The World is Watching

It seems like everyone has an opinion on the September 18 independence referendum to be held in Scotland, except me.

I probably should have paid more attention to the upcoming vote, but really, why should I care? My family left Scotland in 1843; I may have some distant cousins still living there now, but I have never visited the place, nor have I ever tried to track them down. Since I have no direct emotional investment in the issue, it really is none of my concern whether Scotland becomes an independent nation or remains part of the United Kingdom. I have no idea which would be better for the Scottish people – and I would argue neither do those loudly pumping for the yes and no sides.

I mentioned earlier that it is strange how we look to celebrities as experts in fields in which they obviously have no expertise, and it is no surprise that both sides of the debate have received celebrity endorsement. Sean Connery has long been an outspoken proponent of an independent Scotland. J.K. Rowling on the other hand put her money where he mouth is with a million pound donation to the “no” campaign. James Bond versus Harry Potter, actor against author. Neither, I note, is an economist, and this strikes me as a major economic issue.

Not that I would particularly trust what any economist has to say on the matter either. They have theories, but this really is a real-life situation. No-one knows for sure what the results of a yes or a no vote will mean economically for either Scotland or the United Kingdom. Economics just isn’t that precise a science, if indeed it can be considered a science.

I have witnessed two separation referendums in Canada, in 1970 and 1995. On both those occasions the proponents of the “yes” side, who were advocating for the province of Quebec to become an independent state, painted a rosy picture of what that would look like and how independence would be achieved. As a sometime student of Canadian history and politics, as well as of human nature, I suspected that a yes vote would not have led to an easy no-fault divorce with an amicable dividing of the family assets. I didn’t see Quebec as being economically viable as an independent nation. Since I haven’t looked at the Scottish situation I have no opinion on what the economic effects of independence would be, but I suspect one side is making extremely rosy predictions while their opponents are warning of impending catastrophe if their side loses. For all I know both are right.

There is a definite human factor at play that takes the debate beyond simple economics. It is not a matter of listing the pros and cons and going with whichever column has the most check marks. The “experts” really don’t know how a yes (or a no) vote will affect Scotland’s future. There are just too many variables and too many human factors involved; the results will not be completely understood the next morning, and perhaps not for decades. When Scots cast their ballots on Thursday I would imagine a lot of people will struggle with the choice: do they go with their emotions, with their Scottish pride, taking a chance that independence will be as financially rewarding as its proponents claim, or do they stick with the status quo, because life is already pretty good.

So the contest between the actor and the author may boil down to a matter of being between the head and the heart. The results will be interesting, no matter which side wins.

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