I landed yesterday in the mother country, i.e., Britain, which thank God we can still call “Great” following last week;s silly referendum of Scottish so-called independence. The bookies here called it precisely: the Scots, in an access of what one friend called a a wave of temporary sanity, rejected the offer of permanent immiseration by some 10 points, thus demonstrating that the country of David Hume and Adam Smith has not gone entirely soft in the head. Some clever chaps were quietly hoping that the Scots would finally go through with their threat to divorce England. Since Scotland is these days a socialist wasteland — I haven’t looked it up, but I believe there is only one conservative minister from Scotland in the House of Commons — their departure from the 400-year-old union would have transformed English politics overnight. Absent the dozens of politically immature leftist ministers, England could finally have gotten on with the business of restoring prosperity to the country. And since Whitehall sends something like £5 in welfare payments to Scotland for every pound they collect in taxes, the English taxpayer would also have been better off.
I see these advantages of devolution, or divorce. But on balance I have to say that it would have been a disaster for all concerned. For Scots, it would have spelt an instant lowering of the standard of living. “What about the North Sea oil,” you say? I happened to sit through a financial briefing about Scotland a couple days before the referendum. The bankers in charge of the presentation had some admonitory information about Scotland’s economic situation, including an alarming chart depicting oil production from the North Sea. It started fairly high up on the left side of the chart and worked its way steadily downwards as traveled right. There is also the international situation. Scotland’s recurrent fit of adolescent posturing is part of a dangerous trend in the world. Remember Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History? I once gave the palm to that book for articulating the silliest argument in recent memory by a serious academic. Fukuyama predicted that liberal democracy, which he denominated the final, and best, form of government, was set to break out the world over. That was at the end of the 1980s. The ink wasn’t dry on Fukuyama’s book before we saw that, pretty much wherever we looked, something closer to the opposite was happening. What we were seeing was not the triumph of liberal democracy but the retribalization of the world. The restless Scots are part of that distressing, anti-civilizational imperative, and the world must be grateful that they managed to save themselves from their self-generated folly.