Monday, October 24, 2011

Britain about to break up?

I can't say I like this news from Walter Russell Meade:
News from the not-very-United Kingdom these days is that the Scottish National Party, now in full control of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, plans to press ahead for a referendum on full independence for the land of Burns.  Rejecting the idea that fiscal independence would be enough, SNP head and Scots first minister Alex Salmond told his cheering party conference that independence in foreign policy was a key party goal: “[E]ven with economic powers Trident nuclear missiles would still be on the River Clyde, [...]we could still be forced to spill blood in “illegal wars” such as Iraq, and still be excluded from the councils of Europe and the world.”  (From the invaluable, if pay wall protected, Financial Times.)
In other words, it’s the whole thing the Scots want, and this raises a question: if the UK breaks up, can little England (even if Northern Ireland and Wales stay loyal) hold on to one of only five permanent seats on the UN Security Council?  Legally a case can be made that England would be the successor state to the UK, and could therefore hold on to the seat, but one wonders whether countries like India and Japan could accept a system in which the English rump of the UK would continue to hold a veto-wielding seat denied to them?
Scottish secession would have other implications.  For one thing, the Tory Party would be hard to beat if the Scots leave Westminster.  In the 2010 general election, the Conservatives won 297 seats in England, with 191 for Labor and 43 for the Liberal Democrats.  In Scotland, Labor won 41 and the Tories got only one seat.  (The Lib Dems got 11 and the Scottish Nationalists came in with 6.)
England without Scotland might also consider leaving the EU.  The Scots are traditionally more pro-European than the English, and the euro crisis has made the EU less popular than ever south of the border. 
The Scots will do as they please, but it’s hard for a friendly foreigner not to hope the Union holds up.  The US doesn’t have such a surplus of allies that we welcome the sight of one crumbling.
A modern movement for Scottish independence has been going on since at least the 1980's, with Sean Connery as its most famous proponent.  Based on the comments I've seen, including those above, the movement appears riddled with anti-Americanism and naive pacifism.  An independent Scotland would thus probably not be an American ally.

I also can't say I understand the logic of this or several other movements to fracture large countries into a bunch of smaller ones.  Unless the mother country is a murderous monster that enslaves other countries (like Russia and the Soviet Union) or its own minoritty regions (like the Sudan), or a Frankencountry no one wanted to begin with (like Yugoslavia or the "United Arab Republic" of Egypt and Syria) it doesn't seem like much of a benefit and can often be very, very bad.

There are plenty of examples of such breakups being a net negative for the countries involved. The best one is the Roman Empire, whose breakup was an unmitigated catastrophe for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and, indeed, Western civilization and Christianity, but there are others.  Austria-Hungary was broken up after World War I, which created a whole bunch of smaller countries that were unable to defend themselves and were thus ripe for Hitler's and later Stalin's plucking. The breakup of the Ottoman Empire helped create the disaster that is the Middle East today.  Even the slow, gradual but relentless breakup of the Holy Roman Empire was very, very bad: it led to the Thirty Years' War and general chaos in Germany.

Britain is not the only country looking at a breakup.  Watch for Italy.  Wealthy Northern Italy (Milan, Venice, Florence, etc.) generally hates southern Italy (Naples, Taranto, etc.) and has been grumbling loudly about brfeaking away.  The feeling is mutual in southern Italy, and both regions hate Rome.  Italy has always been an odd case, however, inasmuch as the country has very little of a national identity, with most people owing their allegiance to individual cities and regions rather than the country as a whole.

Let's hope this bid for Scottish independence goes down to defeat, but the election of these people in the first place is not an encouraging sign.

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