The collapse of empires has been regarded as a good thing for at least a century, much strengthened by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s efforts at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War One, where he sought to inscribe into international practice and law the right of all peoples to achieve a national state.
The lifting of the incubus of Soviet Communism in 1991 from the states of Central and Eastern Europe was opposed only by a few worried political leaders and rather more dispossessed Communists, but even they either put on a smile or kept their heads down. George H.W. Bush, in the White House when the Soviet center would no longer hold, tried to stem the communist tide by embracing his new friend, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to avoid chaos in the east -- in vain. Nationalism, which the Soviet Union’s ideologists had regarded as one of the cardinal sins and had filled the gulags for decades with those suspected of harbouring its sentiments, triumphed.
Now comes Scotland’s turn. The residents of Scotland, on Sept. 18, will vote on the simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Scotland? What’s the problem?
Though Scotland has been and remains a great creator of myths about itself, it has strained to make a strong case that it has suffered much under the domination of the English. For a few years in the late 1990s, it hooked itself to the Braveheart phenomenon – the surge of anti-English nationalism unleashed by Mel Gibson’s gory piece of adolescent fantasy – but even Scottish nationalists are now embarrassed by that. The nation (no one doubts it is that) is the third-richest region in the United Kingdom, with a booming oil business and a financial sector that is still – even after the financial crash that almost finished the overextended Royal Bank of Scotland -- the major such center after London.
It’s been part of the United Kingdom since the two parliaments were voluntarily joined in one – at London’s Westminster – in 1707. Indeed, that union is the reason why the country is called the United Kingdom because they were the only two parts of it that had developed a monarchical state. Vital to the union was that Scotland, then and now by far the smaller partner, would retain control of education, justice and, most important at that time, religion. It has done so since, and in the late 18th and 19th centuries, Scotland became rich as the British Empire – in which Scots were disproportionately active and prominent – made the United Kingdom the world’s greatest power.