The Scots don't split - yet. Who else will?

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Maybe all unhappy families are unique, but nevertheless there are similarities, patterns, and frequently-encountered types of unhappy families.  In addition, differences in culture and outside influences can have wildly different effects on the final results.

For instance, we've all encountered mildly unhappy married couples for whom the love and passion is long since gone, but they don't hate each other and they seem to be at least marginally content to dwell together behind their upraised newspapers.

But then the husband gets a big promotion, buys a fancy car, and all of a sudden he has, let us say, other potential options for passion that he didn't before.  Or he loses his job and all the trappings of conventional middle-class life start dropping away.  Divorce is clearly in the offing.

Then we have the abusive couple where the wife verbally berates the husband and the husband physically beats her.  You might think divorce would be a no-brainer, but as witness several recent examples from the NFL, an abusive husband has no stronger defender than his abused wife, particularly if he's making lots of money.

Until she snaps and shoots him dead one night.

What has this to do with politics?  A whole lot more than we wish it did.

Just Mentioning Divorce Makes It More Likely

Most Americans probably only dimly noticed, but the centuries-old United Kingdom came close to breaking up last week.  As a clever distraction from domestic political pressures, Prime Minister David Cameron had rashly granted Scotland a referendum on independence, and Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party turned what should have been a joke into a close-run thing.

Yes, the referendum failed by a persuasive margin of 10%.  But that means that 45% of Scots actively wanted to leave the United Kingdom, the nationality of their great-great grandfathers and many of the most illustrious of Scots.

Ten years ago, the idea of Scottish independence would have been found only in the darkest, most alcohol-soaked corner of some dank Glaswegian pub.  Today, Scotland is not one whit more legally independent than before, but psychologically it's perhaps the most independent that it's ever been since uniting with England.  No, they didn't separate, but they could if they really wanted to, and there are organized forces trying to make them want to do that.  This recent referendum was supposed to be their only chance, but nobody believes that; they'll vote again, and again, and again, until one day they declare independence and that will be that.

We can't help but recall Russian Professor Igor Panarin, who predicted back at the turn of the millennium that the United States would break up in 2010.  He was wrong, but his reasoning wasn't the stuff of tinfoil-hattery:

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar.

Check, check, check, and - no check yet.  But does anyone outside the Oval Office truly believe that our Union - or the Western world in general - is as strong as it was in, say, January 2000?

So why hasn't divorce happened in Scotland or any other major Western country?  Reliably-liberal Slate magazine made an interesting point that sounds reassuring but isn't:

“If the condition of this country as it is today is not enough to make people want to leave it, I cannot tell you what would,” says Sale. “If you have no faith in your central government; if Congress has the support of 10 to 12 percent of the public; if the president’s approval numbers are close to 30 percent in some states; I don’t know why this resentment doesn’t translate into secession, which is the only reliable peaceful way to make change.”

In other words: things are so bad in America today that if we don't break up now, we never will.  Stirring patriotism, that!  Yet haven't we all said that about unhappy couples who'd been visibly wretched for years or decades on end - until one day, some tiny little irrelevance tipped the scale and the union imploded.

It Take Two to Untangle

Our Gentle Readers might immediately assume we're referring to Tea Party dreams of an independent and profoundly conservative Texas, but it needn't be that way.  Scotland came close to leaving the United Kingdom, not because of an oppressive central government, but because the central government wouldn't permit their economy to be as oppressively command-and-control nanny-statist as many of the Scots wanted it to be!  There has long been a contingent of loony-leftists in Vermont who'd prefer to break away and not have to pay for foreign wars, secure in the knowledge that anyone wanting to invade Vermont would have to make their way through "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire first.

In England, the ruling Tories nearly expired of the vapors at the thought of Scottish independence - after all, their formal name is the Conservative and Unionist Party.  They might have done better to let the Scots leave, given that of all the Scottish Members of Parliament, there is exactly one Tory.  All the rest are Labour or parties even further to the left.

Suppose that Vermont declared independence, and was joined by New York, Massachusetts, and then California.  What would the political map of the remaining 46 United States look like?  It would be profoundly different.  The political spectrum would suddenly resemble something from the early 1960s, with nearly the entire left end of the spectrum with all its electoral votes having been chopped clean off.

Certainly that would permit the loony-liberal states to test socialism to destruction unimpeded by Republicans or by the Bill of Rights.  But it would also allow the rump United States to finally address the critical systemic damage wreaked by a century of progressive leftism, its staunchest partisans and moneymen having gone home and taken their states with them.

In a republic, there shouldn't be any need for this.  Individual states were intended to be able to do pretty much what they liked, with the federal government responsible only for national defense and interstate commerce.  Unfortunately we don't live in that country anymore; modern America much more closely resembles a unitary national state like the United Kingdom than it does any sort of federal republic that our Founders would recognize.

It's been said that our Civil War answered the question as to whether we were "The United States" or "These United States."  "The" won, or so it seemed, but anyone who thinks it's still wholly true today is deluding themselves.

We'd prefer to return to our Founders' vision of "These United States" which allowed the voters of each state to determine their own laws, allowed substances, levels of taxation and government spending, degree of bureaucracy and red tape, and even their social preferences.  Failing that, though, whether we like it or not, one of these days we'll be following the path that Scotland is treading.  How soon do you think it will be?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Secession is bound to happen for the afore stated reason. The country is divided by strictly left/right agendas and that can't last. The moderates will not win because they can't make up their minds about anything. We are no longer united and unless a war comes to pass as in someone invading us we will split. I think that every state should have the right to vote if they want to go into column A or B unless we can bring back states rights as the Constitution were allowed to be our guideline.

September 24, 2014 3:54 PM
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