What the Scottish nationalists ultimately want is to trade the Union Jack for the E.U.’s postmodern bargain: ethnically-rooted self-government under a distant supranational umbrella, rather than a political union that can back wars or budget cuts that most Scots oppose. Not every Scot who voted nationalist last week is ready to support this vision. But the pull of union is clearly weakening in the north. Meanwhile to the south, a more English sort of nationalism wants out of the European Union completely, and suspects the Scots are getting too sweet a deal within the U.K. as it is. This is the spirit at work in UKIP, the populist, antiglobalist party that’s taking votes from both left and right, and in the Tory base as well.
The two nationalisms, north and south, can feed on one another. However reluctantly, Cameron’s government will have to give “little Englander” sentiment its due. (He’s promised a referendum on Britain’s E.U. membership for 2017). This will confirm the Scottish nationalists in their alienation, their desire to rule themselves alone.
On paper, the arguments against both disunion and a “Brexit” from the E.U. remain potent. The Scots really do reap significant benefits from union, and the nationalist vision of Scotland as a kilted Norway, oil-rich and social-democratic, is unlikely to survive contact with the realities of independence. Abandoning Britain’s “this far, no further” approach to Europe and leaving the E.U. outright, meanwhile, would cede economic and political influence (to France, most likely) for uncertain gains.