I’ve refrained from comments on the Scottish referendum on independence. Let people decide their own path is a reasonable stance to take, so let the Scots decide the future of Scotland.
Yet in discussion with one of my past students yesterday, the question arose “should other citizens of the United Kingdom have a say in the matter?”
Matters are often much more clear in theory than in practice. Any divorce is difficult. One person can put in motion the steps to one (“I want a divorce”), but the details of how the separation is achieved is a bilateral process. In dissolving a marriage, the couple needs to hash out who gets the house, the car, what percentage of debt, and so forth. Children complicate the matter by introducing a human element.
The divorce between the rest of the U.K. and Scotland would be no different. There are shared assets, and debts. How much of the public debt should Scotland take with it? How much of the U.K.’s military equipment would the newly independent country have a claim too? Would Queen Elizabeth still reign over the country, or would a governor general be appointed for her, or would the severance from the crown be complete?
These are thorny, but essential, issues. They are important enough that clear answers should have been provided in the vote. Without a defined pathway outlining exactly how the new country of Scotland would be formed, and what it would look like, people didn’t know exactly what they are voting for.
Instead of grappling with these issues, voters were given an easy yes or no question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” It’s difficult, at least for me (but then I am far removed from any Scottish descent by now), to answer this question because the comparison is apples to oranges. I know what Scotland looks like today, but I have no idea what the independent country alternative will turn out like.
So the answer remains: “should the English, Welsh and Northern Irish also have had a say in the vote?”
I like the divorce analogy. Why bind one person in a relationship if they don’t want to be. But I can’t help but feel that many divorces are put in motion in the heat of the moment, and when the terms of separation are hashed out, regret ensues. The grass is always greener, after all. Knowing in advance exactly what the new future would look like could save a lot of heart ache.
The whole referendum was a fiasco from the start. It was a political sham. No one knew what was being voted on, except some vaguely appealing concept of “independence”. If the decision is “no”, as it looks right now, there will always be a portion of voters wondering what could have been. If it was turned out that a new country was formed, the melee that would ensue in working out the details of separation could prove to be the messiest divorce ever.
Think of the hard feelings that couples have while getting divorced after a few short years of marriage. Kris Humpries and Kim Kardashian knew each other for seven months, were engaged for 90 days, and married for only 72 more. The divorce took 536 days to settle.
Scotland has been married to the U.K. since 1707. That’s over 300 years, or 112,554 days (but who is counting?). Breaking up that history would be a nightmare.
Possible? Yes. Drawn out with more hard feelings than glee? Almost certainly.
I think it’s great that the Scots got to decide on their future. I wish more people had the opportunity. I just wish the politicians staging the vote spent more time informing them what that new future would look like.
(Cross posted at Mises Canada)