Reflections on the Independence Referendum


As we approach the referendum on Scottish independence, several pieces reflect on its meaning and implications. Tariq Ali, John Burnside, T.J. Clark, Linda Colley, David Craig, Tom Devine, Norman Dombey, Anne Enright Colin Kidd, Ross McKibbin, Ferdinand Mount, Tom Nairn, Glen Newey, Hugh Pennington, and David Runciman offer their thoughts in the LRB. Runciman:

The independence referendum is the first of three votes that will help determine the future shape of British politics. The second is the next general election, which is now just nine months away. The third is a possible in-out referendum on EU membership. There is a nightmare scenario here (at least, a nightmare for many Scots and for a few of us south of the border): Scotland votes ‘No’, the Tories win the election and then Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, finds itself out of Europe on the back of the majority view of little Englanders. It’s still odds against that sequence of events, but not by enough of a margin to bring much comfort. I suppose it’s possible that an EU referendum could follow the pattern of the Scottish one: a serious and extended political argument that, for all the nastiness round the edges, generates principled positions on both sides and allows the defenders of the status quo to make their case and have it heard. But I rather doubt it.

Whatever happens on 18 September, it is hard to imagine that the argument ends here. If Scotland chooses to remain part of the UK, it will still be jarring each time a UK-wide decision binds it into a fate it would not have chosen for itself. The pressure for change will grow, not diminish. At the same time, English nationalism is going to rear its head at some point, especially if the result of a ‘No’ vote is greater concessions to Scottish devolution. The other regions are going to want their say. The status quo inside the UK is defensible in the short term but not sustainable in the long run. When it comes to the UK’s position inside the EU it may be the other way round.

More here. William Dalrymple in The Telegraph:

We Scots are far from an oppressed minority. In domestic matters we already run ourselves, and since devolution has given us control on almost all domestic issues, it is only on our place in the world that this vote will have any tangible effect. While I am proud of some of the moral stands made by the Scottish Parliament – such as giving asylum to Palestinians from Gaza, and the opposition the Scots Nationalists made to Tony Blair’s wrongheaded invasion of Iraq – we can continue to make those important moral stands in the Scottish Parliament while also influencing the real world from No 10 Downing Street.

Independence probably won’t be a catastrophe. We are a talented nation. Scots remain as ambitious and highly educated as ever. Emotionally I fully understand the excitement that the prospect of independence brings, and if it does come I will proudly apply for my Scottish passport. Nevertheless, if the drumbeat of freedom excites my heart, my head remains extremely wary. Pragmatism has always been an excellent Scottish quality and it seems to me that independence will be both a massive and unnecessary gamble, socially and politically divisive, and something that will limit rather than enhance the opportunities open to my children and grandchildren.

After centuries of Anglo-Scottish warfare, which led to many more Floddens than Bannockburns, the success of a united Great Britain was no small achievement for the Scots. It made us richer, and it made us bigger. For the first time in our history we played a major role in the world.

More here. Michelle Schwarze on what Adam Smith would say about Scottish independence?

Scotland is poised to vote on the merits of its union with England, but not for the first time. During the intellectually vibrant Scottish Enlightenmentof the 1700s, Adam Smith — the famed Scottish philosopher and economist who sought to explain what made nations prosperous — grappled with similar questions about the advantages and disadvantages of the Acts of Union of 1707. Smith expressed sympathy with those who had opposed the Union immediately following its passage, because the “infinite good” that Scotland experienced post-independence was a “very remote and very uncertain” prospect to Scots in 1708. Scottish voters currently face a converse question: Have conditions changed sufficiently to suggest that Scotland would be more prosperous post-union?

More here.