David Frum makes a thoroughly unpersuasive case that the U.S. has much to lose from Scottish independence. He concludes with a preposterous attempt to pin some of the blame on the Obama administration in the event of a ‘yes’ vote:
In February 1995, Bill Clinton traveled to Ottawa to speak in favor of Canadian unity. “In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect,” Clinton told the Canadian Parliament. The U.S. president was a more popular figure in Quebec than that province’s own politicians, and his words likely contributed to the narrow margin of victory of the ‘No’ side in Quebec’s second and final secession referendum later that year. President Obama has played no equivalent role in the debate over the survival of America’s close ally, the United Kingdom. If the ‘Yes’ vote prevails on September 18, Obama’s omission should be remembered in the postmortem assignment of blame for a potential disaster for the peoples of Britain, Europe, and the Western alliance.
First, the “potential disaster” isn’t anything of the kind. The rest of the U.K., NATO, and the EU will continue to function just as well (or just as poorly) as ever. The U.K. was already being held back from a very activist foreign policy by its fiscal priorities and the public’s aversion to involvement in new foreign wars, so the separation of Scotland would have less of an effect than at almost any time in the last thirty years. Whatever problems NATO and the EU may have, including Scotland in these organizations won’t be a serious problem for either of them. NATO is already filled with small countries that don’t pull their weight. One more or less won’t make any difference. Both organizations may make it difficult for Scotland to join for individual members’ own reasons, but in that case Scotland wouldn’t be contributing to their dysfunction for years to come.
There is a real possibility that Scottish independence makes the exit of the rest of the U.K. from the EU more likely, but there is also a possibility that an electorate exhausted by the aftermath of the Scottish referendum will have no desire to go through an equally involved process of disentanglement from the European Union. Besides, it’s not obvious that the U.S. would be worse off if people in the rest of the U.K. decided to leave the EU. Whether that decision is in the best interests of the rest of the U.K. is another question, but I would think that the U.S. and U.S. businesses would be able to adapt to a new arrangement without too much difficulty. The truth is that the American “stake” in this decision is not all that great. Independence would be a significant change in the U.S. relationship with London (and Edinburgh), but it isn’t something to fear or to panic over. To the extent that a slightly diminished U.K. makes it less likely for the U.S. to drag it into new and unnecessary foreign adventures, that will probably be better for both America and the rest of the U.K. than the current so-called “special” relationship.
As for Obama’s “omission,” it’s worth remembering that the president quite unnecessarily weighed in on the subject when he was last meeting with Cameron. Even that small intervention was probably a mistake, but it was one that didn’t matter much either way. A more concerted effort from Obama wouldn’t have helped the unionists, since a more forceful American intervention in the Scottish debate would have offered the SNP the perfect opportunity to exploit popular discontent with U.S. foreign policy and the relationship with London to their advantage. No matter which way Scotland votes this week, it can’t be blamed on (or credited to) the U.S., and U.S. interests won’t be significantly harmed either way.