Today the United Nations comprises 193 countries.
Might that number rise to 194? A national vote on September 18th will answer that question. The 194th country, if its voters say YES, will be Scotland.
A proud, autonomous kingdom for at least 800 years despite numerous English attempts at military conquest, Scotland was de facto subsumed into a personal union with England when its king, James VI, moved in 1603 from Edinburgh to London to become King James I of England. In 1707, through the Treaty of Union, Scotland was formally incorporated into the Kingdom of Great Britain.
(For an in-depth review of Scotland’s long and fascinating history, I strongly recommend Neil Oliver’s outstanding BBC series “A History of Scotland.”)
Throughout its history, Scotland has maintained a separate legal system. Since 1999, it has had its own Parliament, whose mandate is limited.
This September 18th, a Referendum for Independence will determine whether Scotland separates itself from the United Kingdom to become a sovereign nation.
This historic plebiscite has received scant coverage in the United States. Most of what I hear about the referendum comes from social media, where discussions are lively.
On Twitter, the YES side comes across as passionate at the grassroots level. I hear that YES uses volunteers instead of paid staff and canvasses undecided voters face to face every day. The NO side, which seems to be driven by money and staff from England, uses paid canvassers in lieu of volunteers and employs telephone rather than in-person contacts.
The YES campaign presents voters with a positive and idealistic vision of a once-more independent Scotland. The NO side uses scare tactics, emphasizing potential costs of separation, and (I gather) fails to offer a positive message about the benefits to Scotland of continued union.
The YESes I hear from on social media say that YES has energy and enthusiasm but not yet the poll numbers on its side. I hear that many NOs do not use rational arguments to defend their positions but seem rather to adhere to their beliefs out of fear or inertia.
As an outsider, I am neither qualified to vote nor sufficiently well informed to judge the YES and NO positions on their merits.
But as a native of the U.S. – one former British colony that successfully overthrew the yoke of Westminster rule – I find the prospect of Scottish independence inspiring.
The U.S. was founded on the idea that citizens should be governed by elected representatives and that most government should be local rather than centralized in a national capital. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence:
“[T]he States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore…never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market.” (letter to Judge William Johnson — 1823)
James Madison, a primary author of the U.S. Constitution, added:
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” (Federalist No. 45)
In the U.S. Founders’ vision, the federal government is responsible for only the duties that individual states cannot carry out for themselves – treaties, wars and defense, tariffs, management of a national currency. All other governmental functions are to be left to state and local jurisdiction. The reason for this is simple: governments closer to the people – at the town, county, and state levels – are nearer to the citizens’ immediate concerns, more transparent, and more easily held to account by voters.
Unfortunately, in the last 100 years and especially in the last 50 years, the U.S. government has vastly overreached its original scope; but the principle of local governance remains sound and sensible.
As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland inevitably sacrifices autonomy (and control over its precious North Sea oil reserves) to a governing class in far-away Westminster. Scotland receives in exchange military protection, intangibles associated with membership in the U.K., and certain economic benefits.
If the Union’s net benefits to Scotland do not outweigh the costs of its lost autonomy, then perhaps Scotland owes itself independence.
In the words of one Scottish expatriate: (forwarded by Michael Stewart)
Quote for Today
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence