Scotland Secession: Warning for U.S.?

Just a few months ago, political pundits treated tomorrow’s secession vote in Scotland as no more than a passing nuisance.

After 307 years together, Scotland and England are so intertwined that most firmly believed Scots would overwhelmingly vote to remain invested in the relationship. Several months ago, polls suggested they were right.

Now, less than 24 hours before voting begins, polls suggest it is just as likely that the Scottish people feel more than a bit aggrieved by perceived and real transgressions. Even if a “no” vote succeeds tomorrow, it comes only after the three major U.K. political parties promised in recent days to step up Scottish authority if voters reject the referendum.

Regardless of the vote’s outcome, there are real lessons to be learned for the United States and other nations, particularly those countries of the increasingly segregating sort. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, news stories are routinely recognizing the re-segregation of America’s schools. A move toward more integrated living that started in the 1960s began reversing in the 1990s. We are segregating in where we live by race, ethnicity, economic class and, increasingly, language and political party.

At some point, this re-segregation will lead to divide. I believe the point is approaching far faster than most conceive today. Nationalist efforts frequently cloak themselves under the veil of progressive ideology, the idea that target voters are being treated as a separate and unequal underclass able to obtain their fair share of economic and political power only through independence. Do you see any precursors of this movement in today’s political climate?

Peaceful voting and separation is the best secession outcome, but is no means assured as attested by 127 civil wars in which 17 million people died during a recent 50-year period  (see research by Stanford Professor David Laitin). A California group is in the early stages of making that state’s case for redefining its relationship with the United States. Groups of Texans make their case for independence frequently. They are far from alone.

When I raise secession issues in my writing or conversation, I’m often told that the vast majority of people don’t want it. They are right, of course. Today.

Much like the American Revolution and even the Scottish independence vote, in the years and even months leading up to secession, there doesn’t have to be majority support for the move until the date of its success approaches. The author of “Outlander,” a novel and now entertaining historical fiction Starz series on an 18th Century Scottish revolt, wrote recently in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper about this concept. “At the time of the American Revolution, no sane person would have given two cents for its success,” noted author/historian Diana Gabaldon. “No more than 15% of the population was actively in favour of it, it was badly organised and without funds, and it tottered on the verge of military defeat for the first two or three years.”

Equally important, Gabaldon writes, “Americans on the whole are deeply sympathetic toward people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have been oppressed by government, and we tend always to want to support people seeking democratic self-determination.”

Before secession comes to the United States, will we take seriously the need to identify important points of national unity and work toward them? Will we recognize that nation’s divided ultimately break apart? Will we allow our political parties to play games for short-term electoral advantage at the expense of risking violent conflict inside our borders?

I fear we will approach the brink of our self-destruction before we recognize we have long been on this path. I hope I’m wrong.

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