Friday, September 19, 2014


I fell in love with Scotland when I was there. Well, OK, maybe more like a schoolboy crush than an outright love affair. But if I had a chance to go back and spend more time in any one of the five nations that we visited (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Republic of Ireland), Scotland would easily be my first choice. It was far more gorgeous and interesting than I had ever previously given it credit for being.

Because of that experience, I was watching yesterday's independence referendum with a lot more sense of emotional investment than I otherwise would have. My first day there, I saw signs all over saying just "No," or "No, thanks," and I didn't even know what the issue was. My understanding evolved rapidly as I read more about it.

I concluded that it would be a big mistake for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom--not just because of the pang of breaking up a historically successful union, but because I believe it would have entailed much more economic malaise than most independence supporters acknowledged, with little compensatory gain, other than some vague--and ultimately useless--sense of nationalistic pride. The "no" campaign had a corny slogan, but it was true: "Better together." I was, therefore, relieved to wake up today to the news that the referendum had been defeated.

But--and I realize I'm hardly the only one to see this point--the whole process was a triumph, regardless of which way the vote went. One of the world's great powers allowed one of its constituent states to freely decide whether to stay or leave. There was a thorough, vigorous national debate, followed by a fair election, with over 85% voter turnout. They even lowered the voting age to 16 for this special occasion to maximize the input from the citizens affected.

There was no threat of military, paramilitary, guerrilla, or terrorist action in case either side lost. There was no violent intimidation of voters. As far as we know so far, there was no manipulation of the ballots or the counting. Even the presentation of the question on the ballots themselves was a model of simplicity and clarity: "Should Scotland be an independent nation?", with one giant box to mark "yes," one giant box to mark "no." (Florida, take note!)

Now that it's over, the losers are not threatening to gain their preferred outcome by violence. In fact, they won what will likely be considerable concessions toward more powerful home rule, though those details have not yet been hammered out.

I liked the way that NPR's Scott Simon put it in a tweet a couple of days ago: "I don't get a vote on Scotland. But the impassioned but civil debate suggests they've created a great democracy together."

It is without even a sliver of exaggeration that I say that this was a shining example to the world for how such matters should be decided. It was a beautiful thing, befitting a beautiful nation.

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