Thursday, September 18, 2014

place your bets

Will Scotland vote "Aye" or "Nae"? I've become, like most of the rest of the civilized world, keenly interested in this question. I recently asked an Irish coworker for his thoughts on Scottish independence, given that the Republic of Ireland has enjoyed independence from Britain since at least the late 1940s, when the Republic of Ireland officially became the Republic of Ireland after having been the Irish Free State. My colleague said he had his doubts and thought that independence was a bad idea. "We [Irish] messed it up," he sighed. He also noted that, in terms of the practical reality in Ireland, not much actually changed with the advent of independence. The economy still was what it was; the citizens still did what they did. Life went on. The same would be true, analogously, for Scotland.

I admit there's a romantic part of me that hopes Scotland will vote "yes" at this referendum. The Scots have fought and yearned for independence for centuries; actor Sean Connery, a loud and longtime supporter of a free Scotland, doubtless hopes to see Scottish independence become a reality in his lifetime. What a thing of beauty it would be, to be Scottish and to know that one was standing on free Scottish ground, breathing free Scottish air—to be, at long last, a true Scotsman, beholden to no one! It's an exhilarating thought.

At the same time, I know that independence comes with drawbacks. I've read around and am aware of the issues: which currency to adopt? How much of the British national debt to shoulder? Wither the Scottish military? How about those oil fields in the North Sea? And what of regional politics—how will Scotland relate to the UK? To the EU? These are enormously important issues, and a headlong plunge into freedom would bring all of them to a head.

But before we worry ourselves to death, it's important to remember that today is merely a referendum—a massive polling of the people's sentiment, not an official vote to cast off the UK forever. The question being put to the Scots is this: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" It's a straightforward query, phrased in the conditional tense ("should," not "shall"), which means it's still just hypothetical. So don't fret: there won't be a breakup anytime soon.

There's an article that says it would be better for the Scots to leave the UK because the UK Parliament would finally be able to swing back to the center once all those damn leftist Scottish representatives have departed. It's true that Scotland, as a nation, swings way, way left—a fact that I find unfortunate. I'd like to think of the Scots as fierce individualists, not as weak-kneed, bitchy little nanny-staters, but apparently that's the face of modern Scotland. If given the chance, the country of William Wallace might swing far enough left to become an echo of France, its neighbor to the south. That's my greatest worry for an independent Scotland: extreme leftism could be the road to national suicide. My own feeling is that leftism has its place as one half of a balanced system—both left and right—that enjoys a certain dynamic tension. Scotland, unbalanced, could easily go over the cliff.

That danger aside, I do still hope the Scots vote "yes." It would be a wake-up call for the UK, even if nothing were to come of it. As some writers have argued, a breakup is inevitable, anyway, because most of Europe (not to mention other parts of the world) is experiencing a sort of "breakup fever" these days, as separatists in different countries agitate for their own independence. And that's why, right at this moment, all eyes are on Scotland. If the Scots vote "yes," they'll be setting an example that shows how a civilized country fights for its freedom in a bloodless, nonviolent way. I seriously doubt that things would be so civilized in the Middle East or in Asia, if such a struggle for independence were to occur. (And it's a marvel to ponder that the Scots themselves are now civilized enough to put down their claymores and battleaxes in order to have a referendum!)

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the referendum ends with a "yes" vote—not by a huge margin, but just barely: maybe 52% "yes" to 48% "no." The vote could go two ways: either the Scots end up cowed by the enormity of the potential problems associated with independence, and they chicken out at the last moment... or they become so excited, so filled with enthusiasm about the the very notion of independence that, in a paroxysm of nationalistic pride, they loudly vote "yes."

So that's my bet: a "yes" vote for Scottish independence. The idea is just too compelling.

UPDATE: Mike leans "nae." Malcolm leans "aye."



The Maximum Leader said...

I need to comment on the binding nature of the referendum. While the wording is "should" and not "shall" all sides are treating the outcome as binding. it is the SNP plan to have Scotland fully independent within 2 years. The national government in Westminster has also pledged to abide by the outcome. So, in that respect, it is binding. Could Scotland be independent on Friday? No. But could it be independent on Sept 19, 2016? Absolutely.

As I've written, I think a "nae" vote is the wiser choice for Scots. But, the allure of freedom and complete self governance is powerful. It is the practical details of separation in which the problems of independence are found. Sadly, as you allude, the Scots are sort of a nanny state lot. They are much more liberal than English liberals and consume more in services than they pay in taxes to the UK government. I think that the "no" campaign should have tried to use fewer scare tactics in their speeches & papers; but the scare tactics are the most compelling reason to stay.

