Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Scotland punching above its weight.

In history timing is everything. When Scotland was forced by mosquitoes to throw in its lot with England, the timing couldn’t have been better. At the time, the power of the previously great Spanish Empire was depleted; and French power, although a threat for another hundred years or so, had been held in check by the alliance of Europe’s then beta powers (England, Austria, and Holland).

Although Scotland was small in population terms, adding the country and its hardy, adventurous, and canny people to the stolid, dependable English mass created an entity that was big enough and talented enough to get its nose in front. Among other possible alpha nations, Russia, of course, at that time, was too backward, and Germany still had a long road to go to achieve unification.

For historical comparison, imagine if France had, at the same time, been able to pull off a similar coup, and successfully united with a small neighbour, Holland or Bavaria, for example. In that case France would have become too strong and have gone on to dominate the next two hundred years in the way that Britain did.

And then the timing!

If the union had happened earlier – say in the time of Henry VIII, when there was a big push for it – or later – in the late 19th century – its impact would have been a lot less.

In the former case, it would probably have facilitated a pointless resumption of the Hundred Years War between England and France by that vainglorious monarch. In the latter, the two countries joining forces would have had a much smaller relative impact than other contemporary events like the political unification of Germany or the transport unification of Russia through railways.

Also, with Europe ascendant, the early eighteenth century was the optimum time for any of its states to get ahead of the rest, as such an advantage would practically lay the world at its feet.

Scotland and England uniting when they did, was a case of perfect timing. By the time the mercantile and industrial revolutions came along in the mid-to-late eighteenth century – powered by a combination of Scots and English ingenuity – most of the teething troubles of the Union had been sorted out. The Union pushed Britain to the front of the European pack, giving it the perfect position to organize the wider world in its own best interests. So, for good or ill, the Union effectively created the world we live in today.

James Watt inventing something more important than the latest smartphone.
On its own, a country like England could never have been more than an upper-middle ranking European nation – like Poland or Italy perhaps. It was an even greater achievement for Scotland, a small nation on a par with the likes of Switzerland or Denmark. In short, the Union happening when it did allowed both countries to punch well above their weights, and assume the kind of influence on global affairs that would normally be reserved for great continental empires or modern superpowers. In these terms, the Union was an unquestioned good for both nations. But just because something worked once doesn’t mean it will do so always. The days when nosing in front of France resulted in global pre-eminence are long gone.

The bankruptcy of the Union is clear in the nature of the NO campaign, which has emphasized the various ties and interconnections between the two countries, and the awkwardness that unravelling these will entail. Revealingly, the NO campaign has not dared to invite ridicule by attempting to present a “positive vision” of what Britishness means today. Something to do with Pakistani child rape gangs and Romanian Gypsies on welfare being as “British” as Buckingham Palace and Last Night of the Proms.


But, just as the Union of Scotland and England turned out to be about much more than those two countries and their reasons for uniting, the dissolution of that union – should it happen tomorrow – will also have much wider ramifications.

In the same way that the accession of Scotland pushed the new state over the critical line from European mediocrity into global greatness, so the secession of Scotland will take the British state down a several vital notches, pushing it from major secondary power status with a significant global profile to general irrelevance. With Britain serving as a conduit of American influence, this will also have a negative impact on that country’s slowly deteriorating global position.

Britain’s power is essentially relational and based on its position as a kind of lynchpin for US transatlantic projection to Europe. By being America’s closest ally (not necessarily reciprocal) and by being one of the three key European powers, along with Germany and France, the UK effectively melds the two together, serving as a locus of the transatlantic alliance that has been the dominant global power since 1945. It makes Europe seem more Anglo to America and America seem more European to the Continent. It facilitates the myth of a common mission and interests between two areas of the world that are now quite distinct.

