The results from yesterday’s general election in the United Kingdom are stark for the Labour Party, which lost 59 seats in Parliament. The Tories picked up 47 seats, leaving Labour with its worst showing since 1935. This “second referendum” on Brexit presents Prime Minister Boris Johnson with clear support for a no-deal Brexit, while delivering a stinging rebuke to the London-centric Remain bloc. It also signifies the likely end of Jeremy Corbyn’s career, because unlike American politicians their British counterparts at least have the decency to go away after voters reject them.
The more interesting story yesterday was the remarkable and ongoing success of the Scottish Independence Party (SNP), which gained a whopping 13 seats in Parliament. It now represents most of Scotland geographically: Liberal Democrats hold only the northernmost counties and parts of Edinburgh, while Labour clings to a tenuous hold in the southern part of that city. What does it portend when the two primary left-wing parties in the UK no longer represent left-leaning Scotland?
The 2014 Scottish referendum on independence from the UK revealed many of the same schisms present in the later Brexit referendum and 2016 US presidential election: young vs. old, pensioner vs. worker, country vs. city, and cosmopolitan vs. parochial. But the attendant narrative of nationalist vs. globalist falls apart when it come to the Scots, who are generally far more pro-EU than the UK generally. The pro-independence Yes! vote in 2014 skewed younger, favored left-wing policies across the board, and sought greater connection with Europe and Brussels. In fact, Scots later voted nearly 2-1 against Brexit.
But while Fox-hunting rural Brexiteers and Scottish secessionists may both share the same disdain for London and Westminster, they do so for entirely different reasons.
Many older Scots worried that independence might threaten their pensions, and the banking community questioned whether Westminster would allow a breakaway Scotland to continue using the British pound. Nobody wanted a rushed transition to the euro, but without a central bank of its own (that pesky sovereignty issue again) Scotland might have been stuck in a vice between two currencies. Independence forces also failed to convince voters that Scotland’s vaunted North Sea oil reserves would help fund the new independent county, especially given falling oil prices and potential territorial disputes over revenues.
These economic concerns were enough to squelch the independence vote by a comfortable 55-45% margin. But economics is not everything. Politically, culturally, and socially it was clear the Scots wanted to be part of Europe, not part of an English-dominated UK.
It may be more clear today. Already this morning the Twittersphere buzzes with talk of a renewed Scottish independence campaign, while the SNP yesterday announced its support for another referendum if a “material change in circumstances” arose between Scotland and the greater union. Surely a landslide victory by the Tories — who are widely disliked by the Scots — and a flashing green light for a deeply unpopular Brexit represent exactly such a change.
Scotland and England are not magically joined at the hip. If the Scots don’t want Brexit, don’t want Boris Johnson, and don’t want the Tories, who says the current political makeup of the UK is forever and unchanging? Political arrangements are not something to impose on reluctant, disbelieving people. If we favor independence and political self-determination only when we like the results, the only liberty on offer is the liberty to agree. But political universalism is an abstraction, and an arrogant one at that.
If Scots choose Holyrood over Westminster, or even Brussels over Holyrood, who are we to object?
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE.