Thursday, September 18, 2014

A quick rumination on Scotland and rationality

The Scotts are voting today to separate or not from the English (and, I suppose, from the Welsh, tho I doubt that's the issue). I have no expertize in the matter, and no position, either. It's not my business. Yet as I've followed the story from afar, it has been rather clear that the vote isn't about rational arguments. If folks all based their decisions exclusively on calm rational considerations based on cold figures and data, I don't see how today's vote could ever even have been mooted, much less enacted. If the Scots decide to go their own way they'll have to surmount countless obstacles, from the identity of their currency to their unclear membership in the EU along with 30,000 matters. If never the less they decide to do so it will be for for what are ultimately emotional reasons.

This is important. Much of the political discussion about how the world works assumes that people are ultimately rational or at least easy to understand: give them a good life and they'll behave nicely. The entire world of contemporary diplomacy is predicated on this: talking is better than killing, and there's almost always something to be talked about. Hence one engages with Iran, for example, and seeks leverage of soft power, and insists that implacable enemies must talk to each other until they've addressed the only real - i.e. rational - issues, and then agree on them and have peace. (Until the mid-20th century diplomacy wasn't like this, as the term gun-boat diplomacy tells. But that was then).

The interesting thing about the Scottish story, then, is that even in one of the oldest of democracies, in one of the wealthier countries in the world, a place with centuries of tradition of enlightened civilization, rationality will take you only so far. There comes a moment when other motivations for human action proves stronger. If that's so in the United Kingdom, it's even truer elsewhere.


Barbara Mazor said...

So true. So true.

It is a conceit that we human beings are more rational than emotional. It is almost a religious belief.

SerJew said...

This whole England x Scotland issue has whiff of opera-buffa to me. They are probably bored as hell in Great Britain and have found some distraction for a while.

Anonymous said...

As a Scot once said: "Reason is and ought only to be the Slave of the Passions.”

Bonde said...

I read otherwise:

"Scotland’s pro-independence movement differs from similar movements in places like Catalonia, Kurdistan, and eastern Ukraine in that it does not revolve around hard identifiers like language, religion, and ethnicity (or Russian military backing). What divides Scotland and England is a vocal lilt and a legacy of 14th-century clan warfare—seemingly surmountable obstacles to keeping a country together. As a result, Scottish nationalists have taken to claiming that London is to blame for all of Scotland’s economic ills. They contend that, with independence, Scotland can strike a different kind of compromise with its citizens. They argue that a vote for independence is a vote against inequality.

Throughout the two long years of campaigning for the referendum, there has been remarkably little anti-Englishness or blood-and-soil nationalism on display. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, champion of the Yes Scotland campaign, has come a long way since the 1990s, when he would quote the Scottish warrior William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson in the 1995 Scotland vs. England epic Braveheart) in campaign addresses. If today’s nationalists pit themselves against an ‘Other,’ it is not the average Englishman, but rather the London financier, as a stand-in for capitalism run amok.
If the nationalists pit themselves against an ‘Other,’ it is the London financier: a stand-in for capitalism run amok.

In fact, leaders on both sides of the campaign have argued that, economically, Scots get the short end of a short stick. Economic growth in Scotland lags behind the U.K. average, as does GDP per capita and the unemployment rate. Scots tend to be older and sicker than English people—and babies born in Glasgow have the lowest life expectancy in the United Kingdom. More than 800,000 (out of 5.3 million) Scottish residents live in poverty, and income inequality is widening."