Post-Modern Scotch Succession

Scotch succession seems particularly peculiar to most outsiders because the supposed grievances of the Scottish nationalists are so, on examination, meager.

Scotland is per capita as wealthy as England. Its people are so well integrated that Britain has had a series of prime ministers who are clearly of Scottish descent without anyone in England paying much attention. Compared to the reasons why, says, Baluch and Kashmiri separatism exists, the Scottish ones seem quite bizarre.

Much of them come down to “We want to be independent because we can.”

The point, of course, is that in the kind of political environment that Scotland lives, secessionism of the whimsical kind can arise with relative ease. And even work.

Regions like Scotland or Catalonia or Bavaria are embedded in the European Union, live in a security environment that is dominated by the threat of pub brawls, economic conditions that transcend the nation-state and have cultural links that are effectively global.

Being part of the United Kingdom, therefore, does not seem to be particularly important for such entities. The exact benefit of being part of a nation-state is unclear to many Scots. They have a world beating agro-processing export (whisky), good universities (at one time they had more than England), tourism and a fair amount of overly expensive oil and gas. Half their population will continue to live in England. They expect to join the European Union as its 27th member and end up with the euro. In fact, they will have a status not too dissimilar to Ireland which maintains the right of settlement for its people in England, uses the euro but is deeply integrated with Great Britain.

However, there is a bit of an illusion in all this. The security environment is actually underwritten in the final analysis by the United States. The Ukraine crisis has at least woken up the Continent to the fact that it is not yet a post-military world. The Scottish economy is dependent in part on a very large financial sector which would be forced to move out of a country that would have no central bank for purely legal reasons. North Sea oil and gas is like its Siberian counterpart, it depends on relatively global high prices because of its high extraction cost. Watch what the shale revolution does to it in a decade or so. The list goes on.

That is an interesting part of the post-modern world. The nation-state has developed such good buffering for its odd failures – global financial institutions, security infrastructure that works with minimal human cost, welfare programmes and so on – that those who live there can come to believe that the nation-state itself has become irrelevant. That it can be broken down into smaller groupings that would struggle to maintain that buffering if things went bad.

Unfortunately, the world hasn’t reached that point yet. Which is why an independent Scotland is more of a gamble than it seems to those who live there.

One aside: India is the world’s largest whisky drinker – it consumes half the stuff under that name though only a small fraction is Scotch.

Is there an obvious match between Scotland and the Indian Union? If the European Union won’t have them, union territory status for Scotland should be given some thought in New Delhi.

Copyright © 2014 the Hindustan Times

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