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Fretting About Scottish Independence

George Robertson frets about the effects of possible Scottish independence:

The ripple effects would not be limited to the United Kingdom. Other separatist movements in Europe are watching the Scottish debate with undisguised interest. In Spain, more than a million Catalans have turned out in the streets calling for independence. In the Basque Country, separatist violence has waned, but the desire for a separate state remains. In Belgium, whose unity hangs on a thread, Flemish nationalists have made it clear that if Scotland has a free pass to the European Union and NATO [bold mine-DL], they would be next in line. There could be more breakaways to come.

The assumption behind all of this is that the fragmentation of some or all of these states would be a bad thing. That’s possible, but it’s not clear why this is taken as a given. It is understandable after the last century that Europeans would be wary of redrawing territorial boundaries, but the peaceful division of democratic states by referendum is a very strange thing to oppose. Suppose that Scottish independence triggered a wave of other successful separatist votes that created several new states out of a few existing ones. What would be the harm in that? Is there really very much to be feared from an independent Catalunya? It makes sense that some European governments wouldn’t want to encourage separatist movements in their own countries, but it frankly doesn’t matter that much to other countries.

Spain has been very vocal about its position on Scottish membership in the EU in order to make it less likely that the ‘yes’ side in this year’s referendum will prevail. The Spanish government guesses correctly that Spain may not long survive as a united country if separatist states are able to acquire EU membership with ease. But it is just this sort of opposition from other parts of Europe that makes most of the worrying about the implications of Scottish independence redundant. The referendum is likely to fail, and Scotland isn’t going to become an independent state. That isn’t because Scottish independence would have profound and negative significance for the rest of Europe or anyone else, but because more Scots judge independence to be unnecessary or undesirable for themselves. That’s because there will be no “free pass” for Scotland to joint the EU or NATO, and being barred from easy entry into the EU is one of the things making independence unappealing.

Despite Robertson’s use of “re-Balkanization” to scare people into thinking that Scottish independence could mean the return of armed conflict to western Europe, there is little reason to think that the independence of a few new countries would lead to “more strife and dissension.” Scottish independence may indeed not be in the interests of most Scots, in which case they will vote it down and the issue will be resolved for the foreseeable future. Even so, it is the most pathetic kind of fear-mongering to suggest that it would be a serious danger to anyone.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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