Charlie Stross unintentionally explains why Scottish independence is a bad idea

by on June 13, 2014 at 1:04 am in Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

Here is one of the end paragraphs of his “interesting throughout” but unsettling piece in favor of independence:

Which brings me to the punch-line: I’ll be voting “yes” for an independence Scotland in September. Not with great enthusiasm (as I noted earlier, if Devo Max was on the ballot I’d be voting for that) but because everything I see around me suggests that there is some very bad craziness in the near future of England, and I don’t want the little country I live in to be dragged down the rabbit hole by the same dark forces of reaction that are cropping up across Europe, from Hungary to Greece. The failure modes of democracy, it seems to me, are less damaging the smaller the democracy.

Stross is a smart guy and I am an admirer of his writing.  But my view remains pretty straightforward: when dislike of the policy choices of the electorate leads to a serious movement for secession, something has gone deeply wrong with the preconditions for democratic attachment.  The UK is hardly the Third Reich, it has a long tradition of honest elections, and for left-leaning individuals the share of British government in gdp is likely to stay well over 40% in all plausible futures and furthermore most of the conservatives are relatively liberal on social questions.  For those who favor independence for the Scots, what kind of general principle might you lay out for when other peoples also should seek secession?  Do they think that the strongly red states in America also should consider secession?  How about Vermont?  I understand the libertarian case for such secessions, but most supporters of Scottish independence are not arguing from libertarian premises.  How much secession do they think should be happening?  Or do they hold particularist views which do not admit of any generalization at all?  Either way, I consider this a true crisis of governance.

Addendum: Scottish wealth seems to be lower than they have been claiming: “More than 70% of Scotland’s total economic output – excluding banking and finance and the public sector – is controlled by non-Scottish-owned firms, according to Scottish government data.”

prior_approval June 13, 2014 at 1:35 am

So, I guess a potential majority of the Scottish electorate don’t tear up when their plane lands in England.

And I truly wonder what this web site’s opinion of the Irish deciding to leave ‘a birthplace (the birthplace?) of liberty’ would have been – especially when one notes the violent occupation of the Dublin post office during a war, for example.

Admittedly, the Irish then could not actually vote on such questions in any sense until 1914 (and not exactly even then – the Irish seemed to have felt that their liberty was just too important to be left in English hands), so there is that difference.

‘The Government of Ireland Act 1914 (4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 90), also known as the Home Rule Act, and before enactment as the Third Home Rule Bill, was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom intended to provide home rule (self-government within the United Kingdom) for Ireland. It was the third such bill introduced by a Liberal government in a thirty-year period in response to the Irish Home Rule movement.

The Act was the first law ever passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom that sought to establish devolved government in any part of the United Kingdom. However, the implementation of both it and the equally controversial Welsh Church Act 1914 was formally postponed for a minimum of twelve months with the outbreak of the First World War. Subsequent developments in Ireland led to further postponements, meaning that the Act never took effect; it was finally superseded by a fourth home rule bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland, creating Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, both intended to enjoy Home Rule.

In 1922, rather than Home Rule as envisioned in the 1914 and 1920 Acts, Southern Ireland was granted dominion status as the Irish Free State, while Northern Ireland, the island’s six north-eastern counties, was given the right to decide to remain in Union with Great Britain; a right which it quickly exercised.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_of_Ireland_Act_1914

What is even more amusing is that in economic terms, the Republic of Ireland was probably not that a desirable outcome. Almost as if people who believe in liberty tend not to use economic terms to judge their liberty.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 3:00 am

1) At the time of Irish independence, a famine that killed hundreds of thousands, and for which England was largely blamed, was within living memory. The equivalent in Scotland is…?

2) A key issue in Ireland was Britain’s attempt to draft its men into a war they didn’t want to fight. The equivalent in Scotland is…?

3) Laws sanctioning anti-Catholic discrimination had been repealed about 80 years earlier. There was still widespread anti-Catholic sentiment, and Irish were widely viewed as inferior. The equivalent in Scotland is…?

4) The Irish were willing to take up arms and fight for independence. That is inconceivable with Scotland.

Tyler’s point was about when “dislike of the policy choices of the electorate leads to a serious movement for secession”. Scotland applies; Ireland does not.

Millian June 13, 2014 at 5:13 am

You don’t think there is widespread anti-Catholic sentiment in Scotland and Britain?

They burn an effigy every November…

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 6:46 am

“You don’t think there is widespread anti-Catholic sentiment in Scotland and Britain?”

No, there absolutely is not. Guy Fawkes day is a meaningless excuse to set off fireworks in modern Britain.

Anyway, the point was about the way Ireland’s Catholicism divided it from England. There is definitely no widespread anti-Church-of-Scotland sentiment in Britain, and if there were, it is unlikely the Scots would care, since hardly any of them go to church.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:52 am

There’s widespread anti-Catholic sentiment among the ‘administrative class’ everywhere in the occidental world bar Malta and perhaps Poland, slob Catholicism (John Kerry’s) and Vichy Catholicism (Garry Wills’) excepted.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

@ArtDeco, the elite tend to be opposed to traditionalist Christianity and its institutions, and there is opposition to the Catholic church for that reason, but I don’t think there is anything specifically Catholic about this, really. It has little to do with the historic Protestant-vs-Catholic divide.

Jim June 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm

“No, there absolutely is not. ”

Get thee to the comments sections on Guardian articles that even remotely about the Catholic Church. They are cesspits of fashionable left-wing, EDL-worthy redneck British nationalist foaming anti-Catholicism. And they are convinced they are oh-so progressive.

dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 5:05 am

@Jim, this is primarily a manifestation of opposition to all western religious institutions in general, and traditional Christianity in particular. Quite different from traditional anti-Catholicism.

