Tuesday 9 September 2014

Against Scottish Independence

As a New-Zealander/Canadian, the Scottish referendum on independence is really none of my business, but I feel compelled to write strongly against separation. And, while Economics is my area of relative competence, and I think Paul Krugman in absolutely right in this piece that independence would come with a high economic cost to Scotland, it is not the Economics of independence that motivates this post.

You see, when I was a lot younger, I would have cheered loudly for independence. Like most people, my sense of identity was closely tied up with my citizenship, and, growing up in New Zealand, one manifestation of that tribal national pride was a deep-seated resentment at the remaining symbols of our close ties to the U.K. and England in particular. I was a strong anti-monarchist, hated the presence of the Union Jack on the New Zealand flag, hated the use of a crown in symbols of government departments, etc. My silly sense of identity was further tied up with my name, that saw me identifying more closely with 25% of my ancestry that is Irish with sympathy to the additional 25% that is Scottish, rather than to the 50% that is English. 

So what changed: Two things really. The general answer is that I grew up. While tribalism is probably an instinct that has roots in our evolution as a species, rational thought should be able to overcome its sillier manifestations, and I look back at my former attitudes with some embarrassment. I was like petulant teenager who overcompensates in trying to assert his independence as an adult separate from his parents by rejecting parental advice without thought but then finds that he can be secure in his status as an adult without rejecting his family roots. I now see that it is easy to maintain an identity as a New Zealander without the need to reject any of the aspects of New Zealand society that owe their origins to our English roots. And parliamentary democracy, the common law, John Locke and cricket are pretty darn good roots to have. 

But the more specific change was that I emigrated to Canada, and took out citizenship there living in Quebec at the time of the constitutional crisis of the late 80s and early 90s. Indeed, one of my first votes as a Canadian was in the '95 Quebec referendum on separation. I was by then a proud Canadian, but as a relative newcomer I could observe with the perspective of an outsider. And what I observed was the destructiveness of petty tribal politics, the magnification of the importance of past injustices, and the associated diminishing of the positive aspects of a shared history. And it made the immaturity of my own youthful tribalism apparent to me. 

Scotland has been linked politically with the rest of the UK for longer than Quebec has been with the rest of Canada, and there aren't the same language and religious differences that have made Quebec distinct within Canada. Yes, there are differences in averages between Scotland and England, particularly in political outlook, but identity politics often blinds us to the fact that differences between groups are typically small relative to variances within groups. It is far healthier for a society to emphasise the similarities within that society rather than the differences, and Scotland has been an important part of the culture of Britain that has been so influential on the modern world. David Hume, Adam Smith, and golf are pretty darn good roots as well. 

So I strongly hope that next week, the Scottish give a resounding vote in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, and furthermore that the is a general agreement never to even countenance such silliness again. 

No comments:

Post a Comment