Over the summer of 2014, all eyes in the United Kingdom were on the northern half of Britain as Scotland prepared to vote to secede from the United Kingdom. This tension came to a head on Thursday, September 18, as citizens of Scotland voted in a referendum to decide the issue. In a 55%-45% , it appeared that the majority of Scots were in favor of remaining with the United Kingdom. They may not have opted to take their freedom, but Scotland’s actions of last week do bring up three interesting points for those on this side of the pond to consider.
First, one should ask if secession would have been a reasonable solution to Scotland’s political circumstances. Tom Clougherty of Reason dissected the motivations for and the implications of an independent Scotland. The challenges lie in three places: its fiscal status, its debt, and its currency. These three are obviously interrelated, and the essence of these challenges is that Scotland would find itself struggling economically for an incredibly long time.
Second, how does this affect other secessionist movements on the world stage? In an article from USA Today, Alan Gomez reports that secessionist movements, especially in Spain and Belgium, are particularly keen on the campaign strategies used and polling statistics from the Scottish vote. The first lesson, according to Gomez, is to get the standing government to approve a formally recognized vote. Legitimacy is key in such a political move. Second, the Scottish polls leading up to the vote showed that support for independence seemed to be on the rise, yet the reality on September 18 told a different story. A poll taken without condition is quite different from the pressure of the ballot. The Scottish experiment also provided an example for what an independence campaign might look like, as well as how and to whom secessionists should appeal for support. Movements around the glove were disheartened to see the Scots remain in the United Kingdom, but Gomez, in quoting Jason Sorens, a political science professor at Dartmouth, raises one final point that is significant: “The domino effect seen throughout the 2010-12 Arab Spring and other recent revolutionary uprisings does not necessarily translate to secessionist movements, successful or unsuccessful.” Unlike countries in the Middle East with puppet dictators, the Scots do not have a clear, uniform reason for independence. While the situation under British rule may not be the most liberal, in the traditional sense, it is unlikely that the current government is going to be as oppressive as those under Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.
To conclude, we should ask: what can we, as Americans, learn from the Scots? If anyone should have some advice about getting out from under the rule of England, it would be the United States. To refer back to Tom Clougherty, independence may be what Scotland needs to reign in its large, constrictive economy. He claims that: “Scotland would be forced to restructure its public sector, not just to reduce costs in the short term, but also to deal with the prospect of an aging population.” In addition to these readjustments, they would also be forced to provide incentives to encourage increases in both domestic and foreign enterprise.
Conservatives at the Heritage Foundation are not as optimistic as the Libertarians are at Reason. In his article, Nile Gardiner appeals to the special relationship that Britain and America have and how Scotland’s independence would have drastic effects on our closest ally. Gardiner’s most significant points included demographic changes, economic turmoil, political instability, and military restructuring. Demographically, its population would have been reduced by 5,000,000. Economically, the London Stock Market would have taken quite a hit, a hit which would undoubtedly have been felt on Wall Street. The political turmoil would have resulted in Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party fighting to maintain control. The United States needs a stable Britain to aid in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East. The British military, alongside its potential dormancy against ISIS, would also have been forced to relocate its nuclear weapons, giving a headache to British and US defense chiefs.
Here we have two reasonable opinions on the vote. One in support, mostly for economic reasons, and one against, mostly for reasons of tradition and political stability. The United States certainly has a vested interest in Britain’s stability, but a strong free market economy (even if in the future) is also an attractive thought.