Until recently, Scotland's independence referendum received little attention in the United States. Americans had company in London, where political elites also paid little heed to the possible break-up of their country. Then, at the end of August, just weeks before the September 18 vote, polls detected a sudden rise in pro-independence ‘Yes’ sentiment. ‘No’ is still favored to win. But the result will be uncomfortably close.
The ‘Yes’ side has received a boost from a manipulative campaign by Scotland’s independence-minded local authorities. Back in 1998, Tony Blair’s government devolved considerable power to a newly created Scottish parliament. The separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) gained the first ministership in 2007 and won an outright majority in 2011. Tapping into this legislative power, the separatists have rigged the referendum rules in their favor.
Scots are a famously mobile people. “The noblest prospect which a Scotsman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England,” Samuel Johnson once gibed. Those Scots who have taken the road, however, forfeit their vote on whether that road shall remain open or be closed: Anyone who has resided outside of Scotland for more than a year is disqualified from the referendum. The franchise was extended downward to 16- and 17-year-olds: Teenagers, unsurprisingly, are more attracted to the high-risk, low-reward independence proposition than are grownups. The Scottish separatists deployed the resources of government to produce a hefty white paper on independence with blithe assurances that an independent Scotland will enjoy lower taxes, higher social benefits, and less public debt—and that all difficult problems, including currency questions, will be amicably negotiated to Scotland’s advantage after a ‘Yes’ vote.