Benny Lava June 13, 2014 at 8:41 am

Wasn’t enough to keep out a catholic prime minister (tony Blair).

athEIst June 13, 2014 at 11:50 am

He became Catholic after leaving the Prime Ministership

Tarrou June 13, 2014 at 1:46 am

Pretty humorous that the scots want to secede because England is getting to nationalistic? At least that’s my read on that statement. “Stop being so nationalistic, or we’ll secede and be nationalistic against YOU!”

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 3:01 am

Heh.

Millian June 13, 2014 at 5:16 am

This quoted Scot, who does not represent all Scots, wants to secede because England is becoming nationalist in a reactionary manner. Nationalists today are often not reactionary; the current Scottish or Catalan governments are good example. Furthermore, opponents of Scottish independence are also advocating nationalism (British nationalism).

So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 6:10 am

So, ethnic hatred is fine, m’kay? As long as we’re all hating the right people.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 7:15 am

But the pro-independence people aren’t saying “We understand UKIP’s desire for more autonomy, but we dislike their other positions”. Instead, they are decrying for Britain the very thing that they are promoting for Scotland.

In the article above Stross openly endorses what he calls “the Euro-federalist agenda” and even hints that Britain should not get a chance to vote on leaving the EU–at the same time as supporting Scottish independence. How does this make any sense?

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 7:20 am

Also, how many Scots voting for independence would be willing to have their child born in England? Is this more or less reactionary than UKIP? Discuss.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:48 am

How does this make any sense?

It’s a characteristic of identity politics (especially feminism) that only [insert victim group] has preferences and interests that matter. The rest of us are just filler. That’s the way these people think by default.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 10:52 am

You are probably right, I suppose, but identity politics wears particularly thin when there is no reasonable case that the “victim group” is a victim in any way, nor have they been for hundreds of years.

Tyler Cowen June 13, 2014 at 6:33 am

+1

GiT June 13, 2014 at 12:45 pm

There’s a world of difference between decolonization as nationalism and parochial racist nationalism. Pretty dull to think there’s irony here.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

There is a world of difference between your tendentious descriptions of each of these movements and what they actually are.

GiT June 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm

The specifics of the situation don’t actually matter when the initial claim is just that there’s an inherent irony to seceding over a dominant powers nationalism. It’s just lazy stupidity. A second’s thought resolves the supposed irony.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm

No it doesn’t. Scotland is not an abused or particularly foreign population to ‘the dominant power.’

GiT June 13, 2014 at 9:38 pm

So? Did you think you had a point here?

dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 2:49 am

@GiT, the argument for Scottish independence is to be free from domination by a political system whose views differ from that of the local population. The argument for Britain leaving the EU is to be free from domination by a political system whose views differ from that of the local population. But the people making the former argument object to the latter.

The people making the argument that UKIP is different because it is all about prejudice ignore the views many Scots have about the English (maybe prejudice is ok when it is against people of the same color?).

Of course it would be perfectly legitimate to reject UKIP for other reasons while sympathizing with their argument about autonomy. But that is not what proponents of Scottish independence are doing (see my comments about Stross above).

Why are these different? It appears that the real answer is that independence in order to move to the left is legitimate; independence in order to move to the right is not.

Feel free, however, to actually make a case that the two are not analogous.

Anonymose June 15, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Those oppressed Scots, unable to make an advance in England or in any Anglo-influenced country such as Canada.

Why the English would never have a Scottish Prime Minister!

PM Gordon Brown, PM Tony Blair, PM Alec Douglas-Home, PM Harold Macmillan… all agree!

The Scots of North America and England are generally embarrassed by the heroin-stuffed welfare-addicts that seem to make up the vast majority of those who currently live in Scotland. The Scottish Enlightenment rules the world and is denied in its birthplace.

So Much for Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm

When the Algerians, one of those decolonizing nationalisms lauded by famous figures on the Left like Sartre, became independent they expelled the Jews. They made Algeria Judenrein. Like those parochial racist nationalists in Germany did. And other parochial racist nationalists wanted to.

Can you explain the difference to me if you don’t mind? How is anti-semitism progressive when non-White people do it?

Perhaps you can give us a little digression on the anti-Indian discrimination in Idi Amin’s Uganda, by Steve Biko’s PAC and in Fiji too?

GiT June 13, 2014 at 9:43 pm

It’s funny you think your comment is relevant to the point.

So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 11:26 pm

It is not remotely surprising that you are both unable and unwilling to reply in a sensible manner.

GiT June 14, 2014 at 12:59 am

I’m not sure why you think your slipshod thinking and predictably racist innuendo deserves serious response from anyone. “Algeria was Judenrein therefore there anti-semitism is progressive when non-White people do it.” Yes, this sort of stupid, lazy equivocation deserves comment.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

You were the one who brought up 3d world decolonization chump. You asked for a comparison, you got it.

So Much for Subtlety June 14, 2014 at 6:22 pm

And so like an angry child you throw your toys from the pram. Still does not make you right.

Where is the racist innuendo? Oh right, there wasn’t one.

You said that Third World racism was fine. This is an example of Third World racism all progressives – even JFK – supported. So there is no slipshod thinking here at all. Either this is an example of what you mean or it is not. If it is, can you explain why expelling Jews is progressive? If it is not, can you explain why not?

Equivocation? You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Ray Lopez June 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

As a libertarian, US dual-national, world traveler who lives mostly outside the USA and pays no US income taxes, I would say let nations go back to the pre-19th century German and ancient Greek, Swiss ideal of city-states.

