THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM AND ITS LARGER IMPLICATIONS

scotland flag

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline London, September 16th

No matter what the outcome of Thursday’s Scottish referendum, the result is likely to be almost evenly divided, whether it is a disunity “Yes” vote or a continued unity “No” vote. In this case the assumption will be that the outcome may be tentative and the future more uncertain. 

The lead up to the vote became more intense and heated each day I have been here. In the past week Prime Minister David Cameron clearly was unprepared for this development. Recent polls that show the “Yes” vote gaining an advantage sent a wave of shock throughout the political establishment and to the average citizen.  As a result Cameron conducted an urgent campaign with his MPs visiting Scotland a number of times and making new offers of increased local powers to the Scottish Parliament.  The Labour and Liberal Democrats party leaders also came up to Scotland to argue the case for unity. The most persuasive was former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a former MP from Scotland. Business leaders have also argued in support for unity. This may have turned the tide for the “No” vote on independence.

One of the problems in the debate is a strong resentment of the right-wing Tory Thatcherite predations that were aimed against the poor and lower middle class in Britain, especially amongst a vast part of the Scottish population which to this day still feel they have been forgotten.  As a result there is only one Conservative Scottish MP in Westminster. 

The Scottish National Party under First Minister Alex Salmond has pushed the cause of independence with a zeal and focus that has not been matched by the voices for keeping unity, despite the proposed devolution of many powers to Scotland. Part of the problem must rest with the current Tories with their reductions in health care funding and services, as well as continued privatization of these services which have hit Scotland hard. However, the Labour leaders have promised that these cuts and policies will be reversed.  There is also talk of not permitting Scottish MPs from voting on legislation that pertains to England alone.

The result was a rise of a kind of divisive nationalism on both sides. Among many it has a caused a sense of regret of loss of the commonality that started with the Acts of Union in 1707. This sense of a common destiny was reinforced by the common sharing of the tragedy and costs of two world wars. There is also a sense that such disunion will weaken the power and military capability of Britain.  The British nuclear force is based in Scotland and there are questions being raised that moving it south might be too expensive and that a separate Scottish military would be too small to be effective in any serious challenge.  

This vote also has implications beyond just the UK. EU nations with restive minorities are worried about their own unity. Scotland’s separatists think it would be admitted early to the EU but this is highly unlikely given the need for unanimity of 28 member states. Also the cost and difficulty of a new currency and the problem that 70% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK. The other option would be a currency union with the UK but this too has complications. 

The reality is that there is no real decided broad consensus for either unity or against.  If it were a “yes” vote the implication for the UK and for the Scottish people will be historical and likely catastrophic given how much the two parts of the UK are now integrated at so many levels. There is talk that the Prime Minister might have to resign, but the more important outcome if the “yes” vote wins by a small margin, is the many harsh, costly, and difficult negotiations that lie ahead that could likely only increase the division between these two long united nations. 

But we seem to be facing a global movement towards what I call “particularism,” wherein groups of people in various nations are feeling more affinity to their particular group or locality than they do for a larger national unit that they have belonged to for many years. This has been used to create a feeling by some separatist leaders for hate of those that are the “other.” This often results in conflicts and insecurity and is a serious cause for many of the civil wars and unrest we are seeing throughout the globe.

More on the results of the vote after Thursday, September 18.

We welcome your comments!

2 thoughts on “THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM AND ITS LARGER IMPLICATIONS

  1. Harry C. Blaney III September 18, 2014 / 8:29 AM

    Chuck,

    I agree with Chuck on the importance of the key issues his raises and we have commented a number of times both on the issue of the religious extremists (and I would suggest other forms of extremists like the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and beyond), and climate change. Indeed I have written on both issues for decades including in 1979 in my book “Global Challenges: A world at Risk.” Ebola is indeed a major health and security risk and needs more attention, but so is the global related problems of basic health care, other diseases, increased capability by such organizations as the World Health Organization, and generally inequality and poverty and population growth and migration. More on all this will come.

    I do partially disagree on some other of Chucks points, since what we are seeing in ISIS is indeed a military threat as well. It will need in part a military solution but hopefully by the nations in the region not least by a more unified and capable Iraq and others in the region. As I have written frequently here the problem needs a diplomatic and political solution in the end and especially a reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia groups.

    As I write this in London I note that Australia has agreed to send 600 troops and some of its planes to the region. Britain is likely to use its air force in Iraq. America has conducted 174 air strikes so far to halt the advance of ISIS into the heart of key areas and the capital. Letting ISIS take over all of Iraq and keep control over a third of Syria and carry out its butchers wholesale there is not an option for a civilized world with the UN mandate of the “responsibility to protect.” They will not now be stopped by simple saying they are “bad.”

    As to the Scottish referendum, the vote is a critical element in the long history of nations working in a more united way one another. The Scots have made a major contribution to Britain’s security and life for 300 years and some would say even earlier. Britain is our closest allie and we have share the struggles and the horrendous costs of two world wars with them. The forces of disunity are gaining ground against the forces of unity as Thomas Freedman just said at a London Chatham House meeting on Tuesday, and I have put it using a different paradigm namely the forces of particularism are in the ascendancy against the forces of inclusiveness and tolerance. More again on all of this in latter posts.

    Thanks Chuck again for your thoughtful comments as always, and I am sure the debate on all of this will gone on while we are all gone!

  2. chuck woolery September 17, 2014 / 8:25 PM

    Harry, With all that’s going on I’d hoped you would chose a more globally important national security topic…
    Here’s an option:

    A Convergence of threats and solutions. What to consider this weekend at the NY Climate march & UN Summit starting Sept. 21st, 2014:
    At this moment in the news cycle we appear to be facing three existential threats:
    1. Religious extremists instigating a permanent war that will cost lives, more loss of privacy, human rights and the hope for real security. And, it will deplete valuable resources and attention from other vital concerns.
    2. Changing climate that promises to change every aspect of life as we know it… costing the health of our environment, our children and our economy… while exacerbating scarcity and other factors related to national security and individual freedom and security.
    3. Ebola, a rapidly mutating hemorrhagic fever that is spreading exponentially in poor nations with inadequate health/medical infrastructure threatening to destabilize African nations. It could also be adopted by suicidal extremists to further terrorize the world and disrupt civilization as we know it.
    What do ISIS, Ebola and climate change all have in common? None can be stopped militarily. None can be stopped by any single nation. None can be stopped by the United Nations as it exists today. None will be stopped by unenforceable International laws. None can be stopped without the devotion of timely and sufficient economic resources applied to immediate needs, workable and sustainable solutions, and long term efforts to prevent the re-emergence of war, disease or other factors leading to environmental collapse.
    War, climate change and Ebola are not the only existential threats we face. Others not mentioned have the same characteristics of these now grabbing our immediate attention.
    Realistically, what can environmentalist achieve in gaining the attention and focused action of those engaged in an escalating war against terrorism, stopping the threat of genocide or controlling Ebola?
    There appears to be only one rational approach to changing this hopeless equation so that we, our children, and our children’s children can live healthy, relatively safe, free, prosperous, and fulfilling lives in a fruitful environment.
    We must replace the current systems (economic, governance, security, social…) that got us to this point and institute a global system of enforceable laws that put the protection of fundamental human rights and the environment ahead of short term national, corporate or extremists’ interests.
    The evolution of weapons, disease and environmental insults is accelerating. Things are changing rapidly. Can We?
    Chuck Woolery, Former Chair, United Nations Association Council of Organizations
    Home address: 315 Dean Dr., Rockville, MD 20851
    240-997-2209 chuck@igc.org “Science is my passion, politics my duty.” Thomas Jefferson

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