Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Week Later

Last week's referendum in Scotland, about whether it should leave the United Kingdom, resulted in a convincing vote of "no" despite the introduction of abnormal voting laws that were clearly intended to boost the number of yes voters while suppressing the number of no's. I was not surprised by the outcome for a very simple reason: history tells us that nations that are free and peaceful do not choose to tear themselves asunder.

Vietnam once split into South Vietnam and North Vietnam because the former wanted to free itself from Ho Chi Minh's murdering dictatorship. Ditto for Korea.

In Europe, the Moscow-piloted communists of the Cold War forced two divergent peoples together and concocted  an unnatural nation called Czechoslovakia. When communism finally failed, those peoples separated and established the natural nations now known as Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Ditto for "the former Yugoslavia" down in the Balkans.

But a rich "leading light" nation, blessed with liberty, splintering and ceasing to exist? Please. When has that ever happened?

Look across our northern border and you will see that Canada is still one country, and, in comparison to the other countries on Earth, it is stronger now than at any point in its history. This is true despite the fact that Quebec has held referendums to secede twice in my lifetime and on both occasions (especially the most recent) the U.S. media made it seem like secession was inevitable.

After the Quebec separatists lost for the second time, in 1995, they picked up their toys and went home. Although they vowed to return, the last 19 years have passed with nary a peep from them, and during that time Canada's sense of nationhood has solidified and its economic power has burgeoned to an extent that observers in the 1990's would never have predicted.

My analytical side tells me that if Quebec didn't secede, there was never a chance of Scotland seceding. Even if Quebec breaking away from Canada's other nine provinces was not a good idea, the case for "Quebec independence" was still much stronger than the case for "Scottish independence."

Quebeckers speak a different language than the rest of Canada and their provincial government goes so far as to enforce language laws that make English-speakers know they are not on native soil. Quebeckers are keenly aware that their ancestral roots are planted in a country that has often been at odds with Great Britain, which is where the roots of the other provinces are planted. Queen Elizabeth's visage appears on Canadian currency, but most Quebeckers, if asked to pledge an "overseas loyalty," would thumb their noses at Buckingham Palace and cast their lot with the Elysee.

Across the Atlantic, on the other hand, Scotland and England are so linked that they have functioned as one for almost 300 years. Sure they have squabbles, like brothers are prone to do, but they have also stood together like brothers are supposed to do. I don't mean to minimize old royal transgressions, but with apologies to William Wallace and countless Braveheart fans, Scotland and England joined together peacefully and voluntarily in 1707 because the parliaments of both countries passed the Articles of Union.

Scotland and England have a common language, similar accents, and not-dissimilar cultures, which goes a long way toward explaining why they have achieved so much while functioning as one -- while functioning as the nation most of the world knows as the United Kingdom.

It takes only a rudimentary reading of history to see that the highest achievements to come from the British Isles occurred after the kingdoms combined and their people started thinking of themselves as Britons rather than as Scotsmen and Englishmen.

The Industrial Revolution, which gave birth to more prosperity and upward mobility than the world had ever seen, began in the U.K. roughly 50 years after it was founded.

In 1739, Scotsman David Hume published A Treatise on Human Nature, in which he declared that "reason is...the slave of the passions" and went on to oppose many of the ideas held by preceding philosophers, by positing that human behavior is governed more by psychology than by logic.

In 1776, Scotsman Adam Smith published An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in which he explained the positive force of free markets and coined the term "invisible hand" to describe how well they work.

America's Founding Fathers -- who considered themselves Britons -- drew much of their inspiration from Hume and Smith, who were influenced by the writings of Englishman John Locke. Applying their ideas by opening markets and organizing checks and balances on government to account for human nature, the Founding Fathers created the first nation in human history to be founded on a creed of personal liberty.

As complicit as some Brits were in the early days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the fact of the matter is that slavery was the world's norm at the time and it was the U.K. that led the way in abolishing it. Specifically, it lit the anti-slavery fire by passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act on March 25, 1807.

In World War II, it was London-born Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery whose leadership of British and Allied forces helped defeat the Nazis in Northern Africa, Sicily, and Italy. It was to him that the Nazis surrendered all of their troops in Holland, Denmark, Northern Germany, and all Northern European islands on May 4, 1945. That surrender presaged the end of the war in all of Europe three days later.

In 1964, American airwaves were not overrun by an English Invasion or Scottish Invasion. They were overrun by the British Invasion.

Nobody thinks of Glasgow-born Mark Knopfler and Surrey-born Eric Clapton as being from different nations.

Nobody refers to Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair as having been "English Prime Minister" or "Scottish Prime Minister" (or, for that matter, as "Welsh Prime Minister" or "Northern Irish Prime Minister"). Everybody refers to them as having been the British Prime Minister.

In You Only Live Twice, Ian Fleming wrote that James Bond had Scottish antecedents. But through all the Bond books and Bond movies, 007 has only been known as a British agent, not a Scottish one; and when he skied off of land and into a canyon in The Spy Who Loved Me, his parachute was emblazoned with the U.K.'s Union Jack, not Scotland's Saltire.

The U.K. is too strong, accomplished, and good to slice its own carotid artery and die by bleeding out.

Nebraska and California have a different culture in many regards and a shared culture in some regards, and at the end of the day, their commonalities are more important and transcendent than their differences. Both states are contributing parts of the greater whole we call the United States of America. Their citizens often grit their teeth at each other's ways, but they would never put themselves in a situation where a flight from Lincoln to Los Angeles requires them to bring a passport.

So too with Scotland and England. In my humble opinion.