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Worldview Watch

periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective

 previous issue                                               issue #40  posted 9 / 28 / 2014                                           archive of all  issues

Scotland, the UK and Independence Referendums 

in the news:  The United Kingdom breathed a sigh of relief as Scotland voted "No" in its September 18, 2014 independence referendum.  Meanwhile, yesterday Artur Mas, president of Spain's Catalonia region, signed a decree setting November 9, 2014 as the date for Catalonia's own independence referendum.  Unlike British leaders in the Westminster (London) based national parliament who sanctioned the Scottish vote, Spanish central government officials in Madrid assert that such a vote in Catalonia would be illegal. 

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, Should people in smaller, perhaps disgruntled, portions of larger political entities vote "Yes" to become an independent state or nation when given the chance in referendums? Should the larger nation they are currently citizens of even give them such a chance?  

One might conclude that if the larger nation will not allow citizens in the possible breakaway region with a chance to vote on independence, then those citizens have an even stronger case for considering going their own way.  But, after surveying issues behind secession movements past and present in various parts of the world, even drawing this conclusion may be premature. Seems that each self determination movement has its own unique circumstances with varying contributions from culture / traditions, ethnic / racial / language factors, economic realities, a history which may or may not involve military interaction / force to subvert the will of the people, etc. Seems that these and other unique circumstances will produce a weighing of pros and cons that can make it difficult to predict how citizens will vote in independence referendums, or whether they will resort to armed conflict if their attempt to breakaway peacefully via the ballot box is denied.  Having said that, in what follows I pick out for brief comments in this regard three contrasting pairs of worldview themes.  

First, consider the themes #21A Populism.and #20A  Elitism.  Successful independence movements often have a strong populist component and thus have been bottom up rather than top down--meaning people at the grassroots local level work to bring change at the state/national level. Certainly some degree of populist driven anti-elitism has been evident in the Scotland "yes" campaign making the case, in the words of The Economist Bagehot columnist James Astill, "against an arrogant Westminster elite opposed to Scottish independence." But this disdain of those elite only extends so far--indeed Scots largely favor the Westminster elite pro European Union stand. This distinguishes them (in Astill's words) from the (mostly English -based) "populist UK Independence Party"--which attacks those same  elite for their "reluctance to quit the European Union"

Second, in independence movements in relatively affluent modern Western nations--as in the UK, Spain, and Canada (where many in Quebec have long sought self determination)-- many individual "for" or "against" positions will be based on future economic prospects considerations. Behind such weighing of the economic pros and cons of independence are localism vs. globalism, decentralization vs. centralization and related issues. At opposite extremes here we have #48 The Co-operative, Decentralized Society Advocate and #49A Social Welfare Statism themes. Given similar preferences for bottom up or top down problem solving, one might expect nationalist populists to prefer the former theme and technocratic elitists the latter.  In Scotland this hardly seems to be the case, where a left-leaning majority clearly supports many social welfare state manifestations --most notably the National Health Service. In general, ideally government structures would serve people at both local and national levels. It seems it will be more difficult for individuals to get national government structures to satisfactorily respond to their needs if the state/nation it governs is too large (either geographically, population-wise, or both).  In the USA, Californians who would support splitting their state into six smaller ones--as in a recent proposal that one day may be voted on--would agree.  

Finally, consider  #37B Global Citizen and #37A Proud Identification themes. In urging Scots to validate the "Better Together" argument and vote "No," The Economist September 13 2014 editorial began by recalling how British school children once were asked to recognize their place in the world by writing "elaborate postal addresses". Thus a kid who lived in  Edinburgh might append Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe, the World, the Universe after writing his or her city. Such an  exercise might help one simultaneously value both global citizenship and be proud of one's unique ethnic heritage--and inclusively recognize, as the editorial put it, "these concentric rings of identity" are complementary, not opposed." 

But from there the editorial, written when polls suggested Scots were poised to ignore those concentric rings of identity, opt for exclusion, and vote "Yes," went on to express the fear that a majority of Scots would decide the United Kingdom "does not cradle their Scottishness, but smothers it." Their fear was that Scots would vote in a way that showed they valued their proud identification with Scottish heritage and heroes--the latter even extending back to battles fought over seven hundred years ago --more than the benefits of being part of a bigger more powerful and influential United Kingdom. 

In the days before the vote, the UK's Queen Elizabeth II had urged Scots to "think very carefully about the future" in a seeming appeal to reason. Yet it could be that the votes of those who took an emotional look back were critical. In analyzing the 55 % to 45% vote in favor of staying together, it seems older Scots who remembered World War II played a decisive role. For these people, perhaps memories of Winston Churchill rallying Brits to defy the Nazis with "we shall fight on the beaches," honoring the heroic Royal Air Force with "never was so much owed by so many to so few," or imagining a future free United Kingdom when people look back and say "this was their finest hour," mattered more than what William Wallace and Robert the Bruce did so long ago. Certainly, with a referendum campaign capped by an impressive 85% voter turnout, Scotland gave those who value the #31 Education for Democracy worldview theme a fine hour with its ballot box exercise.  Quite a contrast to the aftermath of the largely failed "Arab Spring" elsewhere...  

from SPC: "To what do you belong?" is a good starting point for teacher led discussions of independence referendums.  


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