But I doubt, as TC implies, that the average Joe or Scot would have my mentality or ideals. Most of them would never, for example, date inter-racially, which is a Litmus test for a true libertarian. So this is just a protest vote IMO.

Ray Lopez June 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

I forgot to add I’m in the 1% and my gf is 20. Just a reminder…

Hoover June 13, 2014 at 1:59 am

No reminder needed. You caused enough trouble the last time you pointed this out :-)

Ick June 13, 2014 at 7:39 am

Ick

Sounds like she’ll soon be too old Ray. It;s a good thing you have the resources necessary to find a suitable replacement.

Jan June 13, 2014 at 7:55 am

Fyi, I’m in the 9%, my wife is 34 (a domestic product), and my life is terrible bc of it. Stay the course!

Brian Donohue June 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

and the abs. don’t forget the abs.

KLO June 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

Markets in everything.

Ick June 13, 2014 at 11:35 am

And one wonders just how much more income it would require for someone with such “mentality or ideals” to find an American girlfriend.

Jim June 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm

“I would say let nations go back to the pre-19th century German and ancient Greek, Swiss ideal of city-states.”

There is a reason that is a naïve fantasy. Neighboring expansionist states usually incorporate those little minarchist paradises.

Google “Bai Yue” and read up on what happened to those states. Clue – the Han Empire gobbled them up one by one 2,000 years ago.

Frasque June 13, 2014 at 1:56 am

Every nation is a shared dream of having everyone living better from anyone else’s work. Why should rational thinking stop here ? If you think you can live a better life without them, you should act to have them share their own dream.

Therefore, every government has to be downsized regularly. Blowing it out now seems the only way to have this done.

AIG June 13, 2014 at 1:59 am

“Do they think that the strongly red states in America also should consider secession?”

That…would be a pretty great idea.

Andao June 13, 2014 at 6:25 am

Red states have all the military bases and equipment. If they left, they’d invade the blue states soon enough. Then a blue president would get elected, rinse and repeat

Adrian Ratnapala June 13, 2014 at 7:37 am

If they left, why would they invade the blue states?

Jeff June 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

Spite.

Mo June 13, 2014 at 10:36 am

The bulk of the Navy is in blue states and the biggest AF bases are in blue/purple states. So, congrats on having the tanks and artillery, we’re cutting you off from the rest of the world.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 10:53 am

One small problem: what states are all those soldiers manning the ships and planes from?

mm June 13, 2014 at 11:07 am

Last time those states tried to secede was the Civil War. Let’s say it didn’t go well for them.

Maximum Liberty June 13, 2014 at 11:05 am

Amusing speculation —

Not true that Blumerica would have no military. The entire left coast would be blue, so Blumerica would have the Pacific fleet at a minimum. Since Blumerica might not be contiguous, there might be West Blumerica and East Blumerica. Good luck containing China!

Blumerica doesn’t seem to have anything that the Red-ited States would want to keep, apart from the flag and maybe the liberty bell. Oil, gas, nukes, warm weather — all in red paradise.

Most importantly, the Red-ited States would then be able to build that wall to keep out immigrants (from Blumerica, naturally).

I tend to caricature my fellow Texans who want to secede because they tend to be very patriotic about America (which is very different from the federal government). I tell them that they don’t really want to secede. They want everyone else to secede, so that Texas can be America. That usually seems about right for them.

Max

rj June 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

“I tell them that they don’t really want to secede. They want everyone else to secede, so that Texas can be America.”

Perfect.

athEIst June 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Slavery is off the table. Tariffs are off the table. The civil wars would be in the purple states, some would disintegrate. The fiscal nature of Redamerica would be amusing to watch(from Blumerica, of course).

Jay June 13, 2014 at 12:26 pm

How so? What towns/states/cities have gone bankrupt or nearly so from Redameric?

Jim June 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

“Red states have all the military bases and equipment ”

They don’t have the nukes, and the nukes would settle the matter and not in their favor.

Careless June 13, 2014 at 5:37 pm

To save America, we had to saturation-nuke it

Anonymose June 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Because Georgia, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana are blue states? Nevada and Missouri aren’t exactly Massachusetts either. You might want to actually learn something.

GiT June 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Not for the poor black population now stuck in the new confederacy.

Justin Millar June 13, 2014 at 7:59 pm

I think the Red Americans would happily permit them to move to Blue America.

On the other hand, black Americans don’t seem to be terribly happy and prosperous in the 100% Blue liberal utopias of Detroit, Camden, Baltimore, etc.

GiT June 13, 2014 at 9:53 pm

At least they don’t get disenfranchised in the north.

Careless June 13, 2014 at 10:04 pm

So what, exactly, caused you to forget the past 50 years?

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:10 am

You’re not from around here are you? Blacks were never universally disfranchised in the South (and were a big part of the Crump machine in Memphis to take one example) and were added to the voter rolls in stages throughout the postwar period, the most salient period being from about 1960 to 1964. What you’re referring to has not been an issue anywhere since about 1971.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:07 am

The income levels of our domestic black population generate a standard of living similar to that of Mediterranean Europe. They’re not that poor. There are quality of life issues in black neighborhoods, but those would not likely be exacerbated by transferring the central government from Washington to Birmingham or Nashville and cutting out of the equation federal politicians of the ilk of upChuck Schumer.

AIG June 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm

“We” would have most of the nukes. Majority of AF bases are also in the Red States. I’d expect quite a number of defections of naval units to “our” side.

I’d also expect quite a bit of population movement. The hippies would abandon Austin, and “we” would get a lot of California refugees.

I’m for it. Let’s give it a try. I can see nothing harmful coming out of this.

PS: I’d expect the West Coast would form its own separate country, leaving a rump New England and upper Midwest on its own.

