One of the enduring struggles in human societies for as far back as we can see in history revolves around the inevitable tension between the small and the large. Some times the tensions is between the individual and the family or the small group that constitute our friends, classmates, neighbours, or associates. Sometimes the tensions are between families, between teams, between organizations, between ethnic groups, between nations, or even groups of nations. Inevitably there is always a trade-off in benefits.
We can’t, for instance, work primarily for ourselves or for our own group and still gain all the benefits of cooperating with a larger circle. And we can’t work for the benefit of the larger group without giving up some of the benefits that come with exclusively pursuing our own.
Often these tensions lead to war – the Allies versus the Axis powers, the east versus the west, the Christians versus the Muslims. Sometimes the tensions are manifest in political struggles.
Today the Scottish National Party published its arguments for an independent Scotland, which is going to be the subject of a referendum next September. If they win, Scotland will no longer be part of the United Kingdom, presently consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland and England were united under the same king and parliament in London 400 years ago. But although they speak a common language, they remain different cultures, rather the way the north and south of the United States are different cultures. The Scottish National Party is trying to convince the Scottish voters that the benefits of becoming an independent nation of their own will greatly outweigh the benefits of being united with England.
Right now, those Scots who say they will vote for independence are in a minority. But it is not at all clear how the vote will eventually go. There are great number of undecideds, people who are not sure whether what they will gain with independence would be less than what they would lose. For most people the questions seems to be primarily economic, and the paper arguing for independence promises all sort of goodies. The question being hotly debated is whether these promises are economically realistic in an independent Scotland.
The struggle is not unlike the debate going on in the United Kingdom in general about British membership in the European Union. All sorts of rules and regulations are sent down from Brussels which apply to all 27 member countries. They inevitably sometimes feels high-handed, self-serving, picky, or ill-informed. But they do a great deal to facilitate trade and economic development. It’s a tension that also parallels the question of States’ rights in America.
As an American, I have no say on the question of Scottish independence. As an outsider, it doesn’t look like a good economic move to me. But I have some sympathy with the feeling that London is too far away, too remote. I watch the struggle of the European Union, and particularly the struggle over its common currency, the euro, as Ireland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, even France, struggle, and I think I understand how the Scots feel. Part of me would like to see the whole EU enterprise fail. Brussels’ nannying is so infuriating.
But would it be worth it to try to go it alone?
My gut feeling is that in both situations, more would be lost by cutting loose than would be gained.
But for once, neither the EU or Scottish independence are my problems.
Thank goodness. I have enough to worry about as an American.