Quotulatiousness

September 19, 2014

When Royal Navy submarines fly the “Jolly Roger”

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:06

Ali Kefford on the origins of a colourful naval tradition:

Members of the crew of HMS Utmost with their "Jolly Roger" success flag, photographed alongside HMS Forth in Holy Loch, on their return from a year's service in the Mediterranean, 6 February 1942. (via Wikipedia)

Members of the crew of HMS Utmost with their “Jolly Roger” success flag, photographed alongside HMS Forth in Holy Loch, on their return from a year’s service in the Mediterranean, 6 February 1942. (via Wikipedia)

Sir Arthur Wilson was infamous within the Royal Navy for being an admiral with a tetchy temper. His nickname – Old ’Ard ’Art – was a bad joke about his uncaring nature.

Yet a verbal broadside he delivered in 1901 was to spawn one of the Submarine Service’s most loved and deeply ingrained traditions – the flying of the Jolly Roger flag to mark the victorious return from a successful patrol.

Wilson, later a hugely unpopular First Sea Lord, is said to have blasted the innovation of submarines, dubbing the covert way they operated as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English”.

He even went so far as to say: “They’ll never be any use in war and I’ll tell you why. I’m going to get the First Lord to announce that we intend to treat all submarines as pirate vessels in wartime and that we’ll hang all the crews.”

[...]

One hundred years ago this week, shortly after the start of the Great War, British submarine HMS E9 despatched two torpedoes at close range at Germany’s SMS Hela in a skirmish off Heligoland.

Its commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, had to dive immediately to avoid return fire, so he did not see the cruiser sink.

But the 13-year-old Silent Service had notched up its very first kill, confirming the deadly effectiveness of sneaking around in the deep then launching a surprise attack on an enemy.

Horton, recalling Admiral Wilson’s words, told his signaller to sew a piratical Jolly Roger flag, which flew proudly from his boat’s periscope as she sailed into Harwich, Essex.

A naval tradition was born, as the skull and crossbones went on to be the Royal Navy Submarine Service’s official emblem.

The tradition continues to today:

September 18, 2014

Scotland at the crossroads

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:52

As I’ve said before, I would prefer that Scottish voters decided to stay within the United Kingdom, but if they choose to go, let ‘em. I haven’t lived in the UK for many long years (I was still a child when my family emigrated to Canada), so many of my thoughts about England and Scotland are snapshots from my early years with brief impressions gathered during all-too-few visits on holiday. As a result, I don’t feel in any way qualified to speak about the political situation there (I barely feel qualified to speak about the Canadian political scene). Today’s vote will have long-lasting effects, regardless of how many vote Yes and how many vote No. Canada today is still impacted by Quebec’s cycle of separatist activity, despite the fairly convincing result of the last Quebec election.

I still don’t really understand why Scottish “independence” will mean Scotland leaving the UK (which is within the EU) only to immediately turn around and petition for admission back into the EU … why not try actual independence instead? If ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in London are bothering you from afar, why replace them with even-more-ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in even-further-away Brussels? It seems daft.

Others see this as a golden opportunity … for England. Here’s Perry de Havilland explaining why he wants the Scots to vote Yes:

I am of the view that English political culture has become steadily more toxic, hollowed out by multiculturalism and moral relativism, resulting in shocking incidents like the Rotherham scandal. Indeed the Tory party is hardly a conservative party at all, and is increasingly interchangeable with Labour and the LibDems. The mere fact the Tories chose David Cameron as leader tells you something about the state of the Stupid Party, a man unable to win an outright majority against probably the most inept, least charismatic and most spectacularly unsuccessful Labour Prime Minster since Harold Wilson. Yet the best Cameron could manage was a coalition.

[...]

But it has long seemed clear to me that as toxic as the political culture had become in England, it is even worse in Scotland.

And so my support for an independent Scotland is not because I do not think there are many fine classical liberals and other friends of genuine liberty north of the border, but rather there are just not enough of them. It is an exercise in ‘political triage’ on my part. Much as I would love to see Scotland once again embrace Adam Smith and Hume, I cannot see that happening any time soon. I may admire those willing to stay and fight for a better Scotland than the one they will get under the likes of Salmond, but I think it is a fight they cannot win.

And that is why I support Scottish independence. I see it as a gangrenous limb in need of political amputation, or we risk loosing everything it is attached to.

