A pro-independence supporter holds up a paper in Glasgow, Scotland, on Friday following a defeat in the referendum on Scottish independence. Scotland rejected independence on Friday in a referendum that left the centuries-old United Kingdom intact but paved the way for a major transfer of powers away from London.
The Scottish referendum has smashed the status quo in the U.K. and is the most recent, high profile, non-violent example of the rise of the consumer-citizen.
Globalization and technology have empowered people everywhere. Grievances and injustices find voice and compatriots, often leading to bloody revolutions as in the Arab Spring, mass migrations out of corrupt countries or an outflow of individuals capable of jurisdiction-shopping.
Citizenship to a nation-state is no longer sacrosanct, anymore than is loyalty to a make of automobile or smartphone. If you please your customer, you keep him or her. If not, you may lose out. For instance, French actor Gerald Depardieu bolted from France over new taxes to become a tax-free Russian citizen. Burger King technically relocates to Canada in order to save billions in corporate taxes.
Scotland's vote this week was a large-scale, peaceful protest that will result in semi-autonomy at the expense of the United Kingdom. It represents a psychological migration out from under the nation-state's modus operandi even though it was close: nearly half of the Scottish electorate, or 45 per cent, voted for outright independence while 55 per cent voted for a new deal giving them more de facto independence.
Whatever the spin by the Tories in Westminster, or by the "better together" coalition, the usual triumphalism of Prime Minister David Cameron was appropriately muted. The outcome has changed the British polity forever.
Scots are the cranky citizen-consumer at his and her most aggressive. They said we want power and money or we will leave. This includes those who voted "no" to independence because they were convinced to stay in large measure due to promises made in the last days of the campaign.
This was a trauma to the body politic itself, as Canada has sustained twice. Scots are emboldened. They will get more and so will England and Wales who will want their own mini-parliaments, more power and more money.
The result will be an increasingly devolved United Kingdom. The outcome was a stinging rebuke to Cameron and London elites, a symbol of Britain's lingering class system; a rebuke to Tory party policies as well as the creation of a permanent warning that any failure to deliver will lead to another separatist initiative.
The similarity to the Canada-Quebec situation is obvious. The U.K. now enters a "neverendum" era such as lingers across Canada during every Quebec election.
The similarities are not coincidental. Separatist leader Alex Salmond used the Quebec playbook -- keeping the pound and the Queen and demanding expensive concessions. What lost the day, however, were statements by the Bank of England that the pound was not on offer and by the President of the European Commission who stifled hopes for an independent Scotland to accede immediately to the EU or euro. He said the process could take five years, thus raising the specter that the new nation would be in economic limbo.
It's interesting to note the similarities that underlie these divides. Both Quebecois and Scottish separatists feel they are an aggrieved minority and governed by a majority with a different political culture.
Both separatists are social democrats compared to their nation-state's center-right majorities. Both are fiercely pro-free trade and this is because being part of larger markets reduces their economic dependency on the majorities. Both are disinclined to support military buildup or deployments amid concern that the majority controls them. Both back strong welfare states, to redistribute the wealth of the majority. They pull their national polity to the left.
There will be other knock-on effects. David Cameron threw his austerity to the wind by promising huge concessions to Scotland, thus undermining his credibility. This may help Labour win the next election in May. Likewise, the referendum next year across the United Kingdom about renegotiating Britain's EU membership will likely fail. Many Scots voted yes because they did not agree that Britain should leave the EU.
In essence, the Scots have achieved subsidiarity, or the EU principle, that power should reside at the local level unless higher levels can do a demonstrably better job.
Another result will be that Britain's moral and military leadership will ebb. This is because the "English question" and "Welsh question" raised by Scotland's victory to win more power will divert the national wealth toward creating another level of government thus reducing Westminster's treasury.
The ordeal has been riveting and to those outside the country signifies a cautionary tale: Nation-states that are not politically inclusive and respectful toward all segments of society will face the wrath, or exit, of citizens or corporate taxpayers who are empowered to peacefully pick and choose.
This article was published in The National Post
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