A few days ago, a friend sent me a photo of some pro-union bumper stickers spotted on the cars of Chelsea. “Proud to be Scottish — Delighted to be united,” the text read. Would that simultaneously chipper and bland slogan inspire me to vote “no” on Scottish independence? No, but not only because of the insipid PR effort.
The whole referendum on Scotland’s independence inspires a bit of cognitive dissonance for this former Texpatriate in London. I feel I’m supposed to support the idea of a unified United Kingdom as an exit by Scotland promises much economic upheaval, but I’m more American conservative than American Republican, the latter of which tends to prioritize economics and is more aligned with UK Tories, who are practically begging Scotland to stay. I intuitively understand the Scottish desire to be ruled by the Scots, and that was before I saw their much better PR campaign.
I see “Delighted to be United” and immediately jump to Sam Adams’s Pennsylvania speech in support of the Declaration of Independence in August of 1776: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom—go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”
The confusion for Americans sympathetic to the Scottish independence movement is that we might appreciate their desire for self-rule but think the unionists have the facts right.
The arguments put forth by the Scottish independence movement are hopelessly naïve. They make rosy assumptions about the simplicity of keeping the British pound and their ability to safeguard university eduction and their National Health Service benefits because they would get the revenues from the offshore drilling operations. In fact, much of the independence movement’s budget math rests upon those off-shore oil drilling revenues, which they count two or even three times.
Even counting the rigs once, however, is an overly optimistic assumption. The rigs are assets of the United Kingdom. In the perhaps-impending separation negations, Britain will fiercely contest rights to those rigs and the oil they produce. This will not be their first independence negotiation. The UK willingly let go of Canada and Australia, but the actual separation took decades. Australia has only been completely independent of Parliament’s authority for about 30 years. The British are very skilled at keeping control.
Without all the oil revenues, Scottish independence plans for their welfare state would see the country run out of other people’s money much faster than the current UK pace. For citizens, gradual reform is preferable to quick implosion, but gradual reform isn’t on the menu. The Scots love their welfare state. They want to take their own road to bankruptcy. An independent Scotland, the first country founded with the intent of deficit spending.
In the remnants of the United Kingdom, the Labor party wouldn’t likely form another government for a generation. The exit of the Scottish delegates to Parliament would see the Tories swing about 40 seats, from 20 seats shy of a majority to a 20-seat comfortable majority. After they recovered from the mortification of losing almost half of their own island,* British Tories might finally feel bold enough to try for real reform of their social welfare state and diminished defenses. The market stresses of the separation and the defense realities for Britain in America’s leadership absence will give those initiatives a sense of urgency. And a successful referendum on leaving the European Union would become more likely.
Things could certainly go the other way, where either the British or the Scottish try to turn to progressive state control in their economic desperation, but Margaret Thatcher’s rule is relentless: eventually, you run out of other people’s money.
A Scottish exit from the United Kingdom would see an instantly more conservative Britain and possibly a conservative, or at least contrite, Scotland in the future. Remind me again, what are the arguments for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom?
I do not relish the thought of watching the coming havoc should Scotland vote to leave the United Kingdom but, as a conservative, one who looks at the long course of history and the future rather than just the here and now, I take some comfort in something another famous Brit once said: “Example is the school of mankind and he will learn at no other.” A Scottish exit will see lessons learned all around.
*Regarding Tories mortification at losing Scotland—the flag-related consequences will not help. Option 1 has a kiwi bird and a kangaroo on it. (Personally, I’d vote for the Welsh dragon.)