Last month, British history could have changed dramatically by coming to a sudden end. Scottish independence would have put to rest an act of union which not only survived more than 300 years, but also created one of the most effective, and arguably greatest, states known to man. Here I will be arguing why that would have been a good thing.
The population of the United Kingdom hovers around 64.1 million (2011) while the population of Scotland is roughly 5.295 million (2011). This statistic was usually brought up by smug unionists as if they were critiquing a wild, utopian dream. Blissfully unaware of the fact that there are only 322,000 Icelanders, simply stating this statistic seemed to always carry the argument in favour of the unionists. How it came to be that only countries with large populations are considered viable I will never know, but I am inclined to believe that the opposite is generally true. The smaller the population, the more each individual voice matters because there is less chance of other voices drowning it out. Decentralism is necessary for democracy to be palatable; if it isn’t guaranteed then the result of each election will always be disappointing. After all, you can’t please everyone.
None of the above is original. They are the arguments of economist Leopold Kohr whose Breakdown of Nations highlighted the superiority of smaller states as apposed to larger ones. The book may have lost some it’s immediacy in a post-Cold War world that lacks two super-states continually poised for nuclear war, but we shouldn’t be mistaken. I doubt the Russian Federation would be the force that we know it to be if it didn’t have access to the military and economic power currently within its reach; but I’m not discussing power crazed tyrants trying to out Stalin each other. Political gigantism still exists and Scottish independence could have been a step in the right-and reasonable- direction.
I won’t repeat anymore of Kohr’s arguments here, his book already serves that purpose. But what is interesting about him in relation to the debate that raged in the media over the past few months, was his virtual non existence. His writings provided a wealth of arguments in support of the “Yes” vote but I could not find a single reference to him during the entire campaign. What this may prove is the suspicion that “Yes” voters’ were preoccupied with blue faced FREEDOM screamers and Robert Burns poems about bonking “bonnie-lasses” rather than sensible politics and economics.
Another argument, and buzz word, for the “No” vote was the notion of unity. Unity, from the “Better Together” campaign’s point of view, had some magical quality and if not upheld then civilisation inexplicably collapsed. This, from my perspective, was the irrational argument equivalent to the “Yes” campaign’s belief in the Braveheart fantasy.
There are typically two reasons to support the notion of unity in the United Kingdom, both from either side of the political spectrum. Firstly, the leftist (or rather Marxist) point of view is that national divisions are largely artificial and the only defining aspect of a people as regards wider society is class. Therefore, dividing a nation (which is already unnecessarily divided from all other nations) is without reason, according to this position.
The second perspective can be considered conservative or right wing in its attempt to conserve the status quo and by extension the political unity of the English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh. This is the position held not only by the three main political parties, but also the majority of the right wing and the British public at large (hence the referendum’s failure). This isn’t to say that political opinion in the United Kingdom is universally right wing, but it does appear that the public is of a largely conservative bent in its desire to preserve rather than change.
Division on the other hand, whether along national or regional lines, secures liberty because it gives people the option to break away from the main and forge their own path; and the smaller the political or social unit the more efficient the democratic process because the government can afford to be more responsive to its citizen’s demands.
Generally speaking, the marxist-left (of the academic variety) largely ignores the existence of national differences in character and its political implications, while the status quo preserving centrists and rightists prefer unity by virtue of the fact that they serve the interests of the status quo. Both are to be countered.
My ideal on the other hand looks even more radical than an independent Scotland; instead it looks similar to the medieval world made up of small, San Marino like city-states or region-states resembling early Wales where the nation was split into three or four main kingdoms rather than the cumbersome nation-states that are today coalescing into continental super states, a la Europe.
Division could ensure that people have their immediate needs met and more efficiently than is currently done, in my view; and in countries paralysed with political disagreement such as the United States, decentralism and secession may create a nation of semi-independent red and blue States and counties that would be far more fulfilling to its citizens than the current homogeneous mess.
While this ideal is just as unlikely to be realised than more than 10 people finishing this, what I know realise to be, rather long essay, I hold it nonetheless. And for that reason, I will always think of the 18th of September with a somewhat morose longing.