In the 25 years since I began writing seriously here about the European Union and what our membership of it has been doing to Britain, I have learnt (among much else) three things.
The first, which came quite early as I began to understand the real nature of the supranational system of government we now lived under, was that we should one day have to leave it.
A second, as I came to appreciate just how enmeshed we were becoming with that system of government, was that extricating ourselves from it would be far more fiendishly complicated than most people realised.
The third, as I listened and talked to politicians, was how astonishingly little they seemed really to know about how it worked. Having outsourced ever more of our lawmaking and policy to a higher power, it was as if our political class had switched off from ever really trying to understand it.
Christopher Booker, “Our politicians want to lead us out of the EU, but they don’t seem to have a clue how it works”, Telegraph, 2017-02-04.
February 21, 2017
February 6, 2017
In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says you shouldn’t be concerned about compulsive liars: it’s the compulsive believers you should worry about:
Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.
How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.
Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.
As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.
The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today.
The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orbán is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.
H/T to Guy Herbert for the link.
January 21, 2017
Published on 19 Jan 2017
The winter of 1916/1917 is the harshest one so far in the war. Nowhere do the soldiers suffer from these extreme conditions than on the Italian Front in the Dolomites. The fighting there is fierce already but the cold, avalanches and height make it even more brutal. After the failed peace negotiations, the cry for ethnic self determination can still be heard all around the world. And German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sends a fateful telegram to Mexico that is today remembered as the Zimmermann-Telegram.
January 11, 2017
It’s an enticing idea though hardly an uplifting one, a pricer version of the escapist Free State Project. Yet the underlying rationale behind those fleeing to New Hampshire, or trying to establish civilization in the middle of the ocean is the same: We’ve lost the battle for freedom at home.
This defeatist mentality is common among refugees. It is also understandable among those whose countries have fallen into dictatorship and civil strife. America is neither a dictatorship nor on the verge of a second civil war. Adam Smith observed that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. It will take more than eight years of Barack Obama to fell the most powerful nation on earth.
There’s a strange irony with projects like Seasteading and the Free Staters. The type of people naturally attracted to these movements are hardly weak willed or easily deterred. A list of advocates for setting up some small piece of libertarian paradise reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Men and women who feel confident enough to creatively destroy entire industries but, somehow, feel incapable of winning a political argument against those often less intelligent and accomplished than themselves. There is more than a whiff of nerds being intimidated by the cool kids.
The dream of running away and creating a perfect society, or at least a better one, is hardly new. It must have been in the minds those early colonists who spread across the Mediterranean in the wake of the Greek Dark Age. It was, of course, the impetus for British settlers to establish their colonies in North America and the Antipodes. There are times when the only sensible thing to do is leave.
The cost, however, is enormous. Creating a new society, even while carrying the best of Western Civilization, is a dangerous and incredibly complex undertaking. It took the thirteen American colonies more than a century and half to reach anything like a critical economic and political mass. This is the basic flaw in Seasteading, even leaving aside the enormous cost of building the infrastructure. Societies are not computer software, they cannot be programmed or adjusted at will. They must evolve organically over time if they are to survive. This is why many Seasteading proposals come off as pitches for high-end hotels and conference centers. The social element is missing.
Richard Anderson, “A Billionaire’s Utopia or How To Run Away From Your Problems”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-05-28.
July 23, 2016
All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe — the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish — strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation.
The human mind is not a perfect calculating machine, and no doubt all of us sometimes contradict ourselves. Perfect consistency tends to be disconcerting — but so does glaring inconsistency. It’s possible that the nationalist parties’ leaders don’t perceive the contradiction, being so blinded by ideology that they are simply unaware of it. But another possible explanation exists: by leading their nominally independent countries, they forever will be able to feed at the great trough of Brussels and distribute its largesse in true clientelistic fashion. The nationalist leaders certainly lead their people, but by the nose.
Oddly enough, I have not seen the contradiction between current nationalism and support for remaining in the European Union referred to in the press, though I don’t read every paper in every language. This is surely one of the first times in history, however, that the expression, “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” has become not a warning, but the desired destination of substantial proportions of whole populations.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Nationalist Contradictions in Europe: Why do breakaway political parties want to remain in the European Union?”, City Journal, 2016-06-27.
