TEL AVIV – Nobody should be surprised that Scotland’s recent referendum on independence left the United Kingdom intact. In the past, regions or communities have achieved statehood almost exclusively after a struggle against colonial subjection and oppression, galvanized by an appeal to a distinctive religious, cultural, or ethnic identity. Complaints about economic dynamics, social policies, or governance inefficiencies – the basis of Scotland’s “yes” campaign – are not the cris de coeur of a successful independence movement. That is bad news for secessionists elsewhere in the West.
Of course, Scotland’s technocratic nationalism made sense. As the movement’s leader, Alex Salmond, acknowledged in a 2012 consultation document, “Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated.” The struggle for independence, he explained, was aimed at creating the kind of efficient administrative and economic structures that would enable Scotland to reach its potential.
The “yes” campaign hoped to win supporters with a utopian vision of an independent Scotland that included European Union and NATO membership; a currency union with England, but no fiscal union; improved public services and social benefits; and lower taxes. In other words, Scotland would have everything it has now, only better, and on its own terms.
This vision was undoubtedly appealing to many Scots. But it proved significantly less compelling than the economic doomsday scenarios advanced by its unionist opponents, including former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. In other words, many people’s votes were driven by risk aversion, fear, and intimidation, rather than hope, passion, or deep emotional attachment to a common identity.