Hoover June 13, 2014 at 2:18 am

“For those who favor independence for the Scots, what kind of general principle might you lay out for when other peoples also should seek secession?”

This is a very good question, and I’d like to see an answer.

In my view, an answer would emphasise the general and not follow lines such as “if your capital city is stealing your oil revenues, then you should secede”. I’m anxious to hear the broader principles…

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:07 am

You sound like an Albertan …

Hoover June 13, 2014 at 7:10 am

Well perhaps ““if your capital city is stealing your resources, then you should secede” is a broad principle? It seems a bit bald, though, in the context of redistribution.

How about some of the following:

If you have no representation in the legislature, you should secede.

If your culture (particularly your language) is forbidden, you should secede.

If your region is a lot more productive and/or wealthy than the rump, you should secede.

If resources are not redistributed fairly to your region, you should secede.

These are just suggestions… I don’t necessarily believe in them.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:22 am

If your region is a lot more productive and/or wealthy than the rump, you should secede.

You’ve just advocated the dissolution of any country more extensive and populous than Liechtenstein.

Jayson Virissimo June 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Would 10,000 Liechtensteins be all that bad?

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Yes.

Tom from Calgary June 14, 2014 at 2:25 am

@Steve

Sounds like an Albertan?

When was the last time you were in Alberta Steve because the separation BS in Alberta died in the mid eighties.

Aside from some conservative rural types… which mirrors the urban versus rural US political split… no one I know wants “out”. Quite the converse we want “in” at the federal level.

Having said that the Scottish, Basque, Catalonian, Walloon, separatist votes are interesting in the sense that if the EU gets over it’s mid life crisis in thirty years could we be back to talking about the Germanies in the plural sense rather than the singular.

Alexandre delaigue June 13, 2014 at 3:03 am

Would you have the same arguments on the spanish, belgian, or italian secressionists movements?

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 3:40 am

The Catalonian independence movement has been covered quite a bit here.

Incidentally, this is quite a fun page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_separatist_movements_in_Europe

Keith June 13, 2014 at 11:15 am

Thanks for that link. I had no idea!
Humans are silly creatures.

Chip June 13, 2014 at 3:16 am

Stross is an excitable leftist who sees fascism in every businessman’s closet.

His incoherence is in display here too, criticizing the English for being parochial while demanding Scotland withdraw into itself. For mocking English antipathy to the EU when the EU project had never looked so damaging.

He wants more socialism that the English are increasingly unwilling to give. With independence he will get it.

Until the wheels come off and the horror of self governance kicks in, forcing the scots into more responsible economic policies.

Which is why independence will hurt Scotland in the short term but be a boon further out.

SuomiPoika June 13, 2014 at 4:33 am

“Until the wheels come off and the horror of self governance kicks in, forcing the scots into more responsible economic policies.”

Yes because slightly more redistributionist capitalism has never worked. I mean look at Finland, Sweden and Denmark. They are about the same size as Scotland, redistribute another 5% of GDP and let’s be honest, they’re practically failed states.

Matt June 13, 2014 at 7:00 am

Yes because slightly more redistributionist capitalism has never worked. I mean look at Finland, Sweden and Denmark. They are about the same size as Scotland, redistribute another 5% of GDP and let’s be honest, they’re practically failed states.

Yeah, and if they redistributed about 5% less, then they’d be failed states? Or would they still be very, very, very far from failed states? Perhaps this kind of minor change doesn’t matter that much compared with the people and the general culture?

Roy June 13, 2014 at 3:24 am

Scotland’s politics are heavily warped by the presence of a nationalist bloc, the same is true in Quebec, Catalonia, the Basque Country, among others. This means the successionist block is big enough that important issues regarding daily life are deferred or ignored because of magical thinking about the perfidity of the larger state. In my opinion in Quebec and the Basque Country this has been very destructive. Maybe independence would allow these issues to be addressed, especially since it has been more than forty years and the nationalist ls sure haven’t gone away.

In Scotland, the creation of a Scottish parliament has only made this issue worse, so I can’t imagine the SNP going away anytime soon. In the case of Canada, the UK, and Spain, the successor states face no security threat, and adding the existence of the EU, and the calculus of it all changes considerably.

Axa June 13, 2014 at 7:14 am

….important issues regarding daily life are deferred or ignored. Once I heard something like that about Catalonia. The more time people invest in fighting for “liberty”, they stop making money, the poorer they are, the more frustrated with life they are. The frustration caused by an oppressive central government is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the developed world?

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:25 am

The Basque Country has a population of about 2 million and no large cities. Most of the population speaks Spanish at home. The particularlist parties are not large enough to complicate national politics in Spain. The situation re Flanders and Quebec differs on all of these axes.

Roy June 13, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Oh I agree with you that any Basque state would be about as economically ridiculous as the proposed US state of Jefferson. I am just saying that separatism warps politics and that has a real economic cost. This and its possible resolution through independence needs to be figured in. I only mentioned the Basque Country because I know a lot more about it than Catalonia or Flanders/Wallonia.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I do not know that it would be ‘economically ridiculous’. It’s the most affluent part of Spain outside greater Madrid and greater Barcelona. It is just that I do not think there are examples of economies of that dimension having domestic capital markets. In the U.S., a city the size of Bilbao would (fairly reliably) have a university hospital and medical school, so you might see a full-spectrum medical sector. Scotland’s economy is of a size to support both capital markets and sophisticated medical practice, as is Quebec’s, as are that of the two halves of Belgium.

Andrew M June 13, 2014 at 3:25 am

I can understand secession. When the Cold War ended, several countries leapt at the opportunity to secede from the USSR. Czechoslovakia successfully split into two parts, based on minor cultural and linguistic differences (much like Scotland); Yugoslavia split into several countries, although not without a fight.