July 4, 2016
John Kay discusses the differences between the English anti-EU vote and the Scottish anti-English vote:
As a schoolboy in Edinburgh, I was taught that, long before the union with England, Scotland had been a cosmopolitan country. The ports on the east coast showed the influence of trade with the Netherlands and the Hanseatic League. The Scots language demonstrated continental influences. The citizens of Edinburgh would shout “gardyloo”, supposedly from the French “gare de l’eau”, before throwing their slops into the streets from the windows of the tall tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Even then, this example of early Scots sophistication did not convince. And the claim that their vote to stay in the EU — all districts of Scotland voted Remain in the referendum, and 62 per cent of the nation’s voters as a whole voted to stay in the EU — is the product of a broad-minded outlook not seen south of the border also misses a crucial point.
The reality is that the discontent with established politics that erupted in the Leave vote elsewhere in the country has found expression in other ways. As one student of Scottish politics, explaining the UK Independence party’s lack of traction north of the border, put it to me two years ago: “People in Scotland who are disgruntled and suspicious of foreigners [the English] already have a party they can vote for.”
The fracturing of the opposition Labour party’s traditional support in depressed areas of the north of England, which was decisive in securing an Out vote, paralleled the collapse of Labour’s vote in the west of Scotland in favour of the Scottish National party in the general election of 2015.
The great achievement of the SNP, now in government in Holyrood and with MPs in Westminster, has been to be a party of protest and a party of government at the same time. This is an achievement Brexiters will find hard to emulate.
May 27, 2015
Mark Steyn on the result of the British general election:
It would be churlish to deny oneself the pleasure of hooting at the politico-media establishment, but, when that’s done, this is a deeply unhealthy electoral result. The Conservatives won because Labour got wiped out in Scotland and the Liberals got wiped out in England. But the reality is that, for a supposedly United Kingdom, the country no longer has any national political party. England and Scotland have taken on the characteristics of Northern Ireland — hermetically sealed polities full of weird, unlovely regional parties (“SNP”, “Conservative”, “Labour”) that have no meaning once you cross the border, and whose internal disputes are of no relevance to the other three-quarters of the kingdom: Nobody outside Ulster cares about “official” Unionists vs the more red-blooded Democratic Unionists. And so it goes with the Scots Nats and Labour in Scotland: nationalist socialists vs unionist socialists; Likewise, with the Tories and UKIP in England: transnationalist conservatives vs nationalist conservatives.
Wales is the exception that proves the rule, where UKIP outpolled Plaid Cymru, albeit with no seats to show for it. The Scottish National Party got 4.7 per cent of the UK vote, and 56 seats. UKIP had nearly thrice as many voters — 12.6 per cent — but only one seat. That discrepancy is because there is no longer any such thing as “the UK vote”. I far prefer the Westminster first-past-the-post system to European “proportional representation”, but it only works if you have genuinely national parties. If the system decays into four groups of regional parties, the House of Commons will look less and less like a genuine national parliament, and more and more like some surly conditional arrangement — Scottish Kurds, Tory Shia and seething Labour Sunni triangles.
The composition of the new house would strike any mid-20th century Briton as freakish and unsettling. It’s a bit like Canada in the Nineties — where Reform couldn’t break out of the west, the Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec, the rump Tories clung on in the Atlantic provinces, and Ontario and a few seats hither and yon gave the Liberals their majority. The difference is that the Bloquistes are pretend separatists; the Scottish National Party are not.
And that’s before you take into account the competing nationalist dynamics of the Anglo-Scottish victors: secession from the UK north of the border and detachment from the EU south. Cameron is a wily operator and one notices he uses the words “United Kingdom” far more than his predecessors. But saying will not make it so.
May 5, 2015
Charles Stross calls the current situation a “Scottish Political Singularity”:
The UK is heading for a general election next Thursday, and for once I’m on the edge of my seat because, per Hunter S. Thompson, the going got weird.
The overall electoral picture based on polling UK-wide is ambiguous. South of Scotland — meaning, in England and Wales — the classic two-party duopoly that collapsed during the 1970s, admitting the Liberal Democrats as a third minority force, has eroded further. We are seeing the Labour and Conservative parties polling in the low 30s. It is a racing certainty that neither party will be able to form a working majority, which requires 326 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support from their soft-left base by going into coalition with the Conservatives, but their electoral heartlands — notably the south-west — are firm enough that while they will lose seats, they will still be a factor after the election; they’re unlikely to return fewer than 15 MPs, although at the last election they peaked around 50.
Getting away from the traditional big three parties, the picture gets more interesting. The homophobic, racist, bigoted scumbags of UKIP (hey, I’m not going to hide my opinions here!) have picked up support haemorrhaging from the right wing of the Conservative party; polling has put them on up to 20%, but they’re unlikely to return more than 2-6 MPs because their base is scattered across England. (Outside England they’re polling as low as 2-4%, suggesting that they’re very much an English nationalist party.) On the opposite pole, the Green party is polling in the 5-10% range, and might pick up an extra MP, taking them to 2 seats. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (who are just as barkingly xenophobic as UKIP) are also set to return a handful of MPs.
