Should the Scots decide to break from the U.K., analysts see a range of possible outcomes. The split could be complicated but relatively painless and take several years to play out — or it could be a cataclysm that unleashes chaos in global markets, destabilizes the United States’ top global ally at the worst possible time, and sends Europe and the world spiraling back into recession…
There are also fears of immediate and longer-term market and economic effects if Scotland votes for independence. In the immediate aftermath of such a vote, market analysts expect some kind of “flight to safety,” in which money comes out of riskier assets such as stocks — especially in the U.K. and Europe — and into perceived safer investments such as U.S. Treasuries and gold.
Any companies heavily exposed to Scotland and its big banks could also suffer as uncertainty arises about what currency the nation will use — the U.K. government has said it would not allow an independent Scotland to use the pound — and how the U.K. will treat Scotland’s share of the national debt. British media reported Wednesday that some financial institutions are stocking up Scottish ATMs with extra cash in case of panicked mass withdrawals following a possible “Yes” vote…
“Initially, markets could see a great deal of selling because there are so many unknowns,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.
When is it ever a good idea for a small nation to set up on its own? Leaving aside cases of colonization and outright oppression, there is little good reason ever to shrink on the world scene by leaving a larger unit. The internal politics of democracies always get better deals for regions within them than small sovereigns can elicit from identity-ignoring market forces. The few small nations that did gain in welfare by seceding from transnational entities are those that escaped failed autocratic systems. The Baltic countries escaping the former Soviet Union’s dominance can be seen in this light. But setting out on your own is only beneficial when the system left behind has directly constrained your nation’s human potential. Whatever else, that cannot be said of the current Scottish situation in the United Kingdom.
It is a fact of life in today’s world that a small economy on its own is always buffeted by the forces of the global economy more than a region within a larger union. Even well-run small states like Singapore and Estonia are subject to huge swings in their economy resulting from capricious capital flows in and out. These swings disrupt employment, investment, and competitiveness via real exchange rate fluctuations. More important, small economies are fundamentally undiversified because of their small scale, and they risk their specializations falling out of favor in world markets. Events beyond their control can overwhelm the small nation’s high-value added industries, no matter how good it is at those things, be they oil extraction or banking or whisky distilling. Scottish independence in form, will instead mean increased vulnerability in fact, because, inherently, smaller means more exposure when the markets turn – and turn they will…
Essentially, Scotland would be giving up insurance and room-for-error while gaining nothing in long-run income prospects.
A “Yes” vote for secession would also set in motion a whole series of political crises across the continent and further afield. Not only is the referendum being closely watched by various nationalist, often left-leaning, secessionist movements around Europe, especially in Spain, Italy and France, but there are representatives of those movements in Scotland helping the nationalists.
If the latter should win, then Catalonia, Corsica, the Basque Country and the Veneto—all of which have well-established separatist parties—will only be the first regions to draw inspiration from the outcome. In Belgium—a relatively recently invented country (est. 1830) that has never succeeded in reconciling its French-speaking (Walloon) and Flemish (Dutch-speaking) populations—Dutch-speaking Flanders is almost certain to seize the moment and set in motion its separation.
Some of these countries are already confronting crises of national identity provoked by the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, by the euro’s problems, and by mass immigration, in particular from the Muslim world. If more than one of these states is plunged into political, economic or social chaos by invigorated secessionist movements, Europe will become even more of a busted flush than it is already. It’s willingness to resist threats and bribes from Russia will decrease, and its ability to support military campaigns like that in Afghanistan will be even more diminished.
Nowhere is separatist fever hotter than the northern Spanish region of Catalonia, which contributes 20 percent of the Spanish economy. The Catalan separatist movement has been growing in recent years, as demonstrated each September with a march on Barcelona. This year, 1.5 million people took to the streets to demand independence, or at least a government blessing for the referendum scheduled for November 9, even though Madrid currently says it is illegal and its results null and void. On the Catalonia Votes website, Catalan separatists say their distinct culture, language and desire for self-government should be heard. “A referendum on self-determination is necessary to reset the relationship between Catalonia and Spain,” according to the site. “It is the popular demand of more than 80 percent of Catalans in opinion polls, and of a clear majority of members of the Catalan parliament.”
