Vae, Scotland

Twenty-four hours from now Scotland will vote on a resolution to become an independent nation. Recent polls indicate that the vote will probably be close – closer than had been expected throughout most of this year. Apparently 51% of the vote either way will be determinative.

A lot has been written about this unfortunate state of affairs. British Prime Minister David Cameron should never have let it get this far by authorizing what amounts to a binding plebiscite based upon a simple majority.

A bare majority deciding to make a profound change in the lives of themselves, as well as the rest of the country, is wrong. These kind of changes deserve at least a super majority of two thirds, or even three fourths. Amending the United States Constitution, which is nearly always a significant alteration in the basic rules of governance, requires two-thirds affirmative vote by each house of Congress plus ratification by three fourths of the states. A close vote for Scottish independence would be the ultimate tyranny of the majority.

The Scots would be well served by remembering that clause in the United States Declaration of Independence that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. That document also cautions that when it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind require that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. The American Declaration, significantly enough, is a manifesto based in no small part on the ideas of the 18th Century movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, and his ilk have disregarded those Enlightenment admonitions. Salmond’s writings and speeches contain no cogent reason for separation, other than some vague “self determination” principles and what amounts to voodoo economics. He has no bill of particulars that recite the manifest wrongs as did the American Declaration.

The “self-determination” principles have been discredited by the long, bloody 20th Century’s history. That chronicle is cogently analyzed by Bret Stephens in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal essay (see “Memo to Wannabe Bravehearts”). Nowhere can there be found any reason for separating Scotland from the rest of the UK that contains any sound logic. Unless you consider their ethnic pride, aka tribalism, to be the basis of sound reasoning.

Nowhere does Salmond make a viable economic argument. His only hypothesis that has any plausible basis in sound economics is that Scotland will obtain all, or at least the lion’s share, of the revenues from North Sea oil that it now must share with the entire UK. Compared with the other petroleum producing areas, the North Sea reserves are small and oil prices are mercurial. Betting on one industry for economic heath is risky in the extreme. Scotland’s union with the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland diversifies Great Britain’s economic base and provides hedges against inevitable downturns in other industries.

It is a sad commentary on the state of modern Scotland that the home of Adam Smith is left-leaning, and so many Scots are on the dole. The Scottish diaspora – meaning those descended from expatriates – is exponentially larger than their homeland population. Most of those are individualistic and self-reliant and done very well in countries where economic freedom is valued and preserved. A large part of Alex Salmond’s appeal seems to be his promise of more handouts. That will be difficult when there’s nothing in the hand.

As far as ancestry is concerned, the Queen and the rest of the British Royal family is more Scottish than English. The last true English monarch was Harold Godwinson, whose reign ended at Hastings in 1066. The Scottish Stuarts reigned over England, Wales, and Scotland from 1603. While a German Hanoverian took the throne in 1714, he did so because his grandmother was Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland. While Salmond maintains that an independent Scotland will keep the Queen (as do other Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and twelve other, mostly island, independent nations), sharing the monarch seems likely to be a little awkward.

An independent Scotland makes as much sense as an independent Texas. Sure, either one could probably survive, but could hardly prosper. When a relative was married in England a few years ago, the reception tables were graced with the Union Jack and the Lone Star flag and the Stars and Stripes. Proud Texas can be, and for the most part are, proud Americans. Proud Scots can be proud Britons as well. Lets hope they stay that way.

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