The rest of Britain has just woken up to the idea that Scotland might decide next week to dissolve the United Kingdom. A referendum on Sept. 18 will ask the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” For the first time, a new poll shows the “Yes” campaign slightly ahead.
Perhaps, in what little time remains before the vote, there can be a serious discussion of this choice, which is momentous for Britain. The debate up to now has been noisy, all right, but unserious. And the fault lies mainly with the pro-union side.
Its campaign has been defensive, narrow-minded and complacent. It left inspiration and excitement almost entirely to the “Yes” campaigners, meeting their call for independence with technical objections rather than with any comparably thrilling prospect.
Even so, until recently, the lackluster “No” campaign seemed adequate. Polls showed it comfortably ahead. The late surge in support for independence took most of Britain, and especially its politicians in Westminster, by surprise.
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Visibly alarmed, Cameron and his government are scrambling to sweeten their offer of more devolved powers, should Scots vote to preserve the union.
Scots could be forgiven for thinking, You took us for granted once too often. And if the vote goes for independence, you can bet that will be history’s verdict.
Yet Scotland would be well advised to ignore the shortcomings of the “No” campaign and think hard about where its interests truly lie. The issues that have dominated the debate so far are important but not necessarily decisive.
A main bone of contention has been whether an independent Scotland would keep the pound. Currency arrangements come and go; Scottish independence is for good.
The United Kingdom has been one of the most successful and harmonious political unions in the history of the world – and Scots, far from being an inconsequential part of that success, have been disproportionately influential. If ever there’s been a nation greater than the sum of its parts, it’s Britain. That is a lot to discard.
Scotland could succeed on its own. But to dissolve the union out of momentary frustration, or because of grievances that could be remedied, or worst of all because a lively “Yes” campaign trounced an incompetent “No” campaign, would be a sad thing.