The Providence (R.I.) Journal, Nov. 23, 2012
The European Union’s financial woes are awakening some long dormant dwarves. Separatist movements are gaining strength in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain.
Most European states are amalgamations of medieval duchies and principalities, and centuries later, many in Europe are still not fully resigned to ancient and ancestral losses of sovereignty.
Even in France, where centralization of government is almost the state religion, restive Bretons loudly demonstrate for independence. Brittany was incorporated into France with the marriage of Charles VII to Anne of Brittany in 1491.
Scotland’s unification with the United Kingdom dates to a mere three centuries ago, and has inarguably brought that climatically challenged former poverty-stricken feud-wracked kingdom great benefits. Nonetheless, the Scots chafe under the yoke of union and will hold a referendum in 2014 on whether to discard the 1707 Act of Union. (Wales, whose union with England culminated in 1284, may someday agitate for freedom as well.)
The implications are murky.
Should Scotland seek independence outright or a further formalization of the ‘‘devolution’’ that has refurbished various Stuartian palaces and castles to accommodate state functions and otherwise ensure autonomy in domestic matters?
Would Scotland have its own foreign policy apparatus and seek to become a member of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?
These questions presumably will be resolved before the vote.
Scotland in union with Britain has had quite a career. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the two countries had pretty much untrammeled sway over much of the globe, running an empire upon which ‘‘the sun never set.’’ That’s long gone, of course, but union for Scotland and other regions still has benefits, letting component nations ‘‘punch above their weight’’ in various contexts.
The discontent stems from many sources, including a nostalgic romanticism for a smaller and simpler world.
In addition, as the E.U. takes on more of the trappings of a federal government, some localities see an opportunity to cut out the middleman wielding power, whether London, Paris or Madrid. The Scots would be wise, though, to reflect on how their country would fare should the E.U. ever disappear, as seems entirely possible on some days.
By now, Britain and Scotland have merged and melded in so many ways that it’s difficult the see how they can actually operate as two distinct national entities. The coming referendum should do nothing irreversible.