On December 31, fueled by the country’s native liquor and well into New Year's Day, the Scots will celebrate Hogmanay while the rest of us will stumble through “Auld Lang Syne,” remembering only the first two lines of the Scottish song that translates roughly as remembrance of past times and friendships.
But it might be the last time the Scots do so as part of the United Kingdom, which they joined in 1707. In September 2014 the adults among Scotland’s 5.2 million souls– roughly the population of Colorado or Wisconsin— will vote on whether to resume their independence after nearly three centuries.
What British persecution, exactly, fuels this current Scottish hunger for independence? Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s charismatic leader as well as the putative prime minister of the new country, is hugely optimistic, although his party’s 667-page blueprint for independence reads more like an MBA thesis than a stirring call to arms. By contrast, the American Declaration of Independence occupied a single page.
Childcare and pensions
While the nascent country will keep the Queen, its membership in the European Union, and the sterling currency linked to that of the United Kingdom, it doesn't seem to have much to offer that will fire up nationalist sentiment. The proposals include the expansion of childcare, getting a chunk of the (albeit rapidly dwindling) North Sea oil supplies, and raising the minimum wage. State pensions will increase, and the elderly will receive free personal and nursing care and free bus passes. The new government will have the power to ban advertisements for unhealthy foods and to tax unhealthy foods– the so-called fat tax. It will maintain free tuition for college students, and remove all nuclear weaponry from the Clyde by 2020. Oh, and random breath tests will be conducted on drivers.
In short, the new Scottish vision is a generally leftist sort of government, in sharp contrast to the free-wheeling society that gave the world such capitalist free thinkers as Adam Smith and Thomas Carlyle, not to mention innovations like Scotch whisky, the steam locomotive (George Stephenson); the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), penicillin (Alexander Fleming), television (John Logie Baird) and Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. In one recent study of various demographic groups with the highest proportion of overachievers, Scots ranked highest— barely ahead of Jews, Hungarians and redheads.
So— do the rugged, overachieving, porridge-and Johnnie Walker-fortified Scots of Braveheart and Rob Roy really want to trade their fiercely independent character for a nanny state?
Scotland is hardly alone in its desire to cut free from a larger entity. The Catalans want separation from Spain and the Flemings want more of a say in Belgium. Quebec, meanwhile, has stood well on the threshold of independence without quite crossing it while gaining concessions from Canada's federal government.
So as you sing “Auld Lang Syne” of the extraordinary history and culture of the small rocky land and its enormous contributions to humanity. But don't worry too much: Bookmakers in both Scotland and England are currently offering odds of 5 to 1 against a vote for separation. After nearly 300 years of attachment to the mother country, the Scots, more so than most peoples, are smart enough to understand that independence is more a state of mind than a political condition.