Richard Anderson also thinks a Yes vote might be for the best:

Despite the frequent comparisons between Quebec in 1995 and Scotland today the situations are in fact vastly different. Quebec leaving Canada is a basic existential question. Scotland leaving the UK simply isn’t. For all my tremendous fondness for traditional Scottish culture, and the amazing accomplishments of that once magical land, the place is today a vast albeit scenic welfare trap. It took 220 years to go from Adam Smith to Trainspotting, yet that hardly captures the conceptual distance travelled. When the British Empire fell Scotland, which had its greatest years because of the Empire, fell that much harder.

Scotland leaving the UK, however emotionally traumatic, would be a political blessing to the rest of the Union. Those 40 or so reliable Labour seats vanishing, as if by magic, from Westminster and by default shifting the political spectrum significantly rightward. Perhaps rightward enough that Nigel Farage & Co scare the Cameronistas toward something resembling Thatcherism. Had Quebec separated in 1995, and the country remained together, much the same thing would have happened in Canada.

Then there’s the economics. An independent Scotland would be Greece with better drinking opportunities. An England without Scotland would, by contrast, be a resurgent economic power. It’s like kicking your deadbeat brother off the couch and onto the street. Your living room smells better and the money you saved from the repair bill can be invested in some nice ETFs. Perhaps the deadbeat will learn some responsibility in the process. You’ll learn the beauty of peace and quiet. Once upon a time Scotland was the engine that helped drive a great empire, today it’s 5 million mouths that the taxpayers of England can ill afford to feed.

More than three centuries ago Scotland sacrificed the romance of independence to practical economic necessity. It seems they are on the verge of doing the exact opposite now. They are abandoning economic reality for a romantic fantasy spiced up with vague images of a social democratic utopia. A fool and his money are soon parted. That’s a bit of wisdom the Scots of old understood so very well. The tragedy is that their descendants understand it not at all.

Update: According to the Weekly Standard, I’m totally underestimating the seismic shift if the Yes campaign wins … it’ll be Red October on the Clyde:

It is not at all far-fetched to imagine Vladimir Putin offering financial aid to a post-independence Scotland that will inevitably face severe economic challenges.

The price for that aid might include, among other things, basing rights for Russian military and naval forces. Certainly there would be little or nothing that the United Kingdom could do if an independent Scotland decided to rent its deep water submarine port at Faslane to Russia’s Northern fleet or if it let Russian maritime air patrols fly out of former RAF air bases.

That would essentially mean a shifting of NATO’s frontier hundreds of miles to the West and a revolutionary change in the balance of power in Europe.

Forensic report on the death of Richard III

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:55

BBC News has the details:

Richard III death wounds

Sarah Hainsworth, study author and professor of materials engineering, said: “Richard’s injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period.

“Wounds to the skull suggest he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate he was still armoured at the time of his death.”

Guy Rutty, from the East Midlands pathology unit, said the two fatal injuries to the skull were likely to have been caused by a sword, a staff weapon such as halberd or bill, or the tip of an edged weapon.

He said: “Richard’s head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies.”

September 17, 2014

Gibraltar asks for additional Royal Navy support

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:39

Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:

Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.

Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.

“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.

Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.

The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.

“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.

During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.

September 16, 2014

Unexpectedly thick ice holding back Arctic shipping

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:30

Girija Shettar reports on the delays to planned transits of the Northern Sea Route through the Russian Arctic:

Northern Sea Route (PA photo via IHS Maritime 360)

Northern Sea Route (PA photo via IHS Maritime 360)

No transits through the Northern Sea Route (NSR) have been completed so far this year, which could bring the route’s long-term viability into question, experts have told IHS Maritime.

NSR Administration has given permission for 577 transits, but vessels navigating the NSR water area total only 99, with no completed voyages. NSR transits usually start in July and run until November.

Last year, 71 vessels transited the NSR, starting at the end of June, with the last transit at the end of November.

[...]

“We are two months late compared to 2012 and many planned cargo and passenger transits are currently being cancelled,” he said. “There’s too much ice and it seems that the Arctic ice extent will reach a decennial record high this year. I expect this will generate scepticism on the future economic viability of the route and the related investments already announced by the Arctic littoral countries.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth full build timelapse

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:50

Published on 15 Sep 2014

Start to finish view of the construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier. This is the first of the two new carriers being constructed by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance for the Royal Navy at Rosyth Dockyard.

Update: That was the assembly of the ship, but how does the UK government expect to use her in service?

Published on 7 Jul 2014

This powerful video demonstrates the capabilities and effectiveness of the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers demonstrating, via amazing CGI, the workings of the carriers and the F35 Fighters.

The First Sea Lord talks about the incredible journey that the construction and original concept of the carriers has taken and what the carriers mean to the future of the Royal Navy.

The British Army and the RAF also talk about what carriers mean to them and the important role they will play in the future of defence.

These highly advanced ships will have a huge variety of roles that she will be able to perform when the first ship launches and the amazing technology that has been built into them to put them at the fore-front of the Fleet. They really will be the Jewel in the Crown of the Royal Navy.

This stunning video was show to her Majesty the Queen and other guests at the amazing naming ceremony on the 4th July.

September 15, 2014

BBC Last Night of the Proms 2014 – Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

September 14, 2014

Latest Snowden revelation – NSA and GCHQ have full access to German telecom systems

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

In The Register, Kelly Fiveash sums up the latest information from Edward Snowden:

An NSA and GCHQ surveillance programme — dubbed Treasure Map — grants US and British spooks access to the networks of German telcos such as Deutsche Telekom, according to a new stash of leaked documents from Edward Snowden.

Der Spiegel published the latest revelations today. However, Deutsche Telekom reportedly said it had found no evidence of such tampering on its system.

“We are looking into every indication of possible manipulations but have not yet found any hint of that in our investigations so far,” a spokesman at the company told Reuters.

He added: “We’re working closely with IT specialists and have also contacted German security authorities. It would be completely unacceptable if a foreign intelligence agency were to gain access to our network.”

The Register sought comment from the telco, but it hadn’t immediately got back to us at time of writing.

The Treasure Map programme was described by Snowden as “a 300,000 foot view of the internet” in a New York Times story published in November last year.

September 13, 2014

Ukraine’s PM – “We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation”

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

In the Guardian, Martin Williams reports on the situation in eastern Ukraine:

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wants to destroy Ukraine as an independent country and resurrect the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk has said.

Yatseniuk told a conference of European politicians his country was “in a stage of war” with Russia, as renewed clashes broke out between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels in the east and Moscow sent a second convoy of trucks into Ukraine without Kiev’s consent.

Continuous rocketfire could be heard overnight in the eastern city of Donetsk. The city council said shells had hit residential buildings near the airport, although no casualties were reported.

Ukraine’s military said it had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the government-held Donetsk airport. But a column of three Russian multiple rocket launchers was seen moving freely through the rebel-held city on Saturday morning.

Speaking at a conference in Kiev attended by European and Ukrainian politicians and business leaders, Yatseniuk praised the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow. He said: “We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation … Putin wants another frozen conflict [in eastern Ukraine].

“His aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk. His goal is to take the entire Ukraine … Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of Europe.”

September 12, 2014

Scottish businesses face a “day of reckoning” after a Yes vote

Filed under: Britain, Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:04

Usually, when someone is planning to punish their political enemies, they keep quiet about it until the votes are counted. The former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party is pretty forthright about just who is going to be facing punishment if Scotland votes yes:

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed there will be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life after a Yes vote.

Speaking from his campaign vehicle the “Margo Mobile”, Mr Sillars insisted that employers are “subverting Scotland’s democratic process” and vowed that oil giant BP would be nationalised in an independent Scotland.

Earlier this week, a number of banks, including Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, said they would look to move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote.

Mr Sillars, who earlier this week claimed he and First Minister Alex Salmond had put their long-held personal differences behind them to campaign together for independence, also revealed that he would not retire from politics on 19 September but said he would be “staying in” if Scotland became independent.

He claimed there is talk of a “boycott” of John Lewis, banks to be split up, and new law to force Ryder Cup sponsor Standard Life to explain to unions its reasons for moving outside Scotland.

He said: “This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.

“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a Yes.”

If I had any investments in Scotland, I would be calling my broker to review them in the light of this pretty specific set of economic and political goals for an independent Scotland. It won’t be a safe place to invest any kind of retirement savings if Sillars represents more than a fringe of the SNP.

September 11, 2014

Would Scottish separation resemble the “Velvet Divorce” of Czechoslovakia?

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin looks at the breakup of Czechoslovakia and compares the possible UK-Scotland divorce in that context:

One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe.

Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia.