Scotland is, sadly, in the position of thinking that somehow they are going to come into piles of money (of what denomination no one is sure) to be able to afford all the many social programs they want to keep.

Of course, as I wrote yesterday, if the vote is for independence, Scotland will wind up fine in the end. I think, realistically, in 20-30 years they could have an economy like Ireland or perhaps Greece. Of course, one must remember that Ireland and Greece are part of that group of PIGS in the EU. So that isn't hopeful.

Kevin Kim said...

All good to know. I stand corrected. Thanks, Mike!

Charles said...

Mike beat me to it. I was actually thinking of saying something when you posted a similar thing on Twitter, but laziness got the better of me.

As for my prediction, I agree with Mike that a "no" vote is the wiser choice. Scotland is stronger with the rest of the UK, and the UK is stronger for having Scotland. Or maybe I'm just a traditionalist.

This is also what I believe the outcome will be (wishful thinking, maybe?). The polls show a close race, but I'm willing to bet that "yes" voters are more eager to get their voice out there than "no" voters, simply by nature of the progressive/conservative dynamic. That is, I think there are probably a good number of conservatives who haven't said anything yet (or have placed themselves in the "undecided" camp) who will come out of the woodwork in a few hours and vote "no."

So, we shall see.

Kevin Kim said...

"Nae" might be wiser for now, but "Aye" is an inevitability, I think. Much as I'm loath to agree with Pat Buchanan, he has a point: separation is going to happen, and the Empire will shrink still further.

Nathan B. said...

Ditto Mike on the binding nature of the referendum.

I think the word "nanny-state" reveals more about the political views of the one using it than anything else. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands--apart from the problem involving unassimilated Muslim immigrants, these countries are worthy of emulation. They have strong social safety nets, healthy environments, sustainable economies, better quality of life--and no problems with terrorism or wars. What's not to like?

As for the question of Scotland, part of me wants them to be free of the now-politically-unbalanced English. But the other part of me worries about all the various peoples watching this result: the Quebecois, the Catalan people, the Kurds, the Sunnis in one country and the Shiites in another, those who want a Republic of Texas--in short, each minority group that finds itself dissatisfied with the nation that it finds itself within. I would rather people were overcoming differences and finding larger horizons than splitting up over historical and cultural grievances.

In fact, the Scots in the UK have it pretty good, and a little leaven lightens the whole loaf. I've come to see the tremendous benefit that my own country, Canada, receives from having a large group of politically-left people (the Quebecois) in it. They help to help balance our current government, which is trending Republican in its approach to foreign policy, economic policy, and social issues. Similarly, England will be greatly impoverished, politically and culturally, if the Scots leave.

Perhaps because the Quebecois have voted two times not to secede from Canada, my money is on the Scots staying, but it's going to be incredibly close, and with the "yes" side down slightly in the polls, they'll be more motivated to turn out. Then, too, their question is far clearer than the 1995 Quebec question, and their pro-independence leaders are less xenophobic and more cheerful. This referendum really could turn out either way, but in either case, I wish the Scots well.

Charles said...

Yeah, I agree that "yes" will eventually win out. Even if they vote "no" this time, compromises will still be made, and it will be one step toward eventual Scottish independence.

Kevin Kim said...

Charles & Mike,

I'm having trouble finding the two-year time limit. I've seen talk that if the referendum ends with a "yes," independence will occur after a series of negotiations, but where can I find the sources related to time frame?


For every shining, racially homogeneous, Scandinavian (or Dutch) example of benevolent statism, there are numerous counterexamples to be found in more diverse places like—well, like the UK—where government-funded facilities and services are routinely abused and clogged with people who don't need to be availing themselves of those services. Health care in England is a prime example of this: people with minor headaches monopolize the counters while people with more serious conditions are forced to wait for treatment, and this isn't just a few isolated cases: it's a systemic problem. France is another horrifying example of the perils of government-sponsored health care: the heat wave of 2003 killed off over 14,800 people in French hospitals; the bodies were stacked like cordwood. (Government workers were pretty much all on holiday in August when the heat wave struck hardest; many facilities lacked something as basic as air conditioning; the elderly died in droves.) And it's not just France and England.

As for language that reveals political inclinations, I'd submit that "social safety net" is the same sort of catchphrase, freighted as it is with statist assumptions.

That said, and our fundamental disagreements aside, I do agree with your feeling that the vote is going to be close. There was a recent article in some UK rag that said the polls might be completely wrong, but I think that article was written more for sensationalist reasons than for substantive reasons.

