To understand the Scottish secession movement, just look at the problems in the European Union
A busker plays bagpipes for tourists near the Houses of Parliament in London / Reuters
Who knew the first secession story of 2012 was going to be Scotland, not Greece? Last year was filled with stories of the European Union on the rocks -- critics proposed everything from troubled states leaving the euro to Germany forming its own newer, better union. This year, though, has opened with split-up talk within an individual member-state: the United Kingdom.
Talk of Scottish independence has been around for centuries, but it's heated up dramatically in the past few months. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond recently declared his intention to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in the fall of 2014. British Prime Minister David Cameron says this is unlawful without UK parliament's approval, and he'd like to force a Scottish referendum to be held earlier, as he says the uncertainty over the outcome is hurting the economy. At rock bottom, however, both he and even British opposition leader Ed Miliband are opposed to Scotland leaving the UK.
At first blush this situation seems strikingly different from the current crisis of federalism in the EU. Scotland and England have been unified, if contentiously, not since the 1990s but since the 16th century, and the union didn't emerge from potential economic benefit, but rather from dynastic and religious strategizing; out of the oft-dramatised rivalry between the Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots came rule of both kingdoms by a single monarch, James VI -- Mary's son but, like Elizabeth, a Protestant. This paved the way for the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707, which formally united the kingdoms.
But the UK and EU unity crises may not actually be as different as they first appear. In fact, just as the EU federalist structure was coming together in the 1990s, the Scotland-UK relationship was trending slightly towards federalism as well. In 1997, a referendum passed that led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The devolution of power in some ways brought the UK and EU cases closer together in terms of governmental division, and the complicating nature of the new Scottish setup wasn't lost on critics, who feared this would lead Scotland irreversibly towards independence.
The question, of course, is "why now?" It's here that the movements towards disunity really start to look similar. Sure, there are plenty of arguments in favor of Scottish independence -- aside from the whole national identity thing, Scotland still produces a decent quality of coal, and there's a lot of optimism about the country's potential in green energy, particularly marine energy. Alex Salmond mentioned this in his pro-independence piece in the Economist back in November, also noting that "the UK is saddled with a large deficit, so size clearly offers no protection or immunity from the vagaries of the global economy. Instead," he wrote, "the countries which appear best equipped to deal with such conditions are those that are nimble and fleet-footed enough to adapt quickly to change."
There are also plenty of arguments both on the English as well as the Scottish side for a continued association: Scotland's a mess in other ways, it would have more international clout as a member of the UK, it's not actually clear how the energy resources would be divided up or that Scotland would be all that financially successful on its own, and nothing seems to be going horribly wrong with the union, so if it ain't broke, why fix it? Below, to get a sense of what secession looks like, demographically, Scotland's piece of the UK population. As you can see, it's not much:
It's hard not to see the present thrust towards independence, though, as part of a general nationalist mood in Europe right now. Salmond's point about smaller countries being better-equipped to deal with the present economy echoes the current European Union debate. As Scottish journalist and commentator Alex Massie argued persuasively in The Telegraph, Scots don't favor independence because they "are now more different from the English than they used to be." Rather, "it is precisely because of the greater uniformity that so many Scots feel the need to assert that we are distinct and different." He, too, ties this to broader trends. "After all," Massie writes, "isn't it because national distinctions are everywhere being elided or blurred that many elsewhere too feel a similar need to assert their own individuality? Opposition to the European Union has grown in England even as English life becomes more like life as it is lived in Continental Europe."
It's more than just emotional, though: nationalism surges as economies stagnate. And this comes back to Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman's theory, which I've mentioned before in connection with EU fractures. Intra-group cooperation appears to be linked, historically, to economic expansion, and it breaks down when growth slows. This has previously resulted in anti-immigrant rhetoric and ethnic-based hate speech, but it doesn't have to appear this way. You can see the change economically in the form of trade barriers, or politically in the form of identity-based movements like the Tea Party or a resurgence in popular support for Scottish independence.
Whether on the Continent or in the United Kingdom, "smaller is better" appears to be the new slogan. It wouldn't hurt, if you're interested in either of the Scottish independence or the European unity debates, to keep an eye on the other. The background may be different in each case, but histories have a way of converging. And with the present political and cultural integration, who's to say how mood may translate across state lines.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
The results of the referendum are, in theory, not legally binding.
Lest we think the Euroskepticism displayed this week by British voters is new, let me present a scene from the BBC’s Yes, Minister, a comedy about the U.K. civil service’s relationship with a minister. The series ran from 1980 to ’84 (and, yes, it was funny), at a time when the European Union was a mere glint in its founders’ eyes.
