In Scotland and beyond, a crisis of faith in the global elites

It was evident not just in last week’s votes in Scotland and Sweden, but also in a wave of votes for parties of the far left and the far right in European parliamentary elections earlier this year, in the rise of the Tea Party in the United States and in instability in Japanese politics that led to six prime ministers since 2007.

The details of Scotland’s grievances with the English ruling class are almost the diametrical opposite of those, say, of the Tea Party or Swedish right-wingers. The Scots want more social welfare spending rather than less, and they have a strong antinuclear environmental streak. (Scotland’s threatened secession was less the equivalent of Texas pulling out of the United States than of Massachusetts or Oregon doing the same.)

But there are always people who have disagreements with the direction of policy in their nation; the whole point of a state is to have an apparatus that channels disparate preferences into one sound set of policy choices. What distinguishes the current moment is that discontent with the way things are going is so high as to test many people’s tolerance for governing institutions as they now exist.