By any objective standard this summer has been just fucking awful. There has been war and disease, barbarism, and more than our usual apportionment of inexplicable and inexcusable slaughter. Mere hours remain now until the equinox, but even the longer nights, the ushering in of a more gentle season, this hopeful, symbolic cyclic passage—it brings no promise. The lingering awfulness shows every sign of hounding us unto autumn, and beyond.
But when hope dies, we die. And I’ve found hope through the example set by a comparatively tiny outpost, a bastion of culture and gravitas, the northernmost reaches of a liberal empire—a place the Romans could never conquer and that the English only barely did.
Thank you, Scotland. You just gave the world something it sorely needed.
The vote that just happened is, first and foremost, Scottish business. London and Westminster are almost as much bystanders as the rest of us. The vote was a necessary and earnest conversation, Scot to Scot.
And although the independence referendum was momentous—hugely historical—from an outsider’s perspective it never really mattered what the result would be. What mattered was the process.
What we’ve just witnessed is either a geopolitical anomaly, or an example of what self-determination can and should be. Declarations of nationhood, or even halfhearted feints at that, are usually bloodbaths. State history and nationalism are chronically synonymous with revolution and civil war…and proud of it. These twisted truths are enshrined in our national anthems and painted into the murals we hang over parliamental assemblies. We thrive on bloody birth-pangs.
But Scotland has shown us it doesn’t have to be that way. In the most thoughtful and deliberative way, they’ve demonstrated something new, something different, something far far better. They’ve shown that a nation can decide, en masse, where their destiny lies, and that they can pursue that course peacefully and with nothing more passionate than speech and conviction.
They’ve elected to remain British, which is something they’ve always been, and to remain part of a United Kingdom, which is comparatively new. We can respect and honor that decision, every bit as much as we’d do if the vote had gone the other way. If Scotland had become our world’s newest country, then I’d expect and hope that most of the planet would greet them as allies and cousins, partners and friends. This is nothing less than the Scottish deserve—have earned—in their declining of independence. The decision itself, again, is no one’s business but theirs.
The fact that a breathtakingly huge percentage of the Scotch electorate deliberated and decided, peacefully, is why, henceforth, we should all look to the north of the River Tweed and the Solway Firth as the example of progressive civilization. The fact that the marshals of Scottish independence have gracefully accepted defeat and are ceding power shows that politics needn’t be messy, and shouldn’t be deadly.
Scotland has set a high bar for humanity. We’ll probably rarely measure up, going forward. The next independence movement, wherever it rises, will likely be serenaded into existence with the song of artillery, and screams. The next politician who fails to exhort an uprising will doubtlessly try again, in a much more unspeakable way.
Be that as it may. It doesn’t mean we can’t strive after the Scottish example. Scotland showed it can be done; it’s up to the rest of us to prove it can be done again.
In the meanwhile, I’ll thank Scotland, and I’ll salute her the best way I know how.