And then there’s Scotland.
Having lived through a couple of near-national-death experiences here in Canada, I’m less than enthused that the country of my birth is now having similar threats from the Celtic fringe. I’m a fan of Charlie’s writing, and I think he’s someone who thinks interesting thoughts, but I hope he’s wrong in this area.
January 19, 2015
Shaken by military defeat, the neo-absolutist Austrian Empire metamorphosed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the Compromise hammered out in 1867 power was shared out between the two dominant nationalities, the Germans in the west and the Hungarians in the east. What emerged was a unique polity, like an egg with two yolks, in which the Kingdom of Hungary and a territory centred on the Austrian lands and often called Cisleithania (meaning ‘the lands on this side of the River Leithe’) lived side by side within the translucent envelope of a Habsburg dual monarchy. Each of the two entities had its own parliament, but there was no common prime minister and no common cabinet. Only foreign affairs, defence and defence-related aspects of finance were handled by ‘joint ministers’ who were answerable directly to the Emperor. Matters of interest to the empire as a whole could not be discussed in common parliamentary session, because to do so would have implied that the Kingdom of Hungary was merely the subordinate part of some larger imperial entity. Instead, an exchange of views had to take place between the ‘delegations’, groups of thirty delegates from each parliament, who met alternately in Vienna and Budapest.
The dualist compromise had many enemies at the time and has had many critics since. In the eyes of hardline Magyar nationalists, it was a sell-out that denied the Hungarians the full national independence that was their due. Some claimed that Austria was still exploiting the Kingdom of Hungary as an agrarian colony. Vienna’s refusal to relinquish control over the armed forces and create a separate and equal Hungarian army was especially contentious — a constitutional crisis over this question paralyzed the empire’s political life in 1905. On the other hand, Austrian Germans argued that the Hungarians were freeloading on the more advanced economy of the Austrian lands, and ought to pay a higher share of the empire’s running costs. Conflict was programmed into the system, because the Compromise required that the two imperial ‘halves’ renegotiate every ten years the customs union by which revenues and taxation were shared out between them. The demands of the Hungarians became bolder with every review of the union. And there was little in the Compromise to recommend it to the political elites of the other national minorities, who had in effect been placed under the tutelage of the two ‘master races’. The first post-Compromise Hungarian prime minister, Gyula Andrássy, captured this aspect of the settlement when he commented to his Austrian counterpart: ‘You look after your Slavs and we’ll look after ours.’ The last decades before the outbreak of war were increasingly dominated by the struggle for national rights among the empire’s eleven official nationalities – Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, and Italians.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
December 29, 2014
How these challenges were met varied between the two Imperial halves. The Hungarians dealt with the nationalities problem mainly by behaving as if it didn’t exist. The kingdom’s electoral franchise extended to only 6 per cent of the population because it was pegged to a property qualification that favoured the Magyars, who made up the bulk of the wealthier strata of the population. The result was that Magyar deputies, though they represented only 48.1 per cent of the population, controlled over 90 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The 3 million Romanians of Transylvania, the largest of the kingdom’s national minorities, comprised 15.4 per cent of the population, but held only five of the Hungarian parliament’s 400-odd seats. From the late 1870s, moreover, the Hungarian government pursued a campaign of aggressive ‘Magyarization’. Education laws imposed the use of the Magyar language on all state and faith schools, even those catering to children of kindergarten age. Teachers were required to be fluent in Magyar and could be dismissed if they were found to be ‘hostile to the [Hungarian] state’. This degradation of language rights was underwritten by harsh measures against ethnic minority activists. Serbs from the Vojvodina in the south of the kingdom, Slovaks from the northern counties and Romanians from the Grand Duchy of Transylvania did occasionally collaborate in pursuit of minority objectives, but with little effect, since they could muster only a small number of mandates.
In Cisleithania [the German Austrian half of the empire], by contrast, successive administrations tampered endlessly with the system in order to accommodate minority demands. Franchise reforms in 1882 and 1907 (when virtually universal male suffrage was introduced) went some way towards levelling the political playing field. But these democratizing measures merely heightened the potential for national conflict, especially over the sensitive question of language use in public institutions such as schools, courts and administrative bodies.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
September 18, 2014
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.
September 12, 2014
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
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.
September 9, 2014
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.
Paul Goble summarizes Konstantin Gaaze’s ten questions and answers about the war between Russia and Ukraine:
Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.
But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.
His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”
“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.
Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.
“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”