Friday, September 19, 2014

A Momentous No Vote in Scotland

It was a lopsided defeat for Scottish independence in yesterday’s referendum, 55-45 against, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened. The voting and debates highlighted problems that were previously overlooked or underestimated. The United Kingdom is clearly too large to be so centrally managed. Parliament will try to discover which of its powers are causing the most problems and return those powers to regions and localities. There is likewise too much centralized control of British commercial life. Even shoppers in London were shocked at the way major retailers blithely threatened price increases in Scotland depending on the referendum vote. If retailers can raise prices and close stores at will for purely political reasons, no one can feel very secure. The saber-rattling by commercial interests in the Scottish vote might have been necessary to ensure a No vote, but it will surely lead shoppers across the United Kingdom and especially in Scotland to look at the places where they shop in a different light.

Scottish nationalists are assuming they will get another chance at a vote within the next 50 years, and there is much they can try to do in the meantime to build up Scotland’s institutional framework so that the idea of independence can be more credible next time. The biggest problem if you try to imagine Scotland as a country is the almost complete absence of a banking system, and polls indicated this worried retirees and millionaires especially. The banking system Scotland thought it had is just a branch of the City of London, a dependency that did not become clear until a couple of weeks ago. Now that everyone in Scotland knows that Royal Bank of Scotland is English at heart, there may be support for creating a bank that is actually Scottish. Separatist movements in other countries were watching Scotland and I am sure they are taking a new look at their respective regional institutions today.

Tourism and nationalism are opposing forces by nature, and that was evident again in the Scotland vote count. Yes votes were harder to come by in areas that are especially dependent on tourism. Nationalists need national boundaries, of course, but to tourism workers, it would be better if there were no barriers to travel anywhere. One of the challenges for nationalists globally is to create national boundaries that don’t create such an obstacle for tourists, so that nationalism and tourism are not so much at odds.