Scots Wha Hae: Should Scotland Secede?
In February of 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan stated to the Parliament of South Africa, “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” Macmillan’s speech signaled a shift in Conservative Party attitudes toward British decolonization, a policy which it had previously opposed throughout the 1950s. Indeed, the United Kingdom relinquished much of its territories in Africa and Asia over the years that followed, lacking the will (and arguably the resources) to maintain its commonwealth in the face of the process which Ayn Rand dubbed “Global Balkanization.”
Global Balkanization, meaning the process by which societies fragment along ethnic lines (i.e. shared race plus tradition), is not solely confined to those regions where it has already existed for thousands of years. However characteristic it may be of the still pre-industrial tribal and village societies in Africa and Asia, Global Balkanization has established a foothold in Western nations, sparking prominent calls for secession in places like French-speaking Quebec, Basque Spain, Flemish Belgium, French Brittany, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, to name but a minute fraction of such movements. Though numerous smaller movements exist throughout much of Europe, perhaps the movement which has received the most attention over recent years – and the one which is mostly likely to achieve its goal in the foreseeable future – is that of the Scots.
Though the Scots and Anglo-Saxons sporadically warred with each other throughout the Dark Ages, concerted attempts by the English to conquer Scotland did not truly begin until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. After centuries of gradual campaigns by Norman lords to overtake Welsh principalities, Edward I of England defeated the last independent Welsh prince in the late Thirteenth Century and then redirected his armies against Scottish territories in the North of Britain. The now famous Scottish Wars of Independence lasted from 1296 to 1357 — half a century after the death of Edward “Longshanks” — ultimately leaving Scotland with its own monarch and government for a few hundred years, although occasional periods of war persisted throughout the same period.
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Tudor dynasty died out, leaving her cousin James VI, King of Scots, as heir to the English throne. Though James VI (now James I of England) and his Stuart successors attempted to better unify the two nations, both countries maintained separate parliaments until the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) – the last of the Stuarts. In 1707, the Treaty of Unification of England and Scotland was ratified by both the English and Scottish parliaments, thus establishing the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Following the unification, Scotland underwent its own Enlightenment, making Scottish citizens some of the most literate and well-educated in all of Europe. The crème de la crème of the Scottish Enlightenment, however, was not any increase in status on the European stage that the Scots attained following their unification with the English. Rather, the works of one Adam Smith, an economist, would later propel the world forward through not one, but two Industrial Revolutions in the early and late Nineteenth Century. His book entitled The Wealth of Nations was the crowning jewel of Enlightenment thought – the literal culmination of all intellectual advancements in that era and a rejection of the millennia-old idea that man can improve his life by pursuing anything but his rational self-interests.
Naturally, not all Scots were satisfied with the union, and rightfully so to some extent. Following various uprisings by the Jacobites (those in favor or reestablishing the Stuart dynasty in Britain) in the early- and mid-Eighteenth Century, Parliament passed the Proscription Act of 1746. The Jacobite Rising if 1745, which was supported primarily by Scottish Highland clan chiefs, caused Parliament to ban both the ownership of firearms in the Highlands (the Disarming Act) and the wearing of kilts and tartan-patterned dress (the Dress Act), though the latter was repealed in 1782. These acts made no distinction between rebels and honest citizens, necessarily infringing on the rights of the latter.
Serious political efforts to reestablish Scottish home rule go back as far as the mid-Nineteenth Century. From 1889 to 1914, the issue of Scottish home rule was debated fifteen times in the British Parliament, and four bills were produced. One Home Rule Bill passed its second reading in 1913, but was set aside in light of World War I. Progress for Scottish home rule continued after the war, making the Secretary of Scotland a Cabinet-level position in 1926, establishing the Scottish National Party in 1934, and granting authority to the Standing Committee on Scottish bills to consider bills specifically related to Scottish affairs in 1948.
In 1978, the Labour-dominated government passed the Scotland Act which would have established a devolved legislature for Scotland known as the Scottish Assembly. Under the terms of the bill, the proposal had to receive the support of at least 40% of Scotland’s registered electorate in order to pass, not just a simple electoral majority. After the referendum of 1979, those in favor of devolution won a slight majority over those opposed to it (51.6% to 48.4%). However, only 63.8% of the registered Scottish electorate took part in the referendum, meaning that those in favor of devolution did not reach the 40% benchmark necessary to establish a Scottish Assembly. The anti-devolution Conservative Party took control in the same year, halting any devolution legislation while in power.
During the mid- to late-1990s, the United Kingdom
experienced a resurgence of Scottish nationalism – a phenomenon which some have attributed to the 1995 release of Mel Gibson’s (historically inaccurate) portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart. It was in this atmosphere that the Labour Party regained control of Parliament in 1997 following almost two decades of Conservative-dominated government. The new Labour government agreed to revisit the issue and, in September of that same year, put a new referendum before the Scottish people – the plan passed with an overwhelming 74.3% majority, 44.87% of the total registered electorate. The following year, Parliament passed the Scotland Act of 1998, officially establishing the Scottish Parliament. (The Welsh faced a similar referendum the same year and also voted in favor of a Welsh Assembly, though by smaller margins. The created Assembly was given much less power than the Scottish Parliament, though those powers were expanded in 2006. Both Wales and Scotland retain representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom).
In 2007, the Scottish Parliament held its third general election since its creation,
this time producing a one-seat plurality for the Scottish National Party over Scottish Labour. In August, the SNP government published a paper entitled “Choosing Scotland’s Future”, which included the possibility of independence. Originally, the SNP had pledged to hold a referendum on the independence question by 2010, though it faced staunch opposition from rival parties. After the election of 2011, the SNP gained an absolute majority of sixty-nine in the Scottish Parliament of one hundred twenty-nine, picking up twenty-three seats in a single election cycle. On January 10, 2012, the Scottish Government declared that it would hold a public referendum on the question of independence in the fall of 2014.
Before a single vote is cast on this issue, the Scottish public faces some critical questions which must be answered – not merely because outside observers would like to understand Scottish motives behind a potentially successful push for complete separation from the United Kingdom, but because the Scots need to understand their own intentions so that they make a rational, self-interested decision, whatever that may be. Beyond all the superficialities of the situation, there exist two basic questions at the heart of the matter: “Why would we want independence?” and, equally importantly, “What would we do with independence?”
Over recent decades, there have been numerous cases which exemplify the results of Global Balkanization, as pointed out by Ayn Rand as early as 1977. Though there have been many ethnic conflicts worth noting – including Saddam Hussein’s attacks on Kurdish Iraqis and the Arab apartheid in Sudan – the clearest and most obvious example of Global Balkanization is the Balkan region itself.
Coinciding with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the collapse of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia resulted in the violent partitioning of that region into several smaller, ethnically-oriented countries. Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, and various other ethno-religious groups in Bosnia and the region as a whole took the absence of a totalitarian regime as a signal to start systematically killing one another. Each ethnic group desired – for entirely illogical reasons – a country of their own, in which “their people” did not have to associate with “those other people”. The problem with the notion that some of these groups were oppressing the others and therefore the others had the unquestionable right to secede and establish their own country is that arguably all of these groups were actively oppressing one another. Any given “victim ethnicity” had absolutely no qualms about victimizing the others, only fueling the ethnic-driven slaughter.
As the actions of all men are determined by their individual philosophies, one must understand the philosophy behind the actions in the Balkans and elsewhere on the globe. Global Balkanization is, at its root, driven by collectivism – the belief in the primacy of the group over the individual. In America, the most common kind of collectivism is that of the altruist doctrine which places the “common good”, or the good of society, over that of the individual. But such abstractions as the “common good”, “society”, or the “workers of the world” (as in Communist dicta) are too extensive to be sustained in the intellectual climate of Europe – were it otherwise, the ideas of “ethnic unity” would be merely secondary to the much larger ideas of “national”, “class”, or “ideological unity”.
Instead, the focus on ethnicity is the direct result of the philosophies which have dominated the intellectual culture of Europe (and America, though to a lesser extent) for over a century. By teaching man that his knowledge is impotent, he forfeits his knowledge along with his own identity. From that point forward, man is driven to the most primal form of collectivism – racism, i.e. collectivism based on shared genetics or ancestry. Ethnicity is merely racism with the added element of shared tradition, noting how the Balkan groups differed primarily in shared traditions rather than race, though the two are conflated in the new concept of ethnicity. Once man has his capacity for self-esteem and knowledge crippled, he seeks both only in that which he finds familiar. In this case, that which man finds familiar is other people who look and behave like he does. Those outside of a man’s ethnicity are inherently viewed as a threat to that man’s irrational standard of the good and, as such, should either be excluded from participating in a given ethnocentric society or eliminated.
The entire purpose of secession for those with Balkan ideologies is to prevent the slow and steady collapse of their traditions, “way of life”, or relative homogeneity. The illogic in maintaining “racial purity” should be self-evident to most readers and needs no discussion here. As for the traditions of a given group, there are none which are valuable simply because they are traditions. The value of something is determined not by its age, but by whether or not it is good, meaning whether or not it fundamentally improves upon man’s ultimate value: his own life. No matter the age of particular style of dress, a particular folk song or dance, a particular seasonal festivity, or any other ethnic peculiarity, the value of such traditions still depends on its objective value to man’s life, as does the value of maintaining them.
