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The Scotland question

Filed on August 30, 2014

Would it matter?

Could the independence of Scotland clip the UK’s wings enough to prevent further episodes of grand posturing from David Cameron? Would the former empire lose enough clout to substantially diminish the chance of creating another Tony Blair to trot around the world with a big head?

The answer, unfortunately, is probably not.

Scotland is voting in September to become an independent country. It already has a parliament, established in 1998 in a gradual process of granting Scotland greater autonomy within the UK. Politically, independence would be another step in the same direction, freeing Scotland from having to abide by governments elected by England’s relative conservatism.

Comparisons have been made to other independence movements in Europe, and these largely pertain to the symbolism of independence: notably the Catalan and Basque regions of Spain and the Flemish half of Belgium.

The 20th century was a period of ethnic homogenisation in Europe, starting with the World Wars and continuing right through to the splitting up of the Balkan Peninsula. By the end of the century, a single ethnic group had come to dominate most of the continent’s states. Magyars became largely confined to Hungary, instead of being spread around diverse areas of Romania and other neighbours. Slavic groups split along linguistic lines. Germany undertook — and, in the end, largely succeeded at — a wiping out of minorities.

The borders of states, arbitrary at best, became the boundaries of peoples — fulfilling a Romantic dream of the 19th century, when kilts were revived, dead languages preserved, and bloodlines scrutinised to create national identities.

In this context, why not? Whether British or Scottish, the difference is a mere matter of pride and Olympic games. Spokespeople for the issue already reek of grade school debating anyhow.

But the more apt comparison, from a geopolitical standpoint, may be the recurring — though likely unrealistic — calls for independence in the North American territories of Texas and Quebec.

Texas, like Scotland, is oil-rich, with an economy making up about one-10th of the whole. It takes pride in its distinct political views.

The pitfalls of secession may be described in economic terms, but free trade borders and currency unions would be pragmatic probabilities. Instead, the pertinent question would be whether the international balance of power would be tilted.

Without Texas, the US would still be 50 per cent richer than China, and well over double the size of any number three (Japan). The UK without Scotland, meanwhile, may be overtaken in nominal GDP by Brazil and Russia, dropping from world number six to eight. Unlike Texas, Scotland would be globally insignificant. Globally, this is not a sea change.

But France has signalled concern that a diminishing of the UK would heighten the dominance of Germany within the European Union. Without Scotland, the UK would be closer in size to Italy than to France or Germany. Already, German concerns are increasingly seen as the only European views that count.

The significance of Scottish independence is a push and pull between hopes for imaginary national identities versus hard-nosed concerns of geopolitical clout. Though for its people at least, independence could mean having a greater say in their own lives.


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