If the breakup of the UK is likely to resemble that of Czechoslovakia, this suggests that free market advocates should welcome it, while social democrats should be opposed. Obviously, other scenarios are possible. For example, famed economist Paul Krugman claims that Scottish independence is likely to result in an economic disaster, because a small country without a currency of its own cannot deal with dangerous macroeconomic crises. I lack the expertise to judge whether Krugman’s prediction is sound. But it does seem like there are obvious counterexamples of small countries that have done well without having their own currencies; Slovakia is a good example. Moreover, although Scottish independence advocates today claim that they will stick to the pound, they could reverse that decision in the future.

All of the above assumes that an independent Scotland will be able to stay in the European Union, and that there would be free trade and freedom of movement between it and the remaining United Kingdom. If the Scots get locked out of the EU or prevented from interacting freely with the UK (perhaps as a result of backlash by angry English public opinion), Scottish independence becomes a lot less viable and a lot more likely to cause serious harm on both sides of the new border.

Evolution versus revolution in the design of HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Peter Roberts analyzes the design trade-offs of the Queen Elizabeth class for the Royal United Services Institute:

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The most important change in the Queen Elizabeth class is the open acknowledgement of the primacy of running costs at the heart of the project – manifest in crew numbers, unmanned monitoring and power generation. The UK carriers are platforms designed by economists, not warriors.

The largest costs for running maritime platforms are manpower and fuel. In terms of manpower, the Queen Elizabeth will have a crew of 650 with an additional thousand berths available for the air group. By comparison, the American Nimitz class and new Gerald Ford class, which displace around 40,000 tonnes more, are crewed by 6,000 and 4,500 personnel respectively. The French Charles de Gaulle, which in terms of tonnage is about a third smaller its British counterpart, carries a crew of around 2,500. The UK figures were driven by the necessity to avoid increasing the manpower bill of the Royal Navy. As such, the 650 figure is exactly the same as the preceding Invincible class. Allowing the same complement to effectively operate a vessel three times the size of her predecessor has forced some innovative thinking.

The use of automation and remote monitoring has been essential to meet the manpower restrictions. Cameras and monitoring equipment have been built into almost every system in the new ships. From machinery spaces to bilge areas, remote performance monitoring has allowed a marked reduction in the manpower requirements of the ships. Whilst this makes good sense in financial terms, it does not in terms of pure war-fighting capability. Naval vessels differ significantly from their commercial counterparts in terms of damage control and fire-fighting. These roles are remarkably manpower intensive. The experiences of major damage in the Falklands conflict have been reinforced at intervals by peacetime incidents on HMS Nottingham (2002) and Endurance (2008), which required the efforts of the full ship’s complement to remain afloat. The damage-control capabilities of the UK carrier platforms should, therefore, be a primary concern.

[...]

There is one further element that has not been well considered in the Carrier-Enabled Power Projection doctrine of the Royal Navy and the MoD. Protection of these assets from threats has effectively been taken ‘on-risk’, and against all operational analysis. The self defence capabilities of these ships are extremely limited. The provision of close-in weapon systems and automatic small-calibre guns does not guarantee adequate protection against a small scale naval threat, let alone a shore-based one. Naval doctrine instead requires protection of the carriers by destroyers and frigates. This is a cost-effective solution provided that the task group has the necessary units to provide such protection. But there is no evidence that the projected Royal Navy combined frigate/destroyer force could do so.

The Queen Elizabeth class is therefore an interesting example of innovation: rather than in the sense of equipment and capability, it might be more relevant to think about how risk to the platforms is being dealt with in an ‘innovative’ manner.

The second ship in the class, HMS Prince of Wales just reached a major milestone in construction:

HMS Prince of Wales hull sections

Construction of HMS Prince of Wales, the second of two new aircraft carriers for the UK Royal Navy, has moved forward with the docking of two of the ship’s largest hull sections – Lower Block 02 and Lower Block 03.

The movement of the blocks into the dock at Rosyth marks the beginning of the ship’s assembly phase and comes only days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced that HMS Prince of Wales will enter into service, ensuring that the UK will always have one aircraft carrier available.

Ian Booth, Managing Director at the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, said: “Every milestone in the carrier programme is hugely significant and the recent announcement that HMS Prince of Wales will enter service means there is a real sense of excitement as we start to bring the second ship together. Everyone working across the Alliance is incredibly proud of the work undertaken so far, in what is currently one of the biggest engineering projects in the country, and we remain focused on delivering both ships to the highest standards.”