Indeed the only guiding principle seems to be linguistic and cultural difference. The Russian speakers of Eastern Ukraine want to secede to re-join the country with which they felt a stronger connection. It’s the same pattern everywhere, from Kurdistan to Catalonia.

By the same logic, France will never break up, because its centralised state has very effectively stamped out all trace of regional difference. Nor will Japan, with its rigid cultural and ethnic conformity.

Britain’s mistake was to let Scotland maintain its own identity. A hundred years of teaching them to speak with an English accent, and the destruction of Scottish newspapers and television, would have sufficiently destroyed their culture. Instead they were allowed to thrive.

The USA is making the same mistake with Spanish-speakers. For hundreds of years, new immigrants were taught English; they even anglicised their names. Today they are encouraged to maintain their own culture. If the Spanish-speakers become sufficiently geographically concentrated, eventually they’ll think about splitting up the country, just like the Russian-speakers in Eastern Ukraine.

Michael G Heller June 13, 2014 at 4:12 am

I’ve long thought that there should be a binding bright line international treaty to prohibit any further national boundary changes… under any circumstances, ever. No more redressing past grievances. No more inventing new grievances and scapegoating. You live within your boundary. Individuals can of course move the other side of the boundary. And of course countries can group together to form larger units, which adds a layer. Eventually that larger unit may become a new national unit by becoming the territorial unit that is the source of its state laws. In the same way as you can subtract a layer by devolution and decentralisation. But the existing territorial unit remains the basis of all law. No shifting the current United Nations goal posts! Taiwan, I do feel really sorry for.

Millian June 13, 2014 at 5:34 am

Why? Like Tyler, you would have to believe that we currently live in the best of all possible worlds (on the way down). There seems no reason to think that is the case. If bigger countries are OK under your rule, why not smaller ones?

Michael G. Heller June 13, 2014 at 6:40 am

The idea I had in mind, which didn’t get well shifted to the comment box, was Europe. I wasn’t thinking of it as a country. Some other kind of Kantian cosmopolitan entity which evolves slowly and is not a land-grab. The point being I’d like to see the scaling up of laws to bigger territorial units (the world eventually), always by agreement. However, no, I’d never say we live in the best of all possible worlds. It’s an awful anarchic division of territories. Yet the urge to further subdivide those territories becomes a terrible waste of time, energy, and resources, and, most dangerously, the most common source of violent conflict. I think China is an exception in wanting to grab more territory by force (GDP has gone to their head and now they are plain bonkers).

Besides (my final point), anyone who thinks governance will magically get better in a smaller unit lives (I suspect) in cloud cuckoo land. Is East Timor better governed now than under Indonesia? This is one of the embarrassing faults of libertarianism. You remember when the anarchists who refuse to vote were going to refit oil rigs and build libertarian platform cities in the sea? You know the subconscious ‘why’? Moral hazard. They knew there would be terrible fights on those tiny platforms. But the idea of dropping into the sea and drowning after a mishit with the antiquarian sabre comforted them. They would not fight because all the dreamers understood that if they did they would physically drown after a 200 meter drop into stormy shark infested oceans. Watery libertarian ideas easily dissolve.

Careless June 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

So to avoid wars, your solution is to make it impossible to secede peacefully

Michael G. Heller June 13, 2014 at 6:46 am

The point being, the UN could declare that it will accept no new countries. Simple.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

Sensible politicians have no use for the UN and would not care to join.

Tracy W June 13, 2014 at 6:29 am

How do you suggest it be made binding?

Michael G. Heller June 13, 2014 at 6:45 am

Treaties I suppose. European treaties seem to be viewed as seriously binding, that’s why the member states squabble over them so sternly.

The Anti-Gnostic June 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

People make nations, not geographic coordinates. The notion that we have to keep everything frozen in amber from 1946 to infinity is foolhardy. You may recall there was a huge breakdown from 1989-91. Have you seen that mess going on in North Africa and the Middle East? Ukraine? Post-colonial Africa?

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

Of course he sees it. He’s just determined not to let it influence his ‘thinking’ on the subject. It’s just stuff in the newspaper, so it’s not vexing him palpably.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

I’ve long thought that there should be a binding bright line international treaty to prohibit any further national boundary changes… under any circumstances, ever.

Walter Berns once said he wanted a constitutional amendment that would prohibit further amendments. People have their funny shticks, but they should not be made into public policy.

Tracy W June 13, 2014 at 6:30 am

By the same logic, France will never break up, because its centralised state has very effectively stamped out all trace of regional difference

I’m guessing you’ve never spent much time in Brittany.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

France will never break up, because its centralised state has very effectively stamped out all trace of regional difference.

In speech and manners, a Parisian can be readily distinguished from an Occitanian, even by a foreigner.

Ed June 13, 2014 at 8:55 am

“Britain’s mistake was to let Scotland maintain its own identity. A hundred years of teaching them to speak with an English accent, and the destruction of Scottish newspapers and television, would have sufficiently destroyed their culture. Instead they were allowed to thrive.”

Whoa. First England didn’t conquer Scotland. The Scottish monarch inherited the English throne, and later as that dynasty was being replaced a union was negotiated. England was never in a position to supress Scottish culture, nor did they want to (what possible benefit would it be for the English?). The English shrank from making the effort needed from keeping Ireland in the union by force, when it came to that. They never could even supress the speaking of Welsh.

There is also an admirable tradition of minimal state interference in these things. There are still regional differences, including differing regional accents, within England itself.

