By David Morris
Since 1945 the number of nations has soared from about 60 to more than 180. The first wave of new sovereign states came with the decolonization movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the second in the early 1990s with the break-up of the Soviet Union. If Scotland votes for independence it may ignite a third wave Dozens of would-be nations are waiting in the wings: Wales, Catalonia, Flanders, Brittany, the list is long.
In 1957 in his classic book The Breakdown of Nations economist and political scientist Leopold Kohr persuasively and rigorously argued that small nations are the natural order having been throughout history the engines for enlightenment, innovation, mutual aid and the arts. The large nation state, he argued is not a reflection of improved efficiency but of superior force.
“It is the great powers which lack the real basis of existence and are without autochthonous, self-sustaining sources of strength. It is they that are the artificial structures, holding together a medley of more or less unwilling little tribes. There is no Great British’ nation in Great Britain. What we find are the English, Scots, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and the islanders of Man. In Italy, we find the Lombards, Tyroleans, Venetians, Sicilians, or Romans. In Germany we find Bavarians, Saxons, Hessians, Rhinelanders, or Brandenburgers. And in France, we find Normans, Catalans, Alsatians, Basques, or Burgundians. These little nations came into existence by themselves, while the great powers had to be created by force and a series of bloodily unifying wars. Not a single component part joined them voluntarily. They all had to be forced into them, and could be retained by them only by means of their division into counties, Gaue, or departments….”
With a population of 5.2 million, a sovereign Scotland would rank just below the median size of the world’s nations. It could rest assured that nations of its size can thrive. Think Finland, Costa Rica, Ireland, Norway. Small nations are easier to administer, more nimble in policy and their governments are more accountable to and reflective of their communities. Indeed, it is the divergence between the values of the Scottish culture and those of the Conservative government in Whitehall that has been a major impetus for independence. That divergence is reflected in the fact that today only one Tory holds a seat from Scotland in the British Parliament.
Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservatives advocate welfare cuts, austerity and privatization. They enthusiastically embrace what the Scots would call the mean values of the Conservatives heroine Maggie Thatcher who summed up her thinking with the famous phrase, “There is no such thing as society.”
The Scots most definitely believe there is a thing called society. The Scottish National Party, which controls the Scottish government and supports independence, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons, raise the minimum wage in line with inflation and begin a sweeping extension of child care. It is also more favorable toward immigration and the European Union than the British government.
“There is more of a communitarian viewpoint in Scotland that sees the value of coming together to provide public services, to acknowledge the strength of community in Scotland,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister told the New York Times.
But if Scotland does become sovereign it will quickly discover that that sovereignty has been severely restricted by new global rules promoted by increasingly dominant global corporations. Nations may be getting smaller, but corporations are getting larger. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, more than half are global corporations. The Top 200 corporations’ combined sales represent over one quarter of the world’s GDP.