter, than I; that having been said, it seems like the Scottish Nationalists are carefully picking and choosing their facts to get to that figure.
The big ace in the hole of the Scottish Nationalists seems to be oil, along the lines of the economies of Scandinavia. It seems obvious that basing one's goals of independence on oil in 2012 is a remarkably poor plan for the long term. I can't help but assume that the Scottish Nationalists are also downplaying the various economic benefits that Scotland currently gains from being part of the United Kingdom. (For example, as much as I love Scotland, I have a hard time envisioning a situation whereby I would have come here for school if it hadn't been part of the United Kingdom.) If I were a Scottish voter, I would question whether the numbers the SNP is pushing actually add up.
Political: First, let's look at local politics. As CGP Grey points out in the linked (not embedded) video, Scots join the Northern Irish and Welsh in having local parliaments, something the English don't enjoy. Furthermore, the Scottish Nationalist position seems to forget that Scots have recently and traditionally enjoyed plenty of representation in the British government: for example, the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish, and I believe that former Chief of the Defence Staff Jock Stirrup was as well. The point being that the notion that the Scots are somehow marginalized in British politics seems questionable. At the very worst, Scotland enjoys better representation within the United Kingdom proper than many American states enjoy in Congress.
I feel like the case for Scottish independence really falls apart on the international scene. Scotland currently enjoys the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union, NATO, the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, and a number of other international organizations. There was some recent malfeasance on the part of the SNP, who claimed that they'd been told that Scotland would be grandfathered into the EU, only for officials at the EU to refute those claims. This doesn't really lend the SNP much credibility with respect to their actual plans to govern Scotland, or for being honest and trustworthy among their constituents.
I've also heard rumors that Scotland would also expect for two British warships to be given to Scotland upon its theoretical secession, which seems unlikely. This brings me to defense policy: I don't think the SNP actually has one. I think that their expectation is that Scots will no longer have to fight in England's wars, and like Ireland and Sweden, they'll be able to enjoy the benefits of NATO without being members or putting any actual skin into the game. Again, Scotland currently enjoys a great deal of support and legitimacy as part of the United Kingdom that it would theoretically lose if it were to secede. As selective as the SNP seems to be with its economic and domestic political facts, its potential foreign policy seems even more poorly conceived.
Social: Scotland already has a distinct society and culture, as evidenced by the fact that we Americans are so fond of Scottish heritage events such as highland games and Scottish festivals. I can't imagine any social or cultural gain for Scotland from secession, and plenty of drawbacks from no longer being included within the United Kingdom.
Basically, as I've probably insinuated by now, I don't get the impression that the concept of Scottish independence has been particularly well thought out, or that it benefits from much intellectual rigor. It seems as if a bunch of Scots have been stirred up with a sort of arbitrary nationalist sentiment. I also have it on good authority from a very smart guy with a bird's eye view of the situation that, really, this is largely a ploy by the SNP to demand more authority from Westminster. Whether that's because they're ardent Scottish nationalists, cheap political opportunists, or some combination thereof, I don't know. At the risk of sounding flippant and/or arrogant, the whole thing seems remarkably silly to me. Then again, I'm not an expert on the situation, there are smarter people than I on both sides of the issue, and I have very little skin in the game (though moreso than a couple of months ago), so I'm reticent to be anywhere near as obnoxious as some of those aforementioned brethren have been with respect to American politics. (Seriously, most of them are totally clueless, and it's painful to hear them open their ignorant mouths and vomit forth their ignorance at me.)
It's a big, complicated issue, and it seems to come up more often than I'm really comfortable with, so I thought I'd bring those of you who aren't here in Scotland up to speed on it as best I can.