Next September, Scotland is going to have a referendum to decide whether they want to be an independent country again and no longer part of Great Britain (also known as the United Kingdom) which today is composed of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The wording of the referendum has been agreed by the current governments in London and Edinburgh, and whatever the outcome, nobody foresees the issue degenerating into outright war.
But the situation is becoming tetchy. Last week all the main parties in the UK agreed that if Scotland chose independence, Britain would not agree to their using the pound sterling as a common currency. Scotland could continue to use the pound, if she wished, but her debts would no longer be secured by the Bank of England in London. The reasoning, which seems obvious to me, is that the euro has already demonstrated that a common currency used by a number of independent countries each responsible for their own budgets is unsustainable in the long run. The Scottish National Party which is Scotland’s independence party is accusing the English of being bullies. And when David Cameron, the Prime Minister, encouraged the English to ask their Scottish friends to vote against independence, many Scots asked who the English thought they were to tell them how to vote. Etc., etc.
I strongly suspect the exchanges are going to become more heated, if not more enlightened. My hope is that by the time September arrives, the trading of accusations will not have become so bad as to make it impossible for the British and the Scots to work together, whether Scotland is or isn’t independent.
All of which has set me wondering again if we human beings are capable of getting along in our increasingly globalized world. Can we stand being this relentlessly close to each other and still maintain our individual identities?
It seems to me, war inevitably requires a sense that “Us”, and “Them” are incompatible. Whether the conflicts are between Catholics and Protestants, Black and White, Shias and Sunnis, Allied and Axis powers, the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, or one of the hundreds of other warring sides, it happens when we find it impossible to share our essential identities with others. Christianity still preaches that we are all God’s children, but that has not stopped us from killing each other as intolerable heretics. Whites for centuries enslaved Blacks on the grounds that Blacks are inferior. Tribes in Africa and Asia are also unable to find common ground, and would rather die than live together.
I don’t know if we can do it in this stage of our evolutionary development. Maybe we are too aggressive and insufficiently cooperative, unable to recognize our common humanity whatever our differences. The European Union was founded as a result of World War II, in the belief that if Europe were sufficiently united economically, countries would avoid the destructiveness of war. But more than a functioning economy is required. Sometimes people don’t understand how much cooperation a global economy requires. Sometimes they’d rather take the chance of going it alone rather than take orders from Brussels or London or Washington or Moscow or Beijing.
It is highly unlikely that a Scottish vote for independence would utterly destroy their economy. I strongly suspect independence would come at an economic cost, however, to both Scotland and to a lesser extent to the rest of Great Britain. But that’s not the only issue. Many Scots don’t like the feeling that they are being ruled by London, just as many states in the U.S. resent federal laws and taxes, or the way many in England resent the rules coming from Brussels and the European Union.
As anybody in any long-term relationship has discovered, making it last requires both compromise and cooperation. If both feel that the independence one gives up is worth what one receives in its stead, the relationship is experienced as a success. But if I’m losing more than I’m giving, I want out.
I suppose it’s the same way with countries. Right now it’s the Scots who are asking the question. But there are many other places too that are asking if they wouldn’t be better off on their own. Scotland, I am glad, is not resorting to bombs and guns to find the answer.
Still, I hope things don’t get too nasty before the issue is resolved.