September 10, 2014

NATO’s “aim” problem

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

James Holmes explains why “aim” isn’t good enough for NATO members:

The Naval Diplomat is not from Missouri, America’s Show-Me State. But I’m in a show-me state of mind following last week’s NATO summit in another Newport — Newport, Wales. Lofty words were said. The summit communiqué pledges, for instance, to restore some sanity to defense spending.

NATO long ago fixed the standard for defense spending at 2 percent of GDP. Few meet the standard, but at Newport the NATO-European powers put everyone on notice that they’re really, truly serious about it. The small minority that already comply — Great Britain (for the moment) and Greece, alongside the United States — will “aim to continue to do so.” The majority that don’t vow to arrest further slippage. And they will “aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows,” and “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade,” helping field viable forces.

Aim being the keyword — or, more accurately, the key diplomatic weasel word — in these passages. How many European allies will fulfill their commitment, and how many will avail themselves of the escape clause? Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council observes charitably that the uptick in budgets is “not going to happen across the entire alliance, but it’s useful for framing incentives for some nations to start to contribute more.” And that tepid prediction comes from someone who’s presumably a NATO enthusiast.

So let me get this straight. NATO-Europe resolutely promises to try … to build up to a level that barely qualifies as peacetime defense spending … over the next decade … if GDPs expand to permit it. Wow. As a matter of alliance management, think about the message the Newport communiqué telegraphs. To us in North America, it indicates that Europe sees itself inhabiting entirely tranquil surroundings, untroubled by anything like, say, Russian aggression against an Eastern European neighbor.

Ruining royal reputations – it didn’t start on Fleet Street

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

In Maclean’s, Patricia Treble reviews a new book by Jonathan Beckman, called How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair:

Three years before revolutionaries toppled Louis XVI and his Austrian-born wife, Marie Antoinette, France was mesmerized with a different tumult. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, scion of one of the nation’s grandest families, was in court, accused of stealing a famously expensive necklace from jewellers who’d created it. He claimed he’d acted at the behest of the queen, who then reneged on paying for the gaudy 2,800-carat piece. The resultant scandal solidified Marie Antoinette’s reputation for unbounded extravagance.

Yet, as Jonathan Beckman, explains in a masterful new account of the diamond necklace affair, nothing is as it appeared. There are fake royals, forged letters and disappearing gems as well as kidnappings, trysts and even a duel involving poisoned pigs. If the tale was fictional, it would be dismissed as an overwrought fantasy, yet in Beckman’s hands, its machinations unfold as an audacious caper that will enthrall readers much as the original events captivated Europe.

September 9, 2014

UK re-runs Canada’s 1995 near-death experience

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:32

Andrew Coyne points out some of the parallels between the 1995 referendum in Quebec and this month’s referendum in Scotland:

It has been an entertaining, if unnerving, couple of weeks, recalling the referendum of 1995 and speculating about what would have happened had the separatists won. Now, thanks to the Scots, we may be about to find out.

Next week’s referendum on Scottish independence is indeed looking eerily reminiscent of the 1995 near-disaster: the same early complacency in the No camp, the same unbridled panic as the Yes side surges in the polls; the same unappealing mix of threats (“one million jobs”) and accounting on the No side, the same fraudulent claims (“we’re subsidizing the English”) and utopian fantasies on the Yes; the same blurring of the lines on both sides, independence made to look like the status quo (“we’ll keep the pound”) even as the status quo is made to look like independence (“devo-max” is the British term for special status). Add a charismatic Yes leader and an unpopular, seemingly disengaged prime minister, and the picture is complete.

Learning nothing from our experience, the Brits made all the same strategic errors we did, first conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on the separatist project, then attempting to pacify it with powers and money, only to watch it grow more ravenous in response. They have ended up in the same game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose: a No vote simply marks the launch of the next campaign, while a Yes, supposedly, is forever.

[...]

We should not underestimate how much of separatism’s decline in this country can be explained by sheer exhaustion, especially post-Clarity Act. A great many soft nationalists, for whom it retains a romantic appeal, were persuaded it was simply too arduous an undertaking, full of too much uncertainty and upheaval. But if that premise appeared to have been debunked — if the British pull off the same quick divorce that the Czechs and Slovaks did in the 1990s — we might yet see the issue resurface. You see, the Parti Quebecois would crow? It is just as we told you. And Britain, of all places, has proved it.

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