England by itself loses near great-power status and corresponds more to modern day Poland in the rankings. They were a top second tier power in the Middle Ages, without the union, but so what?

GiT June 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Britain was a backwoods island in the Middle Ages. It doesn’t enter the big leagues until well into the renaissance.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm

The Angevin possessions in the late 12th c. included half of France as well as England and Wales. Who else do you fancy was not ‘big leagues’?

GiT June 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Certainly typical of a backwoods island to be taken over by some French counts

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

England was a functioning territorial state from the late 9th century, at a time when France and Germany were a feudal mess.

Randy McDonald June 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

“Britain’s mistake was to let Scotland maintain its own identity. A hundred years of teaching them to speak with an English accent, and the destruction of Scottish newspapers and television, would have sufficiently destroyed their culture. Instead they were allowed to thrive.”

But Britain was never a totalitarian state.

Urso June 13, 2014 at 10:32 am

Was the French 3d Republic totalitarian? Because that’s basically what they did. Maybe they just weren’t totalitarian by 19th century standards.

Roy June 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

France is a centralizing state that after the revolution destroyed such feudal vestiges as actually governmentally relevant realms such as Scotland, Ireland, Manx, or the Channel Islands. This is much more the point than any totalitarianism.

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 8:17 am

Was the French 3d Republic totalitarian?

No, just an officious bureaucratic carbuncle under the supervision of a kalidoscopic array of freemasons.

efp June 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm

So, the problem with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots. If you can’t get them out, breed them out.

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:05 am

How have the Scots even survived the last 17 years of being ruled by Prime Ministers named Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron?

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 4:36 am

Ahh, but as it turns out, no true Scotsman has ever been prime minister.

Millian June 13, 2014 at 5:35 am

No wonder that this racist would see UK politics as determined by ethnicity rather than democratic majorities.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 6:57 am

Huh? The fact that multiple Scots have occupied the most powerful position in government surely speaks against claims that Scotland is oppressed and downtrodden. There is nothing racist about this point. Scottish people are fully represented in UK government (indeed, per capita they have significantly more political power than England: they hold more seats in Parliament per person, as well as having a separate assembly that wields additional power).

And who is even talking about “ethnicity”? Surely the tendentious position is that Scottish and English are two different ethnicities.

Jan June 13, 2014 at 7:59 am

Those guys sure haven’t come off as particularly Scottish to us on the other side of the pond, not least because their accents aren’t very pronounced. (See, we do follow British politics!)

The Anti-Gnostic June 13, 2014 at 8:35 am

They weren’t true Scotsmen.

Colby Cosh June 14, 2014 at 2:30 am

“Follows British politics”; doesn’t think Gordon Brown has a “pronounced” Scots accent.

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:11 am

“For those who favor independence for the Scots, what kind of general principle might you lay out for when other peoples also should seek secession?”

I’m interested in exploring the question of kicking out parts of a country. The Czechs kicked out the Slovaks in 1992, which seems to have worked out reasonably well. There is a lot to be said for Canada kicking out Quebec. And the U.S. should have kicked out Puerto Rico along time ago.

affenkopf June 13, 2014 at 4:34 am

Don’t forget Singapore. Being thrown out worked great for them.

david June 13, 2014 at 6:02 am

Maybe. Maybe not. They were thrown out precisely because it was credible that Lee could have become the next PM.

Z June 14, 2014 at 12:07 am

> And the U.S. should have kicked out Puerto Rico along time ago.

Too many brown people?

Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 7:56 am

No. The problem has been the circular migration between Puerto Rico and the mainland and the effect of that on domestic life, the effect of an absence of screens on the quantum of entrepreneurship amongst the migrants to the mainland (as compared to other immigrant streams, ceteris paribus), and the disjunction in standards of living between Puerto Rico and the mainland conjoined to the escalating availability (over the period running from 1930 to 1975) of means-tested welfare for the able-bodied and working-aged on the mainland (with benefit levels tagged to mainland standards of living rather than Puerto Rican standards of living.

Puerto Rico is the most affluent of Latin American societies, rivaled only by the Southern Cone. However, wage rates on the mainland are still about treble what you can collar at home. The process of immigration tends to a degree to skim the cream of source country populations, and that does not happen if there are no screens. Then at the other end, you had AFDC and public housing and later Food Stamps which allowed wide swaths of the immigrant population to have in the New York City slums what would have been a passable quantum of salable goods and services in Ponce. Of course, there are wretched quality of life issues in Morrisania or Spanish Harlem, but you have some of the same issues back home, where the mean homicide rate across the whole territory is 25 per 100,000 (and presumably much higher in San Juan). Charles Murray’s conception of how the urban lumpenproletariat grew to such obtrusive dimensions after 1957 may be overstated and misconceived when looking at the whole population, but if its true among any social sector, it would be mainland Puerto Ricans.

Generally, acquisitions by British colonies and then by the United States consisted of territories quite sparsely populated and then only by haphazard assemblages of aboriginal bands. Puerto Rico and the Philippines were the exceptions in that they were sizable and in that they were well settled societies. The Philippines were not conceived of as a permanent possession and were not given citizenship. What happens if Puerto Rico is cut loose? I do not think there is any legal precedent for extinguishing citizenship en masse and you still have the issues of Puerto Rico natives living on the mainland, Puerto Ricans resident there who’ve spent years living and working on the mainland, Anglophone residents of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico residents native to the mainland, and Puerto Ricans (resident here or there) who have 1st degree relations native to the mainland (currently resident here or there). Sorting this out would likely require a constitutional amendment and carefully crafted statutory legislation and administrative apparati.

chip June 13, 2014 at 4:22 am

For an example of how well things will run once the Scots have independence perhaps we can point to the construction of the Scottish Parliament building, which went from a budget of 10-40 million pounds to a final cost of over 430 million. Though I don’t think this is what Stross was referring to with his dark reference to The Money.

