Scotland has voted to stay in the UK. Although the referendum was attended by much apprehension and suspense elsewhere, most Americans were unconcerned, since they already knew from Worf and Captain Picard that the “British Tar” is still sung in the far future.
Neil Irwin of the New York Times saw in the referendum a “crisis of the elites”. In this narrative the center is having difficulty holding because the constituent parts of nations can’t agree — principally about money.
It is a crisis of the elites. Scotland’s push for independence is driven by a conviction — one not ungrounded in reality — that the British ruling class has blundered through the last couple of decades. …
The rise of Catalan would-be secessionists in Spain, the rise of parties of the far right in European countries as diverse as Greece and Sweden, and the Tea Party in the United States are all rooted in a sense that, having been granted vast control over the levers of power, the political elite across the advanced world have made a mess of things.
The details of Scotland’s grievances are almost the diametrical opposite of those of, say, the Tea Party or Swedish right-wingers. They want more social welfare spending rather than less, and have a strongly pro-green, antinuclear environmental streak. (Scotland’s threatened secession is less the equivalent of Texas pulling out of the United States, in that sense, than of Massachusetts or Oregon doing the same.)
Some analysts did not see the issue as one of Scotland leaving the UK, but rather the consequence of London leaving the country of its origin. The equivalent of “flyover country” in the UK is apparently everywhere else but London. Mehul Srivastava wrote about the decline in the fortunes of the outlying parts of Britain in Bloomberg.
Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) — Back when London was the capital of a third of the planet, the young sailor in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” looked upon the serpentine Thames and conjured up what England sent forth into the world.
“The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires,” wrote Conrad in 1899.
It’s a different sort of empire now. As the vast realm crumbled around London — scattered by the “wind of change” that then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan perceived in a 1960 speech in South Africa — the capital expanded its dominion of finance and left the rest of a dissatisfied nation behind….
“Since the end of empire, London has flourished while much of the rest of the United Kingdom has suffered serious decline,” said Alex von Tunzelmann, a historian and author of “Indian Summer,” which chronicled the last days of London’s grasp over the subcontinent. “There is a great deal of resentment about this, and not just in Scotland.”
As the tide of empire receded, all the gold that was left was in London town. Yet if there’s one reason Scotland decided to stay in, it was probably money. The EU did not seem to encourage the Scottish aspirations much, which must have suggested that Europe, in common with other institutions in this world, regarded connections less for their cultural worth than for the money they might bring. And Scotland would bring comparatively little to the coffers of the European bureaucracy.
And if one had to go to the Continent for household money well … just as a marriage might remain intact for reasons of convenience, the Scots, despite their grievances, probably decided they liked living with London better than Brussels.
Nations live longer than men, but they too change, passing through periods of estrangement and reconciliation. The bonds that bind human communities together must be constantly renewed and to our surprise, they often are.
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