The divide between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia has always been a conspicuous obstacle to national unity, but not an insuperable one. In elections last May, however, the Flemish separatists won big, which could eventually pave the way to a partitioned nation. Since the European Commission sits in Brussels, the breakup of the host nation would be something of an embarrassment for the European Union as a whole. There is such rampant speculation about the Belgian divide that there was even talk at the World Cup in Brazil that Belgium would no longer have a national team by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2018…
Last March, Venetians and residents of the Veneto region of northern Italy voted an overwhelming 88 percent in favor of separating from Italy, even though the five-day online vote was not recognized by Rome—or many Italians for that matter. But since the Venice vote happened just as Crimea voted to separate from Ukraine, the Venice vote became an obsession on Russian state TV. Its correspondents flocked to the canal city to cover the event as if to prove that separatist movements were en vogue. The Veneto movement is a softer side of the old Northern League Padania separatist movement, which has largely lost steam since its leader, Umberto Bossi, stepped off the political stage amid corruption scandals.
In Scotland’s case, the nationalism in question is left-wing. For decades, the European social democratic consensus, the existence of which has been made possible by American defense spending, has moved away from nationalism, which—for reasons to do with some unfortunate events in the middle of the 20th century, principally involving the Germans—the European ruling class finds distasteful. According to this consensus, the future of sovereignty lies with international institutions, not ethnic identities.
The rhetoric of the pro-independence Scots does not necessarily clash with any of these assertions, but the success of their movement does raise the question of whether or not all this passion simply comes from an uncomplicated desire to be more like Sweden. And of course it doesn’t: Such a desire mingles with a desire to not be subject to someone else—the English.
In this way, the left-nationalism of the Scots is like any other nationalism. It defines itself by what it is not. The eminently rational, thin-blooded, passionless ruling class of the United Kingdom—embodied so perfectly in the wan form of Cameron—has only itself to blame, and not because of Lady Thatcher. It is to blame because, as Britain meant less and less to its own ruling elite, and the Union became a post-patriotic society where un-ironic expressions of love for one’s country were socially unacceptable, a genuine human need of those who lived within the Union went unsatisfied. If Britain no longer stood for, or against, anything, the Scots remembered they could satisfy this need by standing against their old foils, the English.
The socialist loons of the Scottish National Party have made clear that they are committed to two steps which would lead to Scotland’s eventual disappearance as anything but a geographical designation: membership in the EU and mass immigration. Just as the anti-EU, pro-sovereignty sentiment is making UKIP a major player and could lead to the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU within a few years, the SNP wants to break away from the U.K. but immediately surrender Scotland’s newfound independence to Brussels. If people thought rule from Westminster was bad, they’ll be in for a surprise.
The SNP has also pledged to substantially increase immigration from overseas, “to lower the current financial maintenance thresholds and minimum salary levels for entry to Scotland,” and “have an inclusive approach to citizenship and a humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees.” It’s pretty obvious where that will lead. Given how few Scots there are (a little over 5 million), it wouldn’t take that much immigration to fundamentally change the nation’s demography and create the kind of problems Latvia or Cyprus face, but without a foreign invader forcing it upon them.
The current fragmentation of the nation-state is a result of the peace and prosperity of the post-WWII period. When international conditions generate relative peace and stability, smaller groups and regions don’t need protection from larger nations. When free trade prevails in the world, small nations can maintain economic viability without joining a larger nation’s customs union. We are living in global conditions that are ripe for the breakup of nations, not just in Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, but Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.
The interesting result of this analysis is that the main party responsible for the devolution of nations is the United States. It is the United States that has guaranteed peace in Europe and Asia. It is the United States that has thrown its defense umbrella around the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Scotland does not need Great Britain to protect its security if the United States will. It is the United States that has created the free-trade regime throughout the world, and the European Union has created a free trade area. Scotland doesn’t need Great Britain if it has access to the world’s markets.
This means that more independence movements in Europe will arise and succeed. Even if Scotland says no to formal independence, it already has a large measure of functional independence and is sure to gain even more. The Scottish vote is not the end of the movement toward decentralization, not even the beginning of the end, but actually the beginning — unless the United States begins to withdraw from its role as the guarantor of peace and prosperity in the West.
What distinguishes the current moment is that discontent with the way things have been going is so high as to test many people’s tolerance for the governing institutions as they currently exist…
It is in continental Europe that the consequences of bungling by mainstream elites are perhaps the most damaging. The decades-long march toward a united continent, led by the parties of the center-right and center-left, created a Western Europe in which there was a single currency and monetary authority but without the political, fiscal and banking union that would make it possible for imbalances between those countries to work themselves out without the benefit of currency fluctuations. When it all came to a head from 2008 to 2012, national leaders were sufficiently alarmed by the risks of budget deficits that they responded by cutting spending and raising taxes…
Power is not a right; it is a responsibility. 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. And so the results will ripple through world capitals from Athens to Washington: People don’t think the way things are going is good enough, and voters are getting angry enough to want to do something about it.
Via the Corner.