Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland’s referendum: Yes equals faith in politics, No means faith in management

Scotland’s referendum, whatever its outcome, won’t tell us much about Scotland’s future. A little more independence won’t much matter. The forces beating down on northern Europe won’t abate. The outcome, however, will reward business as usual or test the proposition that we can still innovate politically without blowing things up.

Personally, I’m a republican federalist who believes my piece of North America could be more influential and interesting within a wider American federation, but I don’t feel trapped to cheer for the No side tomorrow.

Federalism is the mechanism that allowed for the emergence of America as a great power. Europe warned it couldn’t work but; then, along with American postwar relief, they progressively adopted federalism to restore general prosperity and peace. Federalism allows for powerful government, while leaving us less fearful of one another and the world outside.

Yet, the No voices in the Scottish referendum debate decided to dwell on a nostalgic, extreme vision of national independence. This is a litmus test they imposed on Scottish voters but not on themselves.

Two Canadians famous in London — historian Margaret MacMillan and central banker Mark Carney — have vividly made their case: Scotland cannot be “sovereign” and use the pound as Scotland’s currency. And England and the rest of the EU countries will be too annoyed and nervous to let Scotland into either NATO or the European Common Market.

In effect, the Scots will pay terribly for humiliating Labour and Tory politicians in Westminster. Scotland can’t become another successful interdependent 21st-century nation-state because that would set a dangerous precedent.

In rejecting the leap of faith of the Scottish independence movement, MacMillan and Carney ask us to make a different leap of faith, not about what we cannot know, but against what we do.

In fact, today, the Bank of England has only a modest degree of independence to support an independent UK economic policy. Neither Scotland alone nor the UK whole can defend themselves, cope with the next big recession, fight terrorists, or save the planet. In the event of a Yes vote tomorrow, the Bank and the British Government, before dawn on Friday, will be phoning all over London, Berlin, Brussels, and Washington assuring investors and allies that British commonsense and pragmatism with keep both the pound, London’s market, and everyone’s assets in Scotland afloat.

MacMillan’s mastery of the motives of the men and women that made European history seems to have been set aside or stopped with the launch of the European Union and the Eurozone. She understands why they came together, not how their federation will progress.

The No side's campaign has chosen to appeal to fear but little is said about what it fears. My hunch is, they are afraid to ever go back to first principles. They fear that if they had to make real changes, everything would unravel. 

Westminster surely can acknowledge, after two centuries of disdain, that numerous genuine federal arrangements, including forms of sovereignty-association, are working on both sides of the Atlantic.

Federalism and our mixed economies were never designed merely to manage the status quo. They beat authoritarian systems not because they run smoothly but because they’re built to cope with change constructively. That will atrophy if we keep rewarding politicians, public servants, and intellectuals who can’t say Yes.

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