To serve this function the UK needs to remain at least as important as France and Germany. But because these two nations form the inside track of the Greater European Union, the UK has to overcompensate with a combination of military, financial, and diplomatic overreach. Being militarily close to America (“the poodle position”), a major player in the EU, the centre of the Commonwealth, and having the City of London all help to give the UK a degree of global relevance. The various factors behind the UK’s power and importance, of course, interrelate and cross support each other, but this strength is not essence. It is relational and relative, and is therefore extremely fragile.

Just as the union of Scotland and England was much greater than the sum of their parts, so Scotland is also much greater than the subtraction of its part from the UK.

Japanese view of "Britain"
Scotland may have less than ten percent of the UK population, but, in terms of the impact of independence, it is a lot bigger. Scotland is around a third of the land mass of the UK, and is home to the country’s totemic nuclear deterrent, in the form of the Trident submarine base in the Clyde Estuary. Scots have also played a disproportionately large role in the UK’s military forces. Scotland is also a major part of Britain's brand or international identity, especially as viewed by foreigners. For example, in Japan many of the most famous icons of Britain – whisky, tartan, golf, misty mountains, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. – are in fact Scottish.

To recap, Scottish independence means:

  • The UK noticeably and dramatically shrinking in perceived size
  • A loss of military status
  • A major dilution of its global brand and image

Some may say these are merely superficial things. Map size isn’t everything, and the UK-minus-Scotland could surely reorganize its military forces while relocating Trident – even if it is to America! The loss of one of its constituent cultures and many of its most iconic items could be countered by rebranding. Using the opening ceremony of the London Olympics as the template, the UK could double down on its non-British cultural elements, and if this proved problematic, which I suspect it would, the country could also try boosting “Englishness” in the careful, PC-approved way that people like Leftist folk singer Billy Bragg try to do.

But although superficial, these changes will have a big impact. Superficial things are affected by other superficial things, and the UK, as an inter-relational image-dependent entity, is one of the most superficial. It is important mainly because people believe in it. More than most countries it lives on its own myth. It looks big in the same way that the Emperor in the story looked dressed, because everybody was too polite to say the opposite.

Scotland voting YES to independence is the equivalent of the small boy blurting out that the Emperor is indeed naked. Take away Scotland, and the UK suddenly shrivels to the point where Germany and France will only take it as seriously as they do Poland or Spain, a position from which it also becomes useless as a conduit of American power to Europe. This will have a knock-on effect on the importance of the City of London, which will immediately start to leak prestige and position as one of the key global financial centres.

The City of London: reliant on cosmopolitan tendencies.
By removing the largely pro-EU Scottish MPs from the UK Parliament, Scottish independence will also help unleash the growing mood of anti-EU feeling in England, something else that will work to the detriment and isolation of the City of London, which is perhaps the only part of the UK that actually needs the EU.

In short, with Scottish independence the UK loses its magic and its mojo, and becomes just another nation of around 50 million people (Italy, Burma, the Ukraine, etc.) that has to get by on its own merits. This, of course, is a good thing for most people in the UK.

Whatever happens in Thursday’s vote – and I am predicting a narrow YES victory – the trend towards Scottish independence from Westminster is strengthening. Even with a NO vote, the Scottish Parliament will receive additional powers, promised in an attempt to stave off a YES vote. This means that even if Scots opt to support the Union for a few years longer, the process of devolution powering the break-up the UK will only strengthen.

But more important than whether Edinburgh can take control of its oil and welfare or what currency an independent Scotland will have – the areas where most of the campaign has sadly languished – is the macro-political question of what happens when the stopper is let out of Britain’s bottle. A Europe where the diminished rump of the UK is critically less important than before will be one that has moved out of the shadow of WWII and the Allied “liberation” and ideological subjugation of Europe. It will represent an ebbing of the liberal Anglosphere and – with other developments around the world – a great weakening of American power.

In many ways, the UK is the canary in the coalmine. As long it tweets and flutters and preens itself, there is hope for Western Globalism to keep driving its shafts deeper into the seams and nations of the World, but if a sudden blast of “noxious nationalist gas” should send it to the bottom of its cage, then it may well be an opportunity for the rest of the world to get some fresh air.

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