"The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry." -- Scottish poet Robert Burns, "To a Mouse" (1786)
CAIRNRYAN, Scotland -- For Americans whose knowledge of this beautiful land is limited to kilts, whiskey, bagpipes and the film "Braveheart," the forthcoming referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent nation will come as a curiosity at best.
The primary objection of those favoring separation is the lack of self-determination granted to Scots by the British government. Though Westminster in recent months has devolved more powers to Edinburgh, those favoring separation say it is not enough.In the final debate Monday night before the September 18
vote (a turnout of 80 percent is predicted), the chairman of the "Better Together" campaign, Alistair Darling, engaged in the rhetorical equivalent of a heavyweight prizefight with Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland.
Salmond was declared the winner of the debate, decisively defeating Darling on performance, despite numerous interruptions by both men. Darling mostly had the better of it on substance when he noted the uncertainty that would follow separation, especially over the currency that will be used, the debt Scotland could still owe Britain, lost revenue from North Sea oil and gas and "thousands" of jobs that might be lost if U.S. Trident submarines were forced to leave Scottish waters, since presently, the U.S. is allied firmly with Great Britain, who, after separation, would no longer hold sway over Scottish ports.
The referendum generally pits a younger liberal population in favor of separation against older, more conservative Scots. Listening to questions from the Glasgow audience in the nationally televised debate, I was struck by how much the ideological battles here resemble U.S. politics, especially when it comes to defense. The naive argument by one young man, who appeared no older than 30, that ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons will somehow make the country safer might make some liberals feel better in the short term, but it denies the reality of peace through strength and the superior argument that having nuclear weapons serves as a deterrent.
Salmond mentioned the aging and increasingly dysfunctional National Health Service and the thousands of Scots who have come to rely on it. He wondered whether they will become victims of budget cuts, privatization and austerity measures should Scotland remain part of the UK. He's right, of course. NHS is running in the red and cannot sustain itself, but parting ways with Britain won't fix that for Scotland, reports the Daily Mirror, and Salmond has no viable alternative to the NHS. Darling might have pointed this out to him, but he chose not to.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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