We'll all know more in a few hours. I'm still hoping for an "aye."

John said...

Since you asked for bets to be placed, I'll throw in with independence. On the other hand, I've got a Scottish friend who has done some work with a polling organization there and his sense was the tide was turning to "no". Not that you can rely on polls.

Selfishly, I've got my reasons for wanting a yes vote. My older brother who has researched our family genealogy insists that the McCrarey clan descends from Robert the Bruce. So, if the Scots break away from the UK, and if they should decide to re-institute the monarchy, I may make a claim on the crown. When I mentioned this to my friend I think it pushed him firmly into the "no" camp.

As to this being a possible precursor for other independence movements, I'm down with that. Would love to see the Republic of Texas flag flying again...

The Maximum Leader said...

I want to touch on Nathan's point. I agree that the very use of "nanny state" tells much about the user. I am very guilty of this myself. I have to also agree with Kevin when he points out that for every Scandinavian example we pull out, there are many more failed examples of social-statism.

My own (theoretical) philosophical bent does lean towards small culturally homogeneous nations. So in my heart I really want to support the "Yes" vote. But given the Scots desires for social services, and the weakness of their potential economy, I don't see how they do it.

Also, I was listening to some program last night talk about the vote and I heard something that troubled me. I know that the age for voting in this referendum was lowered (to 16 I believe) and that expat Scots were not allowed to vote. But I heard that Scots serving overseas in the British Army cannot vote in the referendum today. Has anyone else heard/read this?

BTW, I have read some polling saying that lowering the voting age, done by the SNP in hopes of bolstering the yes vote, may actually wind up backfiring. Those are poll numbers I'd like to read after.

The Maximum Leader said...

Just to close out my last comment... Those serving in the British Army who are registered to vote in Scotland are eligible to vote today.

As I was reading the requirements, it is interesting to note that expat Scots may not vote in referendum, but citizens of other nations living/residing in Scotland are able to vote in the referendum.

Nathan B. said...

Kevin, I have a feeling we'll have to agree to disagree, which intelligent people can do, of course. But if I may, I would point out that virtually no one outside of those on the political Right in the USA would describe the northern European countries, or Canada, as "statist." When I think "statist," I think of the former USSR and its satellites, or the PRC or North Korea. These are countries that have controlled political expression very tightly, with harsh penalties up to and including death for those who disobey. To me, that is statism. Northern Europe and Canada have nothing in common with this at all.

England always seems to be in the news for having medical problems, and part of my feeling about England is that it really is going to the dogs--but this is largely based on my reading of anecdotes, and I'd have to see the statistics.

As for the article linked to on Canadian healthcare, it is basically a story. The author's personal change in his views began with his experience in an ER ward in one hospital on one occasion. I have never experienced undue waiting times for myself or any member of my family in any of the ER wards of any hospital I've been in in Canada. The author's use of statistics was fuzzy, too. For example, he claims that US statistics for the successful treatment of certain diseases is higher than in countries with federally-run healthcare systems. I would need to see the proof of this to believe him, but he likely isn't including people in the US who weren't covered and therefore couldn't pay for medical care until it was too late. The overall statistics do not favour the US approach to healthcare; it's inefficient, expensive, and too hard for the poor to access. I also have trouble believing the study he cited to the effect that if you remove murders and car accidents from the picture, the US would actually have a higher life expectancy than some of the countries that have stronger social safety nets. I'd need to see the hard numbers and the methodology to be convinced--but if true, that would certainly say that far too many Americans are being killed in car accidents and murders every year in order to drop the average life expectancy down that far. It just seems too difficult to accept.

The Canadian healthcare system is certainly not perfect, and there are signs of serious wear that do need to be addressed. Having said that, I, like most Canadians, would not trade it for a US-style approach to healthcare. Rather, I wish it was more similar to the standard in the northern European countries. I think efficiencies can be found, and better decisions made.

If you choose to respond to this, I'll leave the last word to you, as I agree this is a matter of "fundamental disagreement," as you put it, and since this is your blog, too. (And a darn good one!)

Anyway, I did agree with you when you wrote that if the Scots do choose to separate, that would be a wonderful example for countries in how to manage separatism. I had tended to worry that the example of an independent Scotland would basically encourage separatists more than it would encourage tolerance on the part of the larger countries trying to keep themselves together. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see what happens.

And although I'm predicting a close "no" vote--based partly on my experience watching Quebec vote "no" to its second referendum on sovereignty, there's always the counter-example of Czechoslovakia, which did peacefully and democratically separate. It will be interesting.