Open thread: Will Scotland declare independence?

I’m putting up the thread now because the polls close at 5 p.m. ET, although meaningful numbers are many hours away from what I understand. There are a lot of ballots to be counted: Fully 97 percent of the electorate has registered to vote. Final results may not be available until early tomorrow morning. Here’s where you can insert your joke about “crucial Waukesha County” if you’re into that sort of thing.

My ignorant prediction: “No” wins narrowly but comfortably with 53-55 percent. From a distance it seems like the case for independence is chiefly a romantic one, not a set of deep grievances that makes maintaining the union intolerable. On the contrary, economists as ideologically opposed as Paul Krugman and Niall Ferguson think independence is a terrible idea due to the economic havoc it could wreak. Hard to believe undecided Scots will roll the dice with the stakes that high. I wonder too if there might be backlash to the sort of atmosphere that Ferguson describes:

Many No voters I met complained of an atmosphere of intimidation. I tried to organise a group of pro-Union historians based in Scotland to write a letter backing the No campaign. I was told that, at most, two would be willing to sign. Most disturbing of all were the stories of SNP bigwigs issuing thinly veiled warnings to institutions perceived to be insufficiently Yes-istic. Jim Sillars’s warning to BP and the big banks of a “day of reckoning” is part of a sinister pattern.

This, then, gives us a hint of what Alex Salmond’s brave new Scotland would really be like: a divided and rancorous society with a vindictive style of politics. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it nicely sums up Scotland as it was before the Union.

The best piece I’ve read on why the Scots might go ahead and push the button anyway is this one at Reuters (featured in last night’s Scotland-themed QOTD, if you’re looking for more reading on this subject). This crisis, writes Mark Leonard, is ultimately about people feeling fatally alienated from their political elites. Scotland is firmly and seemingly irreversibly left-wing, much more so than the Tories who govern Britain, and has been for most of the last hundred years. Why should they tolerate a remote leadership that doesn’t represent their interests?

However, many of these arguments pale into insignificance when compared to the power of their pro-independence ‘Yes’ camp’s argument that Scotland has not voted for a Conservative government since 1935 and yet has spent more than half of the last century being governed by Conservatives (at the last election, David Cameron’s Conservative Party won only one out of 59 seats in Scotland). As Owen Jones argued in the Guardian, “to most Scots, living under a Tory-led government seems absurd, like being forced to live under a hostile foreign occupying force.

These sentiments are increasingly felt across the world. Despite casting ballots, people still feel unrepresented. In the European elections, populist parties from the Front National in France to Syriza in Greece argued that though people could change the government, they can not change the policies that shape their larger world. It is a feeling applies to all countries that feel battered by uncontrollable global forces, however valid elections may be in their own backyards…

In many ways, the cultural and intellectual secession of Scotland from the UK has been going on for a number of years. And it echoes The Big Sort that has seen people in many established democracies clustering into like-minded groupings that live and work and pray together while consuming media that reinforce their bias and preferences.

“The choice that the Scots are making on Thursday is about whether the men and women who rule Britain messed things up so badly that they would rather go it alone,” says Neil Irwin at the Times, with obvious lessons for western governments from Washington to Athens. Another piece at the Times last week noted that separatist movements in countries all over the world are closely watching the Scottish results, with many of them having sent delegations to Edinburgh for the vote. The U.S. isn’t close to seeing a serious secessionist movement develop but that feeling of political alienation from a far-flung central government is palpably real, as any poll of Congress’s job approval will illustrate. Makes me wonder if secessionism might get a foothold here a few decades from now if a permanent Republican or permanent Democratic majority took hold in Washington. (The latter’s probably more likely given demographic trends.) If a state or a region develops a durable political consensus as Scotland has with Scandinavian-style socialism, why submit to a durable national political consensus that cuts against it? That’s the question lots of countries will be digesting tomorrow if the nationalists win.

I assume the BBC will have live updates on their website as the votes come in. Exit question: Am I right in thinking that Americans, especially Americans who favor small government, are rooting for the Scots to break away? I’m morbidly curious to see what would happen, even though I think it’d be a bad idea.

Update: Hmmmmm.

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