Monday, September 15, 2014

The Independence Vote in a Risk-Averse Scotland

My hunch is that Scotland’s independence movement has slightly more support than the public opinion polls suggest and will carry this week’s vote. Part of this support will come from the undecided voters, most of whom, I believe, will see the Yes vote as the less risky option. Undecided voters often, in the end, decide not to take chances, and polls so far show undecided voters breaking mainly for the Yes camp.

This way of understanding the question of independence is natural enough for me given my point of view, looking at the situation from the former British colony of Pennsylvania. History has much to say about British colonies but says surprisingly little about lands that, having won their independence from London, had second thoughts a few years later and wanted to invite the English to come back. To be sure, there is still a political faction in Pennsylvania that regrets the split from England, but they realize they are a fringe group and know better than to press the point. Of course, Scottish voters are also aware of this history — that, defying the economic logic about economies of scale, former colonies almost invariably do better as independent countries.

What has changed the independence question so much in the past month is that the political discussion has revealed that the major parties and political institutions in London view Scotland essentially as a colony, and have for the past 30 years or so. As seen from London, Scotland is a place to extract oil and a place to deploy nuclear missiles. If it is also a place where wool, whiskey, and party supporters come from, so much the better. Scotland, of course, sees itself as much more than this and would like to set the record straight. To be sure, the immediate financial costs of Scottish independence will be substantial. However, if Scotland thinks it will do better as an independent country, history is on its side.