Oct 2nd 2014

The Battle Cry of the Non-Oppressed

TEL AVIV – Nobody should be surprised that Scotland’s recent referendum on independence left the United Kingdom intact. In the past, regions or communities have achieved statehood almost exclusively after a struggle against colonial subjection and oppression, galvanized by an appeal to a distinctive religious, cultural, or ethnic identity. Complaints about economic dynamics, social policies, or governance inefficiencies – the basis of Scotland’s “yes” campaign – are not the cris de coeur of a successful independence movement. That is bad news for secessionists elsewhere in the West.

Of course, Scotland’s technocratic nationalism made sense. As the movement’s leader, Alex Salmond, acknowledged in a 2012 consultation document, “Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated.” The struggle for independence, he explained, was aimed at creating the kind of efficient administrative and economic structures that would enable Scotland to reach its potential.

The “yes” campaign hoped to win supporters with a utopian vision of an independent Scotland that included European Union and NATO membership; a currency union with England, but no fiscal union; improved public services and social benefits; and lower taxes. In other words, Scotland would have everything it has now, only better, and on its own terms.

This vision was undoubtedly appealing to many Scots. But it proved significantly less compelling than the economic doomsday scenarios advanced by its unionist opponents, including former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. In other words, many people’s votes were driven by risk aversion, fear, and intimidation, rather than hope, passion, or deep emotional attachment to a common identity.

This contrasts sharply with the motivations espoused by Scotland’s nobles in the fourteenth century, when they succeeded in preserving their country’s independence from English rule. “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting,” they declared, “but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

In fact, the “no” campaign’s victory might have been even more resounding if the Westminster establishment’s desperate, last-minute offer to grant Scotland more powers on taxation, spending, and welfare had been included as an option in the ballot. National movements driven by a historical mission or an uncompromising quest to assert group identity against a dominant power normally do not succumb to economic considerations and last-minute economic bait.

It was none other than the founder of the Zionist fundamentalist right, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who warned in 1924 against “the naive assumption that the aspiration of the Palestinians…will be paralyzed by such means as subsidies, economic advantages, or bribery.” Recognizing that their “natural patriotism is pure and noble,” he knew that they could not be “bought off.”

Now, Salmond is probably re-thinking his avoidance of nativist identity politics. What Edmund Burke defined as a group’s attachment to “the inns and resting places of the human spirit” – that is, ethnic, religious, and community ties – would have been a much more powerful mobilizing force for an independence movement.

The “yes” campaigners would not have had to look far for inspiration. James Joyce – himself not devoid of traces of Irish nationalism – wrote that “nationality, language, [and] religion” are “the nets” into which “a man is born.” Similarly, George Orwell distinguished between Celtic nationalism and Anglophobia, stating that the former is belief “in the past and future greatness of the Celtic peoples.”

True, Scotland’s great minds in the age of Enlightenment, such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and even the national poet, Robert Burns, were all fervent advocates of “Britishness,” whatever that might mean today. Yet an identity-based campaign could have resorted to the heritage of the Scottish Renaissance of the mid-twentieth century or to the Celtic Revival and Celtic Twilight movements, which awakened a spirit of cultural nationalism among Scots in the late nineteenth century.

In the run-up to the referendum, Scotland’s independence movement became an important point of reference for Catalans and Basques in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, the Veneto and South Tyrol regions in Italy, Corsicans and Bretons in France, and the secessionists of Quebec. All hoped that Scotland would pave the way for the peaceful breakup of their own states.

With the defeat of Scotland’s independence movement – not to mention Québécois voters’ stunning rejection of the province’s largest separatist party in last April’s election – that hope may be waning. And with good reason. There is little historical precedent for the peaceful breakup of a state, with an exception like Czechoslovakia’s consensual split in 1993 occurring in unique circumstances.

A state is far more likely to go to war to defend its unity. The United States and Spain did it in their civil wars, and today’s Spain would go to the outer limits of its capacity to prevent a Catalan or Basque referendum, let alone independence.

Nationalist groups in Western democracies are not subjugated people. Theirs is the nationalism of free, liberated people, who can expect the most generous devolution deals possible to protect their singular legacies and address their grievances. And perhaps that is why federal arrangements like those in Australia and Canada – essentially what Westminster grudgingly offered Scotland – could be their best option.




Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.
www.project-syndicate.org




 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis."
Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Does this mean that the dream of European unity is over? Does the exodus of a member state obliterate the vision of Victor Hugo and Václav Havel? Does Europe now fit the description of what the great American president Abraham Lincoln called a house divided against itself? Not necessarily. History is more imaginative than we are. The EU still has the option of keeping Britain close in heart and mind. We can still benefit from our absent partner, by resurrecting the partnership through our actions."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.........Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So all that is why Cramer is talking about the death knell of petroleum stocks. We probably agree on almost nothing else, but when people are right, you have to give them credit. He is right."
Feb 3rd 2020
EXTRACT: "........as the citizens of the remaining 27 states have observed the destabilising impact that the referendum decision has had on British politics, they have been inoculated against the desire to secede from the EU. Outside the UK, national-populist parties have moderated their anti-EU rhetoric and nowadays profess to want to change the EU from within instead of destroying it."
Feb 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Senators will soon decide whether to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump without hearing any witnesses. In making this decision, I believe they should consider words spoken at the Constitutional Convention, when the Founders decided that an impeachment process was needed to provide a “regular examination,” to quote Benjamin Franklin. A critical debate took place on July 20, 1787, which resulted in adding the impeachment clause to the U.S. Constitution. Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, said that when the president falls under suspicion, a “regular and peaceable inquiry” is needed."
Feb 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Britain will be celebrating its glorious independence from the complications of international cooperation at a time when the intellectual, political, and economic hostility between China’s communist leadership and liberal democracies is becoming ever clearer. If liberal democracy is to survive, it must stand up for itself. And we should be under no illusion: open societies under the rule of law, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are in China’s hostile sights. The West should not aim to encircle or pen in China. But liberal democracies cannot allow it to distort international norms in its own favor."
Jan 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Switzerland and Denmark have gone furthest into negative territory, both offering unprecedentedly low rates of -0.75%. The Swiss National Bank, which has kept its rate at this level since 2015, signalled recently that it intends to stick with this experiment and is not ruling out going even more negative. It has said that negative rates were boosting the economy and that the country’s fundamentals were not being significantly affected."
Jan 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Electricity will dominate the future global energy system. Currently, it accounts for only 20% of final energy demand,......Without assuming any fundamental technological breakthroughs, we could certainly build by 2050 a global economy in which electricity met 65-70% of final energy demand,....."
Jan 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."