14A041 Och, Aye by Jim Davies, 9/15/2014    


Three days from now, Scots will vote on whether or not to remain in the UK. It's at least as significant a referendum as those of 1980 and 1995, proposing to separate Quebec from Canada. If the "Yes" choice (to separate) prevails, as recent polls show it may, three hundred years of history will be reversed.

Scotland has 34% of the land area of Britain, but only 8½% of its population. Scots speak English, but with an accent so strong as to confuse many an American ear - and in Glasgow, many an English one too. In the wild Highlands and Islands some Gaelic can also be heard.

Hostility between Scots and English goes back a long way - at least to 1100, after the Normans had conquered the latter and tried to conquer the former. Like the Romans before them, they failed. Independence North of that Border is fierce. The quarrels were made up in 1707, by merging the two into one United Kingdom with a complicated flag.

A lot of Scots have now had enough of being ruled from London, a bit like Americans before them, and want out of that Union. I've been surprised to read that the vote on the divorce is to be held before any clear terms have been settled, such as how much of the debt of the London government will be assumed by a new Scotland, and whether the latter can stay inside the EU trade area. It's like a couple, deciding to split without agreeing on how to divide their assets; possible, but messy. The ace in the Scottish hole is North Sea oil, much of which comes ashore in Aberdeen and whose sales will go far to sustain a new government's spending spree after the London faucet closes; however a few decades from now that oil is likely to run out. Then, single malt alone will flow.

Passion - "heart, not head" - is said to be the driving motive, and PM David Cameron caught that theme last week, pleading for a No vote by saying he would be "heartbroken" if the two countries parted. That too is interesting; his Conservative Party has negligible support in Scotland and would be notably better off if a Yes vote prevails. He was placing country above party. His conduct was certainly preferable to that of Lincoln, who reacted to talk of secession with a whole lot less tolerance.

Unfortunately there's no sign of a NOTA option on the referendum ("Do you wish to be ruled from London, Edinburgh or nowhere at all?") so if there is a separation it will not much hasten progress towards a zero government society in the Sceptred Isle; but will it bring one any closer? - for quite a few libertarians are saying these days that secession is the way to go. And of course it's fine, provided it goes all the way to self-rule for every individual.

There's the rub. It's very nice to have an extra option; to vote with feet by leaving one country when it becomes intolerable and joining one that's less onerous. For that reason several small governments are certainly preferable to one big one. But the improvements are only ones of degree; nothing radical is taking place. Always, a government stands ready to rule the seceding country. Successive secessions would take a fearfully long time to produce individual self-rule, if ever.

So if I voted, and if I were a Scot in Scotland, I'd probably vote Yes - but without much enthusiasm. Nothing in the present political climate of Scotland is pointing towards an abolition of the State, and even if in the coming years it did so, the English would fall on it like a ton of bricks. That's the big problem with the idea of secession as a route to liberty; if and when a small state retires its government, voracious neighboring ones will gobble it up. As this Blog has noted before, Panarchy is for Losers, and panarchy is all that would result from even a fully successful secession.

There is, of course, a far better way.

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