Scotland Secession Vote: A Win and a Loss

Markets breathed a sigh of relief last week, as Scotland voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, continuing their centuries-old union.

With the uncertainty of which way the vote would swing, the British pound kept dropping weeks prior to the vote. Scottish stock values drifted lower, accompanied by some major selloffs in the banking sector.

Both the United Kingdom and Scotland stood to lose had the vote to secede garnered a majority. Tax revenues from Scotland’s North Sea oil would have been lost to the coffers of the United Kingdom, while Scotland stood to bear the burden for the cost of its own defense force.

The vote reflects the realities of global interdependency, where ethnic, racial or religious groups, seeking to retain their identity and throttle the forces of homogenization through independence, have come to recognize that pride has a steep economic price in a global economy. It’s difficult for most small countries to make it on their own in these days of global macroeconomics, which is why most Scots chose to remain with the 65 million-strong United Kingdom. Size is one of the primary reasons why the United States has become an economic and military powerhouse and why the European Union was formed. While downsizing may be at times a profitable corporate strategy, it isn’t good for a nation’s bottom line.

Overall, that recognition of financial realities has had positive and negative repercussions. It’s been positive because separatist movements often breed radical groups that tend to resort to violence. That was the case in Quebec, where the separatist movement engaged in acts of terrorism throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Quebec’s “National Liberation Movement,” or FLQ, was responsible for an estimated 160 deadly bombings, the death of eight people, and the injuries of hundreds more.

But the Quebec independence movement fizzled after the last referendum in 1995, and secession, while once a front-and-center issue in Canadian politics, it has been mostly relegated to history. Again, the reason was economics. As long as separatism was being seriously contemplated, the Canadian economy continued to suffer from the uncertainty of what secession might bring, and the Canadian dollar went into a tailspin. That economic downturn made Quebec’s voters wary of splitting off from the rest of Canada. Today, Quebec’s secessionist party is a minority one, overwhelmingly rejected by most voters.

The same holds true for the Basque separatist movement, which seeks secession from Spain. While the movement is still strong, it has renounced violence as a means towards achieving independence. Separatists are recognizing that the only way secession will succeed is if the economics of such a move make sense to the indigenous population.

On the one hand, the vote in Scotland, which was passionate but peaceful, was a victory for democracy and the power of global markets in all corners of the globe, but on the other, it also points to the fact that traditions, heritage and cultures are being subsumed and marginalized in the face of sweeping economic forces. And that’s a loss to the richness of a once-diverse globe consisting of a broad spectrum of traditions and cultures.

On the surface, the pro-separatist Scots said they wanted more representation, but they were amply represented in Parliament and received more in government services than they gave in taxes. This secession attempt was about trying to preserve the Scottish culture and identity and trying to stem the march of global homogenization

Scotland has had its unique set of traditions and language for centuries. For hundreds of years, until the 18th century, Scotland was an independent state with its own government. The people of Scotland are ethnically different from the English people and spoke Gaelic. They are a nation whose land mass geographically abuts that of the English, but whose ethnic origins make them very different culturally.

In an age of cultural homogenization, the Scottish attempt to secede and preserve their identity is admirable, and its failure is another painful indication of the steamroller effect that global consumerism and economics is having on local cultures. Consumerism has allowed much of society to drive the best cars, wear the latest fashions and down the fastest fast food possible. The world is not becoming a blend of cultures, it is not becoming more diverse by adopting different traditions; it is, rather, becoming a world devoid of any culture at all. It seems like all of secular society is drinking Coke, and that this has become the depth and definition of their culture.

The Scottish referendum asked voters if they were willing to sacrifice their unique culture in exchange for more materialism. Last week, they answered that question.