This summer has been one of extraordinary news — of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, of terrorists conquering northern Iraq, of riots in small Midwestern cities. But amid all this we have forgotten that Scotland will stage a referendum on independence September 18, and it looks strangely likely that the United Kingdom, that cherished, ancient institution, may face impending collapse. Despite all its hysteric consternation, Westminster should not resist this prospect, and Scotland ought to vote for secession on Thursday.
Scottish independence is not some misty-eyed fantasy shouted down the Royal Mile by young troublemakers draped in the Cross of St. Andrew and heads full of romantic nationalism. No, this independence movement, now tied with its opponents in polling, is based on simple electoral politics. A neoliberal consensus has reigned in Westminster for 30 years, even under Labour’s ministry. Scotland wants none of that. The Scottish delegation to Westminster contains 59 MPs and, astonishingly, only one Conservative. Of all of Scotland’s MPs, only one is a member of the governing party in the United Kingdom. Scotland did not elect the current British government. At Holyrood, the seat of the devolved Scottish Parliament established in 1999, the Scottish National Party, ideologically devoted to independence and led by the brilliant Alex Salmond, rules with a comfortable majority.
This analysis indicates something fundamental to the nationalist case: that Scotland has reached the point at which its political alignment no longer fits within the United Kingdom’s. This is the single greatest argument for independence. In the United States, which has a fully federal structure, this might not prove so calamitous, but the United Kingdom has never federalized completely. A separate national identity is a good enough justification for independence; in Scotland, this self-identification as “Scottish” has combined with a mode of political thinking entirely different from that of England. With this confluence of national and political distinctness, it becomes somewhat absurd to suggest that Scotland should remain chained to its southern neighbor, or vice-versa.
Scottish secession would follow an encouraging precedent. History has taught us that the secession of small nations from large states results from inexorable forces and typically has a positive effect. The relevant comparison here is to colonial America’s secession from the British Empire — a situation in which the political climate in America vastly differed from that in England. Another comparison might be the long and torturous Irish struggle for home rule, a 50–year drama that has shockingly failed to teach the English the value of letting go. In both cases, secession from the British Empire was politically necessary in the immediate moment and beneficial in the long-term. Scotland in 2014 bears many similarities.
The behavior of the English political class in regard to the referendum is also at issue here. Ever since the SNP took a majority at Holyrood in 2011, everyone knew a referendum would take place. Westminster assigned two former Labour ministers, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, to direct the rather moribund “Better Together” anti-independence campaign. None of the three major party leaders involved themselves — that is, not until about a week ago, when a poll showed a two-point lead for the pro-independence side. Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have since allied to oppose independence, and both have made campaigning trips north of the border. But this is far too little and far too late. Westminster has behaved with complacency and lackadaisicalness towards the referendum. All three party leaders began to care only once it began to look like history might remember them as the men who lost the union. They have utterly neglected a vital debate in an integral part of their country; they have given little thought to the voters up north; and even now their unionist rhetoric rings hollow, tiresome, insincere. This is a stunning failure on the part of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, one that ought to indict the entirety of the Westminster establishment. One might question whether they would even be fit to rule the United Kingdom should the results of September 18 turn against them.
Ever since Margaret Thatcher’s ministry, Scotland and England have diverged, nationalistically and politically. We have now reached the point at which it is best for each nation to go their separate ways in mutual amity. Yes, the union will end, and this may wreak havoc upon the English psyche, but only by secession can the Scots escape rule from a foreign political élite — and create, on their own terms, the nation-state they so emphatically deserve.
Noah Daponte-Smith is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.