Recently, a man seriously proposed that his state, California, be broken up into six separate states, a move that — among other unlikely and undesirable effects — would add 10 seats to the U.S. Senate.
In Washington parlance, his proposal would be dead on arrival.
But that’s not the case with the somewhat similar idea, long promoted by Scottish nationalists, that Scotland should withdraw from the United Kingdom and become a totally independent political and economic entity.
Like the man in California who wants his state to gain a more advantageous relationship with Washington, pro-independence Scots believe that their goal, if achieved, would mean Scotland no longer would be obliged to accommodate the political establishment in London.
Since the 1990s, Scotland has had its own Parliament in Edinburgh, yet it has continued to be entitled to occupy seats in the British Parliament in London, meaning that Scottish politicians enjoy the right to vote on strictly English issues debated in London although English politicians have no similar privilege when it comes to Scottish affairs.
This oddity may account for some of the open English resentment of their neighbors to the north and may explain why, in England, there so far has appeared to be considerable indifference on the question of Scottish independence, although now that a referendum on the subject is on the not-too-distant horizon, that almost certainly will change.
On this side of the Atlantic, so far the debate has, understandably, drawn scant attention, but that may soon change too because the Sept. 18 referendum will be vigorously debated on both sides of the border in Britain and it is reasonable to believe it will generate extensive press coverage in the United States.
After all, the issue says something important about the current state of affairs in the nation commonly regarded as America’s strongest ally.
“If a majority of Scots vote yes to independence on 18 September, the whole of Britain will change in lasting and, on balance, undesirable ways,” The Guardian, a highly respected London-based newspaper, commented recently.
“Yet, whether Scots vote yes or no, the holding of the referendum is itself proof that the union is no longer what it should be,” it continued. “Even if the generally steady anti-independence message of the opinion polls is confirmed in September — and it has weakened a little in recent weeks — major questions about the nature of the British state will remain after a no vote.”
The idea of independence for Scotland is no longer seen as the idle dream of sentimental Scots who yearn for the good old days when their identity was not overshadowed by their more populous and prosperous — some would say arrogant — neighbor to the south.
In sizing up the prospects of Scottish independence, The Guardian also took note of the fact that the people of England often appear to look with disdain upon other — some would call them “lesser” — members of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“It comes back, in particular, to whether English politicians and interests have the imagination to engage sympathetically with the problems and grievances of the rest of the UK,” the newspaper added.
It was often said that the sun never set on the sprawling British Empire, one of the most powerful political entities in world history. But Britain no longer enjoys such a lofty status in a world where the real power resides in the United States, Russia and China.
But if Scotland gains its independence, Britain’s political stature will tumble even further — and that should worry Washington.
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