I particularly like this comment from Stross:

“The English NHS is being reformed along lines that promote internal competition and marketization of healthcare services, and appears to be being prepared for wholesale privatization as an insurance-backed private healthcare system (with the government-funded NHS becoming merely a default fee payer). Meanwhile, in Scotland PPP funded hospitals established under Labour are being bought out and integrated into the fully socialized healthcare system. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

I think he means this is a good thing.

“Socialist icebergs off the bow! Capt. Stross!”

“Aye, laddie. Full steam ahead and hum The Internationale with me.”

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 4:44 am

Actually, I think the current devolved situation is at the root of a lot of financial mismanagement. It creates a situation of uncertain accountability. Scottish Parliament has some authority, but because Westminster holds the purse strings, it is always possible to shift the blame back to them. A perpetual grievance mentality where it is always someone else’s fault is highly destructive and perpetuates dysfunction. In this sense, independence would be a rude awakening, but it may also lead to better governance in the long run.

Andao June 13, 2014 at 6:35 am

Internal competition, can’t have that.

I suppose we can rely on the honesty and virtue of civil servants to control a single health care option.

Anonymous June 13, 2014 at 4:41 am

Like many favouring independence, Stross relies heavily on the supposed difference in outlook between Scotland (pro-European, social democratic) and England (Euro-sceptic, conservative/free market). But polling data suggest that difference is heavily overstated:

http://blog.whatscotlandthinks.org/2013/10/two-different-countries-scottish-and-english-attitudes-to-equality-and-europe/

Millian June 13, 2014 at 5:37 am

There’s no such thing as public opinion; it’s a silly Rousseau-inspired myth. What there is is democratic majorities and their elected governments. British ones privatise services and resent taxes; Scottish ones nationalise them and idolise government spending; it seems silly to deny any divergence.

dan1111 June 13, 2014 at 6:58 am

Heh. The English NHS is still one of the Western world’s least-privatized health systems. And labour will probably change everything back in a few years anyway.

Matt June 13, 2014 at 7:07 am

“It seems silly to deny any divergence.”

Maybe, yet if you don’t attempt to quantify anything, sooner or later tribalist emotions end up transforming them into categorical distinctions of many, many (unrealistically, insanely many) standard deviations. That’s why we try to *count*, in this world.

So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 6:12 am

I don’t want the little country I live in to be dragged down the rabbit hole by the same dark forces of reaction that are cropping up across Europe, from Hungary to Greece. The failure modes of democracy, it seems to me, are less damaging the smaller the democracy.

Stross is worried about the English so he wants Scotland to be run by Golden Dawn and the French National Front?

Failed democracies may be better off if they are small. So why is he voting to be part of a 300 million super-state?

Chip June 13, 2014 at 7:11 am

Like most socialists his beliefs are largely an emotional construct. Normally this is transparently silly, but his facility with language gives it a veneer of sophistication.

For some people anyway.

Randy McDonald June 13, 2014 at 9:45 am

How, pray tell, does the SNP resemble Golden Dawn and the French National Front?

Roy June 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm

They are a pack of Romantic loonies?

I blame Rousseau! This is why we need a trans-European nobility with no particular loyalty to any particular group of peasants to rule us for our own good.

So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I am not saying they do. But the Far Right parties are in Europe, not Britain. And Stross thinks it would be an improvement to be run from Brussels rather than London.

If you’re going to be run from some distance away, why is Golden Dawn and Ms Le Pen a better choice than Cameron?

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 4:11 pm

It doesn’t. SNP and the dominant faction in Plaid Cymru are identity-politics hustles. There not interested in local government anymore than Coleman Young was interested in fiscal independence.

Matt June 13, 2014 at 7:09 am

Hmmm.

1) Claims of deliberate financialisation of the economy for political benefits by the late 1970s Conservative Party are extremely dubious. Scotland is not strongly divergent on tax or income, even compared to say, Wales. It isn’t that divergent on tax transfers per head either.

2) Familiar complaints re: the Tory Boys, would he have rather had another ten years of Blair-Brown, the only other realistic option, here?

3) Yeah, so Strauss soft pedals the xenophobia of Scottish Nationalists (their anti-Englishness, their Scottish cultural consciousness that I doubt inclines them to smile favorable on Pakistani migrants, whatever their claims) in favor of a fear of UKIP and a fear of any sort of anti-immigrant feeling in England. What a surprise.

ivvenalis June 13, 2014 at 9:23 am

Re #3, Wikipedia claims that Scotland is 84% “White Scottish” and another 8% “Other White British” with some other ethnicities thrown in bringing the total to 96% “White” demographics for Scotland. They’re probably just clueless.

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Immigrants don’t want to go to Scotland: the weather is dreary and the economy dull (other than oil).

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Economies are ‘dull’ pretty much everywhere. The number of people who work in the computer industry or Hollywood is a modest minority of the population of the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles respectively, and a great many of them are clerical and service employees of a sort you can find anywhere.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 8:37 am

What the moderator points out is true. A sovereign Scotland is a viable project and perhaps defensible on the grounds that a sense of affiliation between Scotland and the rest of Britain has grown too attenuated. The thing is, the actual motors of particularist sentiment appear to have little to do with a hankering for self-government and owe more to petty adolescent resentments and revulsions. (Portside politics in our own time is generally reducible to personality problems and rent-seeking). So, you have shnooks arguing that Scotland should secede from Britain and then join the EU, have a ‘currency union’ with residual Britain (when the British government has indicated it wants no such thing), devoting a great deal of their verbiage to denouncing the Mr. Farage’s particularist party (self-centeredness being another adolescent trait).

