Britain’s experience of direct democracy by means of referendum has not so far been very happy. The first referendum ever held in Britain was in 1975, and also concerned its (then recent) membership of the then European Economic Community. The result was a decisive vote in favour of remaining, by two thirds of the votes cast; however, because of the high rate of abstention, this represented only 44.44 per cent of the population eligible to vote. Of historical interest is the fact that Scotland was considerably less enthusiastic about membership of the EEC than England: 68.7 per cent in favour in…
The prospect of Scottish independence has spurred a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that the Act of Union of 1707, which drew England and Scotland together, factored into the story of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and other colonists believed that each colony had the same relationship to Britain in the 1770s that England and Scotland had to each other before the Act of Union: as an equal state with a common monarch.
In further demonstration that this is a forum for vigorous debate among friends: I strenuously disagree with Brother McGinnis’s post on Scottish independence. As usual he gets the analytics right: no matter how the vote turns out, it will embolden independence movements elsewhere. John is also right in suggesting that the EU has by design and institutional logic fostered such movements. It has done so by design (for example, through regional transfer payments) on the theory that anything that is bad for nation-states must therefore be good for the EU’s federalism project. It has done so by logic because the overall umbrella of free trade (by and large) reduces the expected price of secession. They’ve come a long way. There’s no longer a point in obsessing over a Belgium without a functional government because there is no longer a reason to have a Belgium in the first place.
The words that Lord Falkland is supposed to have said—that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change—are a lesson that humanity and above all politicians are reluctant to learn.
There’s no profit in it for “projectors,” Edmund Burke’s term for those who place at the center of their own sense of importance change brought about by them.
And there’s no greater projector than the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond. Mr. Salmond does not so much promise to solve specific problems as arouse hope, a hope that is vague, general, and unfocused. He has been very successful at this, assisted as he is by the fact that there is good cause for discontent in Scotland. Deindustrialization has not been kind to the country, and there are parts of Glasgow, its largest city, where living standards and life expectancy are at levels found in the old Soviet Union.