September 17, 2014

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Why the Scottish Independence Vote Matters

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By ERIC PESNER

In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, conservatives were justifiably upset. They had just seen their great enemy, whom they had spent the previous four years steadfastly opposing, garner the votes of a majority of the American people. This frustration was felt most acutely in the most conservative states, Texas first among them. Texas conservatives launched a petition calling for the state to secede from the Union and form its own country. While some conservatives fumed and some liberals poked fun, the secession fervor forces us to consider an important question: How different is too different for two regions to be part of the same country?

In this age of massive polarization, the political differences between liberal states and conservative states are more and more pronounced. The policy viewpoints of President Obama are anathema to many conservatives, particularly in the South. And the differences extend to much more than the political sphere, encompassing cultural, religious and economic variations that divide Americans from one another.

But there is no realistic chance that Texas or any other state will become independent from the rest of the country. The United States is stuck together as one nation forever. However, that is not true across the world. Intra-national differences have come to a head in the United Kingdom as Scotland today votes on the question of independence.

Scotland and Texas could not be more different, culturally and politically. Scotland is mostly homogenous and it is dominated by left-wing politics. In comparison, Texas is incredibly diverse but finds itself dominated by right-wing politics, even for U.S. standards. However, there are important similarities between the two. Both Texas and Scotland make up a similar proportion of the population and economies of their countries. Both of their economies have a large base in oil reserves. And both are important parts of the bases of a national party. It is hard to imagine a Republican President without the electoral votes from Texas, and it would be much harder for Labour to win a majority in Parliament without its members from Scotland.

As the Scottish people consider the future of their country, we across the Atlantic should pause to consider the reasons that many in Scotland want independence. The debates over taxation, self-government, nuclear weapons and funding distribution are similar to the debates held in every democratic country in the world. The main argument in favor of independence is that Scotland should not subordinate itself to the will of the much more populous English on issues that affect Scotland alone. Far from a Braveheart-style cry for freedom from tyrannical English rule, the pro-independence campaign argues powerfully that it is simple common sense that Scotland should have control over purely Scottish affairs.

In the United States, the history of government has been marked by the steady accretion of power by the Federal government over the states. And the argument that conservatives make is that the Federal government should not force its will upon parts of the country that disagree with its pronouncements; not at all dissimilar from the argument that the Scottish Nationalists are making today.

While Scotland would use its independent government to pursue many left-wing policy goals such as cutting spending on nuclear weapons to spend on education, preventing cuts to the National Healthcare System and investing heavily in renewable energy, the problems that would arise are even more dire than those that come out of a pro-states’ rights stance. An independent Scotland would immediately have no control over its currency, restricted barriers to trade and no freedom of movement between itself and England. It would also lose much of the access it has to English institutions which have propelled the United Kingdom to be one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world.

Secessionists in Texas and nationalists in Scotland might use independence to accomplish opposite goals, but in both cases, independence would be a bad idea. In today’s era of globalization, erecting imaginary borders where before there were none makes no sense. Adding more boundaries to trade, movement and politics makes little sense and can only create more difficulties going forward.

As the world gets smaller, it becomes easier for one group to see how it differs from another. However, we cannot let those differences define the way we view ourselves as part of a larger population. Globalization forces people to consider others outside of their own little areas. This means that human problems across the globe get more attention than they ever have before, and atrocities and other problems can be addressed and corrected. Increased nationalism — of which the Scottish independence movement is a part — shift focus back towards the parochial which threatens the movement towards a global view of human problems.

Scotland should vote against independence today because, in every sense of the term, Scotland and England are “Better Together.” The globalizing world requires that we all find ways to live and work together, and Scotland voting to leave the U.K. would be the exact opposite of that. Running from this coming future will get Scotland nowhere, and I hope that Scotland will decide to try to achieve its goals within the broader national framework, just as Texas has to within the United States. Nationalism has no place in the globalizing world, and I hope that the Scottish people will remember that as they vote today.

Eric Pesner is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at erp55@cornell.edu. Dems Discuss appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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