Did you catch the SNP’s preferred immigration policy (as against those vulgar UKIPpers)? “We plan a controlled points-based system to support the migration of skilled workers for the benefit of Scotland’s economy. An independent Scotland will have an inclusive approach to citizenship and a humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees.”. Having a professional and merchant class that was ethnically distinct from the larger society worked out real well for inter war Poland.

The Anti-Gnostic June 13, 2014 at 9:07 am

IOW, they want high-g Asian serfs for the tax farm for transfer payments to old Scots, drug addicts, old Scottish drug addicts and unassimilable Third Worlders.

Jeff June 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

Who doesn’t?

The Anti-Gnostic June 13, 2014 at 10:31 am

Heh.

What do the high-g Asian serfs do when they want high-g Asian serfs for …

ivvenalis June 13, 2014 at 9:25 am

“Having a professional and merchant class that was ethnically distinct from the larger society worked out real well for inter war Poland.”

For extra irony, in the comments Stross (and others!) claims that his support for immigration is based on his family’s membership in a certain ethnically distinct merchant class on the Continent.

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Stop noticing!

Careless June 13, 2014 at 6:58 pm

And then this “Restricting free migration plays into the pocket-books of those who want to reduce us all — globally — to the status of serfs.”

Careless June 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

The people there are really something.

There is downward pressure on wages from irregular migrants at the bottom of the scale, and the solution is very simple: first, create more jobs, and second, enforce the minimum wage. (You could even create more jobs by enforcing the minimum wage.)

Careless June 13, 2014 at 9:01 pm

wait, I found the topper. The guy who says it would be easier to make no place suck than to enforce immigration controls.

Roy June 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

It depends on the kind of Asian, I see no reason to suspect that non muslim Asians will have any capability of remaining ethnically distinct over the generations, even in a place as backward and sectarian as Scotland.

The Anti-Gnostic June 13, 2014 at 8:57 am

But my view remains pretty straightforward: when dislike of the policy choices of the electorate leads to a serious movement for secession, something has gone deeply wrong with the preconditions for democratic attachment.

Democracy is for homogenous countries to determine things like keeping the roads repaired, paying the police, etc. Huge, existential questions don’t get resolved by vote. What we’re really doing is just counting up who has the most rifles and the losers agree to go home. When elections boil down to perceived existential issues, then the losers trade ballots for bullets.

Another side of this coin is the clear democratic majorities opposed to policy that is imposed by representative or executive fiat. The US is increasingly ruled by a politically connected minority backed by a well-armed military. Their policy preferences are getting ever more divergent, in my opinion.

Mark Brown June 13, 2014 at 10:11 am

“The failure modes of democracy…are less damaging the smaller the democracy”.

That line gets at a very deep truth. The number of representatives has not increased since the 1910 census. Once upon a time, when a representative was elected from say 30K-70K people, the size of a nice town (FYI Peoria, IL has 115k), it was possible to know almost everything about the person you would electing. It was not possible to build a PR cut-out. And worst case scenario the tar-and-feathers were available because he lived there. Today, the loyalty in the bones is not to those 50K, and then the region, and then the state, but the loyalty is to para-state organizations. Yes, theoretically we still have representation. But the lived and experienced reality is taxation without representation. Notice when you get down to roughly 70K voting, almost the total GOP primary vote in Cantor-Brat, amazing things happen. But that causes the uber-class veins to pop at such neanderthal expressions of democracy.

Urso June 13, 2014 at 10:39 am

So what’s the lesson here from the perspective of the central government? Within the past 20 years the UK has attempted to forestall Scottish independence by devolving more & more power to the Scottish Parliament. The idea was that if the Scots had local autonomy they’d be happy.

But did this backfire – the very existence of a Scottish Parliament made the Scots think of themselves moreso as an independent entity? And in realpolitik terms, maybe the members of the Scottish Parliament started to chafe under their limited powers and moved towards independence so they could *really* be in charge – but then, perhaps the kinds of people who stood for those elections were predisposed to independence (or at least Scottish exceptionalism) in the first place. They inadvertently created a monster.

Art Deco June 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

Tally up what they’re for and against, listen to how they talk, and look at the facts on the ground. An interest in local autonomy was never what was driving this. What was driving it was an upraised middle finger.

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Nigel June 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

(as I noted earlier, if Devo Max was on the ballot I’d be voting for that)

Effectively that will be on the ballot.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/scottish-independence-three-main-parties-set-to-make-joint-pledge-guaranteeing-more-devolved-powers-to-scotland-9511310.html

FC June 13, 2014 at 3:17 pm

So if I understand the leftist worldview correctly, secessions are always good unless they involve Flanders or Texas.

Steve Sailer June 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Or Northern Italy.

Or the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles.

jon livesey June 13, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Everyone is working very hard to make sense in comments here, but I’m sorry, but when someone talks about “bad craziness” coming to the UK and the “collapse of the wave function” in UK politics, I just can’t take it seriously. The Scottish Referendum has brought out some very interesting commentary about the UK, seriously, I have learned stuff about my own country, but this Charlie Stross piece, which I have read in its entirety, isn’t a contribution. It’s just another in an endless series of “We lived in a Golden Age until Maggie came along and spoiled it all” self-pitying screeds, and Scottish Independence is just the hook he hangs that on.

I remain of the opinion that the Scottish Referendum isn’t really about independence; it’s about the Scottish Referendum. It’s about reminding everyone that Scotland is important, and that’s why you are all so terrified at the prospect of Scotland becoming independent, except that we aren’t.

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