Moreover, many traditions which are viewed as so inseparable from a particular ethnic identity are not actually old at all, but were instead invented in order to reinforce existing prejudices. Such inventions are not unique to ethnic collectivism, but are also found in more extensive kinds of collectivism. Much of the pageantry surrounding the royal family of the United Kingdom, for example, is often portrayed as quite old when it did not truly begin until the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries. No tradition, invented or not, warrants the initiation of government force to maintain it – traditions will live or die based on the (preferably rational) decisions of those that practice them.
If these are the grounds on which the Scots are petitioning for secession, then it is the responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to deny their request. Regardless of the Scots’ affinity toward their history and culture, secession for the cause of Scottish “national identity” is no more rational than secession for cause of the traditions of the Balkan states. Were it that the British government was infringing upon the rights of the Scottish people to maintain their traditions – regardless of their actual value – then that would be another issue, as the British government would be initiating force, thus requiring some measure of retaliation. As the Scots are facing no such violations of their rights and have not for over two centuries, then seceding merely to perpetuate those traditions is absolutely unjustifiable, and this comes from an author who has a particular enthusiasm for the tonal qualities of the bagpipes and Scottish music along with the alleged functionality of kilts.
But one cannot forget the state of political decay in the United Kingdom when examining the possible reasons for Scottish secession. The welfare state which the United Kingdom has voted upon itself is a vast violation of individual liberty, despite that nation’s tendency to distinguish itself from its continental neighbors by being somewhat more free – a distinction which certainly has some benefits, including the relative security of the British pound over the euro. Even so, the severe lack of economic and personal liberty in the United Kingdom by capitalist standards is a problem which requires rectification. If Scotland were to secede on the grounds of escaping such a statist cesspool, then it deserves all due support from the advocates of capitalism – the more Hong Kongs there are in the world, the better.
However, it is doubtful that this is the case. Since the Scottish Parliament was created, it was given control over healthcare, education, economic development, and most other aspects of Scottish politics excluding foreign policy and some general taxes (though it can vary those taxes slightly). Unfortunately, the Labour government which dominated the Scottish Parliament for most of its existence did nothing to reduce the levels of statism within these various spheres. Instead, it arguably increased the government’s role in those areas, eliminating most fees for permanent residents in its national healthcare system while such fees still exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom. What is worse is that the Scottish National Party appears to go even further than Labour, desiring full membership in the European Union and the adoption of the euro as the national currency – two things which the Labour Party has continually rejected – while also supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament more consistently within its own ranks than Labour. Replacing one disgrace of government for another is unacceptable, and Scotland must demonstrate (if not to the Parliament of United Kingdom, then to rational observers) that the government it intends to establish once fully separated from the United Kingdom will be freer than the one it is leaving before any push for secession deserves support.
The prospects of rational Scottish secession are, admittedly, quite slim. Even in the case that the traditions which Scots may appeal to when defending their intent to secede are those of liberty and justice, they would still be appealing to tradition. Arguments that they should secede because “the Scots have always been a free people” carry as little logical weight as the claim that the Russians should have a dictator because “the Russians have always been a virtually enslaved people”. Moreover, what is the value of liberty (let alone the definition) if it is not individual liberty, and what value is “justice” when it is nothing more than the leftist notion of “social justice”? The answer is that both are of no value in those contexts, and appealing to them as a justification for secession would be one of the grandest equivocations committed since Robespierre misused the same terms during the French Revolution.
True though it may be that Scottish secession would come in the absence of the bloodshed which marked the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, this observer is not convinced that it should come at all. As much as one may wish that the Scots desired independence so that they may grant more independence to individuals, wishing does not make it so. Instead, it is far more likely that the ideology of those in favor of withdrawal from the United Kingdom is anchored to the irrational, collectivist doctrines which drove Europe to two World Wars and is now driving it toward further disintegration, often for no other reason than that one group of people look, speak, and behave differently than another group. Even in the case of the Scots’ arguments that theirs is a culture which holds vastly different ideals than those held by the English, those ideals do not appear to be significantly different where they matter the most when establishing a new government: the protection of man’s life, man’s liberty, and man’s pursuit of his own happiness.
Liberty, a value so dear and vital to man’s existence that rational men have gambled their very lives to attain it – including those men of reason who declared their independence from the British crown in 1776 – is the only just political goal of any secessionist movement. Liberty, however, is not the imagined “right” of one group of people to erect a government for themselves free from external force when their new government merely localizes that force. Instead, liberty requires the full and consistent recognition of man’s rights, removing all initiated force from human relationships. That is the liberty which the Scots must pursue in their quest for independence – not independence for Scotland, but independence for the Scotsman, for man. When and if the Scots decide and thoroughly demonstrate that they want to secede in the name of liberty – real liberty – then on that day, they will have this author’s undying support.