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Obama and Scottish Independence

Obama announced his opposition to Scottish independence and British withdrawal from the EU:

President Barack Obama on Thursday gave the strongest signal yet that the United States wanted to see the United Kingdom remain inside the European Union and Scotland to preserve its 307-year-old union with England.

That’s not at all surprising that Obama holds these views, but I wonder why Cameron thinks it is a good idea to have foreign politicians holding forth on these issues. This sort of thing can backfire on the causes that it is supposed to help. Most people in Britain probably won’t care either way, but it could give a boost to nationalists and Euroskeptics in their respective debates to have a foreign leader–and an American one at that–coming down publicly on the opposing side. As it is, the political establishment in Britain is uniformly against independence and generally opposed to withdrawing from the EU, so I’m not sure what Obama’s statement gives the unionists and Europhiles that they didn’t already have. The U.S. government is in favor of the status quo in Britain, as are they, but especially on Europe the status quo is quite unpopular. Having another foreign leader endorse the arrangements that generate so much dissatisfaction isn’t likely to reconcile anyone to the way things are.

Obama framed his remarks about Scotland by saying that the outcome is “up to the people of Scotland,” which it is, but that just raises the question of why he thought it was worth saying something about it.

Benedict Brogan was pleased that Obama finally came out against independence:

Mr Obama has in effect launched the proper campaign with an unexpected endorsement. It helps too that he’s making the obvious points, that, to coin a phrase, we are better together. Saying it while standing next to the Prime Minister was a way of reminding us all, but Scots in particular, they they are represented in the G7, and in other international gatherings, in a way they wouldn’t be if they were alone.

Brogan thinks that Obama’s rebuke to Scottish nationalists will be more meaningful because Obama is a “darling of the left” who is “obviously in tune with the statist lefty vision Mr Salmond embodies,” but that doesn’t seem right. The SNP itself is much more leftist than Obama, and from their perspective Obama’s politics make him a centrist or even center-right when placed in the British context. No one is less likely to view Obama as someone with a “statist lefty vision” than someone who really is on the left.

My impression is that Scottish nationalists and those open to voting ‘yes’ on the referendum couldn’t care less about being closely associated with the U.S. in this way. I doubt that this holds a lot of sway with most voters on either side of the debate, and what effect it does have is probably negative at this point. At the same time, is likely not very helpful to the unionist cause in Scotland to remind voters that remaining part of the U.K. could easily mean being pulled into future U.S.-led conflicts that they have never wanted to join.

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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