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The Price of Scottish Independence

NEW YORK – Though the world’s eyes now are on Scotland’s referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, Scotland is not alone in seeking to redraw national boundaries. There are independence movements in many other parts of the world; indeed, 39 new states have joined the United Nations since 1980. Many more aspirants are waiting in the wings, and would likely be encouraged by a Scottish “Yes” vote.

The Scottish pro-independence campaign is based on four claims. The first is cultural: to protect and strengthen the identity of the Scottish people. The second is ideological: to move Scotland toward a Scandinavian-style social democracy. The third is political: to bring democratic governance closer to the people. And the fourth is economic: to lay claim to a larger share of North Sea oil and gas.

UK political leaders and many European governments are strongly urging the Scots to vote against independence. Scottish independence, the “No” campaign argues, would bring few if any of the claimed benefits; on the contrary, it would cause many economic calamities, ranging from financial panics to the flight of jobs and industry from Scotland. Moreover, an independent Scotland might be excluded from the European Union and NATO.

What should the rest of the world think about this debate? Should the Scottish independence campaign be hailed as a breakthrough for claims to cultural identity and self-governance? Or should it be viewed as yet another source of instability and weakness in Europe – one that would increase uncertainty in other countries and parts of the world?