what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Breakdown of Nations

I appreciate that my (global) readers are not necessarily interested in Scotland …or Romania…or Bulgaria…or Germany – which have all been subjects of (separate) series of posts in the past year. That’s why I’m rationing such posts – choosing a mixture of representative and original contributions. 

My next contributor, Murray Pittock, was smart enough to use – way back in 2008 – the title “The Road to Independence? Scotland in the Balance” of one of the books I have been dipping into in the past month to help my understanding of the issues involved.
I have a revised and expanded version – produced last year. And a bonnie book it is!
Pittock was Professor of Scottish and Romantic Literature and Deputy Head of Arts at the University of Manchester, becoming the first ever professor of Scottish Literature at an English university – and is now Professor of Literature at my alma mater – Glasgow Univerity. 
He has also been a visiting fellow at universities worldwide including:  Charles University, Prague (2010); Trinity College, Dublin (2008); the University of Wales in Celtic studies (2002) and Yale (1998, 2000–01)
He grew up in Aberdeen and attended the University of Glasgow. His parents were both lecturers in English Literature at the University of Aberdeen).
He is total Celt – immersed in cultural studies – just as I have been immersed in governance issues for an even longer period of time

The article from which this is excerpted was written more than a year ago and explains why the author will be voting yes 
Those who talk about dissolving a 300-year-old partnership ignore the fact that the partnership itself has changed. In days gone by, British imperial markets offered huge opportunities to Scots. Scottish associations were formed worldwide to promote networks to get Scots into jobs,
 The Economist put it last week, “there are compelling reasons for paying attention … to small countries on the edge of Europe … they have reached the future first”. What does that future consist of ? Alternative energy, for one. The run-down in fossil fuels, even taking into account fracking and other controversial practices, can be seen to have begun with oil at well over $100 a barrel with the world economy still in rehab.
Scotland has been blessed with both huge fossil fuel opportunities and huge renewable opportunities in the last 50 years. Are we going to say No to them both? Some will say this is “selfish” or “parochial”. Well, suppose it were: what did Britain spend the oil revenues on, and was the UK as sensible as Norway, whose oil fund – which holds 1 per cent of the global stockmarket on behalf of a country of 4.5 million people – is the economic wonder and envy of the western world?
How can we say the UK spent North Sea revenues wisely in this age of austerity? Did they do better than other countries – than Scotland would have done? But, in fact, Scotland isn’t selfish or parochial, it’s just small. Small countries are adept at networking, and it’s a networking age. They are adept at finding new solutions in education (Finland, for example) or fish farming (Norway) and many other things.
The top five countries in the world for global competitiveness in 2012 are all small, as are four of the top five for innovation and four of the top five for prosperity.They are interested in themselves, but also the whole world: and that isn’t parochial, it’s just normal. Scotland isn’t a parish, it’s a country. And of course it’s interested in itself, but it is interested in the world too, just like any normal country.As it promotes itself, Scotland is finding rising markets for its exports across the world, and will find new markets for its culture too. A Yes vote is a necessary key step forward in that process.
 Independence is not separation: it is about talking to ourselves and the world without going through an intermediary. It itself will be a process: as Jim McColl put it last week “a united kingdom but with an independent parliament”.
Ireland stayed in a monetary union with sterling for 57 years. Every case is different, but the point is that what we will share with our neighbours on these islands will still be a partnership, just a new one. And we need a new one. 
Life is change, and change is gained by how we think, vote and act differently. No change is without risk, but “no change” is full of risk. It is indeed voting for nothing, and we will not be offered something for that nothing.I am voting Yes because I have spent years championing the literature and culture of Scotland at home and abroad. 
There are people throughout the world watching us and waiting for us to join them. It won’t be a free ride: but if we decide we are confident enough to have something to give in trade or niche industries or culture or creativity, we will get something back. 
Does Scotland have the self-confidence to realise what has changed, to realise the opportunities that there are, and to look to the future? There is much more to our quantifiable economic strengths, exports, education, energy and innovation than the power of positive thinking, but without it we will not develop as fast as we need to, or have the voice we ought to, in this rapidly changing world. And that is why I am voting Yes.

I said in a recent post that I would like to see more discussion of the “separation boost” – the possible impact (economic, social, political– if not psychological which separation from Britain would have. I have always had a soft spot for the “Small is Beautiful” argument – best represented in the Breakdown of Nations book produced in 1947 by the Austrian Leopold Kohr. I’m surprised (and disappointed) that no one seems to be mentioning him in the debate.

And one of the few systematic studies of the contribution of “small countries” is this one from the David Hume Institute 

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