The Scottish Play

For the past 200 years, Europe has been coming together. It might seem strange to write this in light of the ethnic hatreds of the last century’s World Wars, or those of the World Cup. Or in light of the ongoing ethnic conflict in eastern Ukraine. And especially strange today on the eve of a referendum for Scottish independence.

But the geopolitical trajectory of Europe is unambiguous. The European continent—including the British isles—were once a patchwork of competing principalities and states. Today, it is defined by broad national and imperial blocs: France, Italy, Russia, Germany, and Britain being the models. Europe’s history has been, to a great degree, a history of state formation: from a multitude to many to a few . . . maybe soon to one.

More important than this political development has been the birth of a homogenous European Man. He is a man who might call someplace—maybe a little place—“home,” somewhere with a language and way of life all its own: Wales, Bavaria, Talin. . . But he is demonstrably European in his character, values, and being, especially to outsiders. Who could deny that today the differences that separate a Scotsman from an Englishman, or a Russian from a Italian—though certainly real—are easily outweighed but what they share in common? Who could deny that the mass immigration of non-Europeans has intensified our awareness of this unity, allowed us to understand ourselves in ways that we might not have otherwise?

There is, without question, a cost to this historical process, for “European Man” is, to a large degree, the “Last Man” as Nietzsche imagined him: the homogenous consumer and worker, who sees little of value above comfort and acquiring more stuff. For better and for worse, we are all becoming “good Europeans”. . . and we must understand something like the Scotts’ bid for independence in this wake.

Describing the referendum, the American commentator Patrick Buchanan wrote:

The call of blood, history, faith, culture and memory is winning the struggle against Economism, the Western materialist ideology that holds that the desire for money and things is what ultimately motivates mankind.

This can only be wishful thinking. It’s worth remembering that the Scottish National Party is not a traditionalist organization by any stretch. A perusal of its agenda reveals that it would be better described as “retro-liberal” or “Old Labor.” (For what it’s worth, the SNP wants to keep the Queen as the symbolic Head of State.)

Moreover, for every died-in-the-wool Scottish nationalist (or Anglophobe) who supports independence, there are legions who view breaking away from London in a very different way. Exiting the geopolitical world of the UK and “Anglo-sphere” would be a means of better implementing a post-historical, egalitarian welfare state . . . of becoming another “European” country, like Sweden or Iceland . . . of finding an “independent” path to the same liberal dispensation.

The SNP defines its “nationalism” as such:

to create a just, caring and enterprising society by releasing Scotland’s full potential as a independent nation in the mainstream of modern Europe.

Though the SNP desires to break from the UK (and NATO), it seeks to join the European Union. This seeming contradiction between secession and federalism reveals both the meaning and meaningless of Scottish “independence.”

Fittingly, as the vote looms, much of the discussion has been taken up with purely technical matters:

  • “What currency would the Scots use?”
  • “What about the highway, rail, and plumbing systems?”
  • “Would the financial district relocate?”
  • “Would we have to create a new suffix for Scottish websites—dot.Scot?

Technical matters like these are truly the only things at stake.

Born in 1978, I was a child during the last decade of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall existed as a powerful symbol of the ideological and imaginary “inside” and “outside” of that conflict. I envisioned that my world was “in” America and freedom and “out” of socialism and oppression. Some who were “in” Communism could escape and get “out” over here.

The events of 1989-91 turned the world “inside out” . . . and “outside in.” For the past 25 years, no European nation or state has been “outside” liberalism. Secession would change none of this. To choose another metaphor, a droplet of a liberal society (what an “independent” Scotland would become) has the same constitution as a whole gallon of one in the UK or EU.