On Independence

I have little standing to write about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. I mean, I used to live in Britain but I have not lived in Scotland nor am I likely to any time soon. I have an even less meaningful connection to the debate than Sean Connery.

But on the other hand I am half Scottish, and that makes me feel like I have some connection to the decision.

The case against Scottish independence seems to mostly boil down to how much better the UK is with Scotland in it rather than how much better off the Scottish would be as part of the UK (here’s one particularly flippant example). And I think this really goes back to the roots of why Scotland joined the Union in the first place.

Scotland and England have had a common monarch since the early seventeenth century when James succeeded Elizabeth I – he was James I of England and James VI of Scotland – but the two countries remained distinct (and the Scots rebellious) until the early eighteenth century and the time of imperial expansion. It was a time when all the European powers were starting international empires, and Scotland wanted one too.

Unfortunately, none of their efforts went well, and it finally came down to one last gamble: Scotland self-funded an expedition to build a trade route between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in Panama, a prefiguring of the Panama Canal. The funding for this expedition consisted of a fifth of the money in Scotland.

Think about that: a country decides to fund an expedition with a fifth of the money in that country. That’s a lot.

Needless to say, it failed and Scotland was left in dire financial straits. The option available was to join with England in a new country called the United Kingdom. And ever since there have been depredations upon the Scottish populace, from the Clearances onwards.

There are going to be teething troubles in a newly independent Scotland, but as Charles Stross suggests in his analysis those troubles should be sorted out relatively quickly as these things go. The alternative is continuing governance from a remote and unrepresentative parliament in London.

Flee, Scotland, while you have the chance.

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