Scottish Independence is nothing less than intellectually objectionable. The political justification for independence is internally contradicted; the rhetoric and economic arguments are flawed; and when the Scottish people vote on independence, they will most likely vote based on what are objectively the wrong criteria for such a decision. I recognize these sweeping statements reek of arrogance, but bear with me.
At the most basic level, independence is about full political control. Scotland’s parliament has many devolved powers; the remaining economic and political powers are vested in the UK parliament, to which Scotland contributes 59 of the 650 members. Scottish grievances such as the English ‘theft’ of North Sea Oil Money and forced Scottish involvement in distasteful affairs such as the war in Iraq for the most part boil down to Scotland being more liberal than the rest of the UK. The logic then goes that full independence will allow Scotland to establish a rosy liberal Utopia with its oil revenues, as various Scandinavian countries have done. What is wrong with this thinking? Firstly, it is exceedingly undemocratic and illiberal to secede from a democracy because the rest of the democracy is not voting the way you want them to. Secondly, by asserting that secession is the best solution to these perceived problems one is inescapably saying that political dialogue has failed (or is too much effort?). This is significant because dialogue (and the belief that you can change people’s minds with civilized debate) is the foundation of democracy. Thirdly, arguments for independence on the basis of how much more liberal Scotland will be, generally ignore the corollary of how the political balance in the rest of the UK will swing in favour of the conservatives in equal measure. How do the liberals advocating this justify such a transformation except on the grounds of “screw them, they aren’t Scottish”? Overwhelmingly in this respect, Scottish Independence is a long-term illiberal method of achieving short-term liberal political goals.
Do these political issues surrounding Scottish independence even matter? Polls show that:
“Just 21% of Scots would favour independence if it would leave them £500 ($795) a year worse off, and only 24% would vote to stay in the union even if they would be less well off sticking with Britain. Almost everyone else would vote for independence if it brought in roughly enough money to buy a new iPad, and against it if not.”
So apparently the only thing the voting public at large cares about are the short-term economic effects. It seems to me unethical for political leaders to push for a political decision with long-term wide-reaching repercussions when they know it will be made on the grounds of extremely short-term economic factors. It is also undercuts all the flighty rhetoric about Scotland as a nation bound together by history and a shared accent, yearning to be free; when the majority of the voting public would merely like to be told which side will give them the cash payment for a new iPad so they can get back to watching cat videos on YouTube.
The economics of Scottish Independence have been investigated in detail by real journalists, who for the most part agree that Scotland will not be radically better or worse off in the foreseeable future, but that things become very ambiguous in a couple of decades when the oil money runs out, the cost of decommissioning oil wells kicks in, the nuclear power plants get decommissioned, and generally shit gets real. The SNP paints a much rosier picture, but their forecasts depend on a rather ludicrous program of economic revanchism by which:
Scotland gets all North Sea Oil revenues; RUK pays to decommission them all.
Scotland gets all the power from the nuclear plants, RUK pays to decommission them.
Scotland assumes no toxic assets; RUK takes care of £187 billion of RBS’s toxic assets.
This continues in the direction of “having your cake and eating it too”. The counter-argument the SNP employs is that all the bad things (such as the economic policy which resulted in RBS’s toxic assets) are the result of the government in London. Ignoring the 59 MP’s from Scotland and denying that Scotland had any agency in these decisions is disingenuous. What is even more disappointing about these economic arguments is how they appeal to base prejudices. Inherent in all these demands for a bigger piece of the pie is a belief that the Scottish possess some innate national superiority to the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish, which is just contemptible tribalism.
There is also the problem that the “they stole our oil money” type argument makes a lot more sense in the mouths of people from Shetland, which existed outside of the UK for a lot longer than Scotland, and would have a better claim to be a distinct political entity if only they put more effort into historical mythmaking. Yet the Shetlanders must watch in horror as their local natural resources are used for the benefit not only of people from Shetland, but also a bunch of Scots hundreds of miles away, and a bunch of English imperialists yet more hundreds of miles away. All this aside, the notion that a person is entitled to something because they happened to be born in a place where oil happened to be found, is at its core a very blinkered one of entitlement, which shares much of the asinine logic of upper-class entitlement (I happened to be born rich, thus deserve to inherit everything untaxed and never work).
I am fully aware that nationalism is in no way a politically discredited idea, but I would like to believe that nationalism is an intellectually discredited idea. To recap: prior to when Nationalism became fashionable, Europe tended to believe that confessional identity should be used to delimit political states, but eventually figured out that religion was not the most important political identity. Nationalism was the next experiment. The human race spent the last century or so figuring out self-determination is no panacea either, and in the long run often made things worse than they were to start with. Let us not forget that the logic of Nationalism and self-determination is that every cultural group needs their own state or otherwise will inevitably be oppressed by the majority group in any multinational state, because everyone is racist. This is sadly still true in a lot of places, such as Sudan, but is it true here in Scotland? Moreover, is this oppression/anti-Scottish prejudice on a scale that the democratic institutions of the UK are powerless to confront? Scotland has its own parliament; lots of devolved powers, and the UK parliament even stood by and let Alex Salmond be in charge, despite science proving him to be a Tomato.
The other purely nationalist argument is “Scotland for the Scots”; the argument that other “nations” of people have their own nation-state, so why shouldn’t Scotland? It is true that most political states are demarcated primarily along national lines, but this is because of the racist milieu in which these states were formed. The SNP goes to great pains to say that “it’s not about disliking England/Wales/etc., but rather about liking Scotland”. But such a statement is contradictory; one cannot say Scotland is better without saying the other nations are inferior. I recognize in practice that humans care more about the people they actually know than the ones hundreds of miles away, but to assert this base emotional truth as the basis for a political transformation is misguided. By arguing for “Scotland for the Scots” one is inescapably saying that there is something wrong with the rest of the UK, and Scotland is worse off for associating with those ‘undesirable’ people.
Scottishness is a tribal identity, the same as every other national identity. Nationalism is not a rational concept; the intellectual foundation for the concept of the “nation-state” is bigotry. I believe it is the duty of all forward thinking peoples to transcend petty national identities and embrace more cosmopolitan ones, I believe that to do otherwise is to deny that all humans are inherently equal. By advocating for Scottish independence, one is advocating for a step backwards into an even more restrictive and illiberal tribal identity, which is just as artificial and superficial as the notion of being “British”. I find it disappointing that it is often the most liberal of Scottish Politicians who are advocating this, placidly papering over the illiberal heart of the issue for the sake of short-term regional political gains. I furthermore believe that Scottish Independence sets a counterproductive precedent by which any region/city/village with oil reserves, a political persuasion slightly different from the national norm, and a convenient historical myth can justify secession.
Update: Fergus Halliday responds.