Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence

I am, on the whole, in favor of it for reasons that have nothing much to do with Scotland. Both the right of secession and smaller countries strike me as good things. The one big exception is that countries often put up trade barriers against each other, and big markets are better than small.

That exception vanishes for small countries that are part of the European Union, since it provides them access to a large free trade area. So the critical question for a region of a member state considering secession is whether the E.U. will let it in. Given that the U.K. has made it reasonably clear that if it loses the vote it will accept the outcome, I think it is almost certain that an independent Scotland will be permitted to become a member of the union.

A precedent that will matter to the inhabitants of Catalonia, Brittany, northern Italy, any region where there is significant pressure for independence.


Anonymous said...

And thus a motive for France, Italy, and Spain to oppose letting Scotland in.

Andy said...

Indeed WHSWHS. Spain, for one, has already voiced opposition.

Unknown said...

I respectfully disagree. First of all, the EU may not last forever, and secondly, there's a huge economy of scale in state apparatus, increasing the number of tax-fed parasites with each secession: diplomats, military, etc.

Only a very few tiny monarchies provide good counterexamples, while examples to the main drive for independence being the power-hunger of local politicians galore.

Tibor said...

I think the result as it is might actually be a good compromise not only for Scotland but for the UK as a whole. The threat of a separation brought promises of more regionalism, possibly even a federal structure of the UK. If Scots, Welsh and English are able to each set different taxes and other issues, it will cause a similar competition as if they were independent states - all that while keeping the army, the zero trade barriers (between the states of the federation) and so on. It seems to work for Switzerland (although the cantons are still a lot smaller which makes them work better).

The promises don't have to be heard, but with 45% of those who voted (and that was 85% of the eligible Scots), I doubt the government can afford not to fulfil those promises unless they want to make sure Scotland actually does separate in a few years.

Robbo said...

I think independence would have been good from an English point of view (why did only Scotland get a vote). The current outcome of promised bribes to Scotland to remain dependant is not stable, considering the historic overrepresentation of Scots in the UK Parliament and in the previous Labour government (in Tony Blairs first adminisation the following rolse were held by Scots: Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, chancellor of Exchequer (= Finance Minister), Lord Chancellor (= Justiice Minister).

My expectation is the bribes will be watered down inParliament and in 5to 10 years there will ba another vote, thistime saying 'Yes'. In my view the intervention of UK government and opposition into this issue was most unwise, it served to defer the issue rather than deal with it.

Daublin said...


The U.S.A. is a counter-example. The American federal government is the largest any government has ever been, including itself during WW2.

jimbino said...

The Swiss do very well without membership in the EU. In fact, if there were another European holocaust, they could gain again from all the gold fillings, bank funds and artworks of the slaughtered, without having to grant them refuge.

David Friedman said...

Robbo: At a considerable tangent,comments about the over representation of the Scots in the U.K. government seem to have been common in the 18th century as well. It seems to have been partly due to the role of the Earl of Bute as a royal favorite.

JJ said...

From a purely legal point of view, there is quite a difference between the Scotland case and the Catalonian, for instance. Whereas Scotland signed a treaty some 300 years ago to unite with England, and now they are questioning whether they want to keep the agreement, Catalonia never signed such a thing and, thus, the right of secession is quite questionable, if not, in fact, inexistent.
There is, however, a sort of anarchist idea in the yearn of independence. Provinces want out, then towns within the province will want out, then neighborhoods within the town will want out...and so on.

Anonymous said...

JJ, if what you say is true, and Catalonia never signed a treaty with Spain, in my view that means Catalonia has a much greater right to secede than Scotland does which chose to unite with England.

JJ said...

Quite the contrary, Anonymous.

The Spanish nation cannot be understood without Catalonia (and without any of the provinces). Catalonia was never a nation that was forced to unite with Spain. There has never been a Catalonian nation to start with. Nobody can create a nation out of nowhere and claim that it was there all along. Nations don't just come to being. They exist by the inexorable pace of history and they transcends us, which is why we cannot get to choose them.

A different story is that of two well established nations that decide, at any given moment in time, unite for a greater good and, thus, at any other moment in time they might decide that the union is not convenient and they go their separate ways: Czech Republic and Slovakia is a recent example that comes to mind.

That is why the Scottish right to secede has some legal weight -another story is whether is convenient or not - and the Catalonian right to secede does not.

And, going back to the Scottish topic, isn't it a tiny bit strange that the Nationalistic Party in Scotland had a very slim support throughout the years (I think it was founded in the 1930's) and, right around when they happened to find oil in the coast of Scotland, the whole nationalistic spirit gets "magically" aroused?.

It seems a little bit like a bunch of buddies that are playing the lotto every week and agree that they will share the benefits of the petty money that they make every now and then. They all agree that each week one should pay but, alas, the week that Jim has to pay...they win the big prize!!!. And Jim says that: "well, since technically, I paid for it, it is only fair that I get to keep all the winnings".

David Friedman said...

"There has never been a Catalonian nation to start with."