The Europe being referred to in the scene is the European Economic Community (EEC), an eventually 12-member bloc established in the mid-1950s, to bring about greater economic integration among its members.
In many ways, the seeds of the U.K.’s Thursday referendum on its membership in the European Union were sown soon after the country joined the now-defunct EEC in 1973. Then, as now, the ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour, along with the rest of the country, were deeply divided over the issue. In the run-up to the general election the following year, Labour promised in its manifesto to put the U.K.’s EEC membership to a public referendum. Labour eventually came to power and Parliament passed the Referendum Act in 1975, fulfilling that campaign promise. The vote was held on June 5, 1975, and the result was what the political establishment had hoped for: an overwhelming 67 percent of voters supported the country’s EEC membership.
The city is riding high after the NBA final. But with the GOP convention looming, residents are bracing for disappointment.
Cleveland’s in a weird mood.
My son and I attended the Indians game on Father’s Day, the afternoon before game seven of the NBA Finals—which, in retrospect, now seems like it should be blockbustered simply as The Afternoon Before—when the Cavaliers would take on the Golden State Warriors and bring the city its first major-league sports championship in 52 years.
I am 52 years old. I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio all my life. I know what Cleveland feels like. And it’s not this.
In the ballpark that day, 25,269 of us sat watching a pitcher’s duel, and the place was palpably subdued. The announcer and digitized big-screen signage made no acknowledgement of the city’s excitement over the Cavaliers. There were no chants of “Let’s Go Cavs,” no special seventh-inning-stretch cheer for the Indians’ basketball brothers, who play next door in the Quicken Loans Arena, which in a few weeks will host the Republican National Convention.
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
In support of women in leadership and media, I’ve taken a pledge not to appear on all-male panels. Mostly.
In 2012, Democratic activist Gina Glantz attended a political panel at Harvard, a post-mortem of the just-completed presidential campaign. The moderator and panelists were all men. “It just sent me over the edge,” she said.
To Glantz, 73, the lack of diversity was unforgivable. Where was Beth Myers, one of Mitt Romney’s closest advisers? Where was Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s friend and top aide? Where was Gwen Ifill, co-anchor and co-managing editor of PBS NewsHour?
For the love of God, she thought, where are the ladies?
That question led her to a cause that she calls “GenderAvenger,” an online community of men and women determined to diversify the public square. Glantz writes on the site:
The Republican candidate is deeply unpopular, and his Democratic rival is promoting her own version of American nationalism.
American commentators have spent the weekend pondering the similarities between Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and America’s impending vote on whether to take leave it of its senses by electing Donald Trump. The similarities have been well-rehearsed: The supporters of Brexit—like the supporters of Trump--are older, non-college educated, non-urban, distrustful of elites, xenophobic, and nostalgic. Moreover, many British commentators discounted polls showing that Brexit might win just as many American commentators, myself very much included, discounted polls showing that Trump might win the Republican nomination. Brexit may even result in the installation this fall of a new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is entertaining, self-promoting, vaguely racist, doughy, and orange. It’s all too familiar.
Patrick Griffin, his chief congressional affairs lobbyist, recalls the lead up to the bill’s passage in 1994—and the steep political price that followed.
For those who question whether anything will ever be done to curb the use of military grade weaponry for mass shootings in the United States, history provides some good news—and some bad. The good news is that there is, within the recent past, an example of a president—namely Bill Clinton—who successfully wielded the powers of the White House to institute a partial ban of assault weapons from the nation’s streets. The bad news, however, is that Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.
In 1994, Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, placing restrictions on the number of military features a gun could have and banning large capacity magazines for consumer use. Given the potent dynamics of Second Amendment politics, it was a signal accomplishment. Yet the story behind the ban has been largely forgotten since it expired in 2004 and, in part, because the provision was embedded in the larger crime bill.
More than a decade ago, Daniel Suelo closed his bank account and moved into a desert cave. Here's how he eats, sleeps, and evades the law.
More than a decade ago, Daniel Suelo closed his bank account and moved into a desert cave. Here's how he eats, sleeps, and evades the law.
society is designed so that you have to have money," Daniel Suelo says. "You have to
be a part of the capitalist system. It's illegal to live outside of it."
defied these laws. His primary residence is the canyons near Arches National Park,
where he has lived in a dozen caves tucked into sandstone nooks. In the fall of
2002, two years after quitting money, he homesteaded a majestic alcove high on a
cliff, two hundred feet across and fifty feet tall. Sitting inside and gazing
into the gorge below felt like heralding himself to the world from inside the
bell of a trumpet.