Catalonian is a language distinct from Spanish. I gather that Catalonia was for some time a semi-independent principality under the hegemony of the Count of Barcelona, himself under the crown of Aragon, a situation that only ended in the early 18th century.

Tibor said...

JJ: There has never been a country called Slovakia before 1938 either (when they separated from the remains of Czechoslovakia and formed a state allied to the Nazis). Slovakia was a part of the Bohemian or (most of the time) Hungarian Kingdom (and the Hungarian part of Austrian-Hungarian Empire) and later a part of Czechoslovakia.

Also, USA was a country and a nation that "just came into being". In fact, often a flag, an anthem and a few ad hoc arguments are enough to start a nation. It helps to have a distinct language, but it is not necessary.

JJ said...

Catalonia was always part of the Aragon crown, that united, through marriage with the Castillian crown around the 15th century.
As for the development of language, there were many languages in Spain at the time and many slowly disappeared and some remained...a language does not make a nation or a state.
As for the USA, I am no historian (I am not even american) but I would argue that the situation is completely different. It started as a collection of colonies of Britain with different interest and completely independent from one another. Then they claimed equality, which was denied; thus, the Independence war. Even then, Washington had quite a lot of trouble to gather a competent army because nobody felt the cohesion of the national cause. This was brought up by Thomas Payne, curiously enough a briton. So, a federation was formed. A free union of States. The patriotism in the USA does not come from the Union as much as it comes from presidentialism. Is the American nation born in 1776?. I think not.

Finally, Slovakia entered into an association with the Czech republic after WWI but was previously a nation for many centuries before being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Obviously, nations were not fixed at the beginning of time and can never be changed. But, they never come to happen as a result of people deciding that they want to be a nation and voting about it. They form and disappear because of the vissicitudes of time and history. They are not acts of the will as much as evidences of history.

I do, however, have a sort of anarcho-capitalist question for Prof. Friedman (my apologies if this is not the right forum). It is quite clear from The Machinery of Freedom the AC position on the State rights and existence. What about the nations?.

David Friedman said...

JJ: I'm not sure I understand your "what about the nation" question.

If you think of a nation not as an organization but a set of people who have enough in common to think of themselves as related, that could obviously occur under AC. But in the modern world with its systems for communication and transport, it might well be a non-geographical nation.

To some extent, such have existed already, with Jewry an obvious past example.

Tibor said...

JJ: Yeah, I don't object that there had been a Slovakian nation even prior to Czechoslovakia. But not a Slovakian country/state. I think I have confused your point and argued about countries instead of nations. I agree that a nation cannot be conjured up form thin air...but nations do come into existence and disappear. Nobody would call himself Roman (and mean it as a nationality, not as simply being from the city) today.

I don't know if Catalonians qualify as a separate nation. I think there are some distinct cultural features that make them a bit different from the rest of Spain. But probably they are at best something like Bavarians in Germany, a distinct group among Germans, but not usually recognized as a separate nation. Even so, that does not prohibit a separate state. Austrians are also German (and even bit more distant culturally than Bavarians, most similar to them of all of Germany, least to the northern parts) but have a different country.

As you noted with your US example, nations are often cemented only after the country is created. Austrians probably mostly regard them as Austrians first, not Germans. But that I believe is the effect of having a separate state, flag and so on. The Swiss nation also did not precede the Swiss state. It was (still is in fact) a rather inhomogeneous group of people.

Then there are countries that are set up the other way around, like Slovakia - which has never had its own state, but there have probably been relatively strong nationalist tendencies for some time.

These nations are rather hazy categories in any I think that a good rule of thumb is that if people in a region feel overwhelmingly that they want to separate, they should be allowed to.

Anonymous said...

Paul Krugman has been claiming that the Eurozone (not the EU) was a problem because (IIUC) its member nations shared a currency without sharing those aspects of government that affect the value of currency. Hence the current situation in which Germany wants to fight inflation while Spain and Greece are more concerned with fighting unemployment: if they had separate currencies, they could simply let the Deutschmark appreciate against the Peseta and the Drachma, and both sides would be happy.

He argued against Scottish independence on grounds that it would be even worse than the Euro situation: Scots would still be tied to the GBP, but would have no say whatsoever in British fiscal or monetary policy.

Jonathan said...

I also support the right to secede. It really makes no difference whether the region has ever been independent before. If it wants independence now, imposing an unwanted government on it is as wrong as any other example of imperialism.

"Provinces want out, then towns within the province will want out, then neighborhoods within the town will want out...and so on."

This is a common objection, and indeed some very small regions may want independence. The answer is to let them try it. If it works, what's the objection? If it doesn't work, they will want back in again; and others will watch and learn from the experiment.

As a matter of historical interest, I believe that Catalonia was independent from 987 to 1137 under the Count of Barcelona, until the then Count decided on a merger with Aragon.

The people of Catalonia are Catalans and their language is Catalan. I'm not Catalan, but I live in Catalonia (which is called Catalunya in Catalan).