United Kingdom, NOT

UK split

The Scottish people have spoken. Democracy worked. Voters from age 16 onward voted on the Yes/No referendum: we stay in the United Kingdom or we leave. The majority said that the United Kingdom would endure.  A union of over 300 years has remained intact.

But is that really so? Scottish separatists were not able to convince their fellow citizens that it would be better to live in an independent state. However, we, the observers, note with dismay that over 40% wanted to leave the United Kingdom.

What is the problem in Scotland? Is it unique to Scotland or is there a more general crises?

There are other separatists out there. The Basques want to leave Spain.  The Catalonians want to leave Spain. Northern Italians want to separate from Sicily. Provence wants to wrest authority from the rest of France. Quebec citizens don’t think they are Canadians.  Tibetans reject rule from Beijing. Eastern Ukrainian Russians are fighting the Ukrainian government in Kiev. Flemish people don’t feel Belgian. And this is just a partial list.

There is not yet a separatist movement in the United States. No one is trying to recreate an independent Texas.  But the United States is in a state of governmental paralysis perhaps not seen since the Civil War.  Are there any commonalities?

The likely culprit in each of these scenarios is a growing disconnect between citizens and their ruling elites. Time and again the story boils down to the lament:  those guys over there in the center of power just don’t get our problems!

The United Kingdom is reeling from Scottish anger. Scottish voters were frustrated with the government policy in London. Scotts wants more social legislation; the conservatives in London do not respond. The Spanish government in Madrid does not reflect the values and aspirations of some of its most ancient provinces.  French living on the Mediterranean shore do not see Paris as their capital. Canadians in Toronto don’t speak French so do they understand the needs of Quebec?

All of these sound like very local issues. However, the overriding communality is that elites in government are not listening. Both red and blue states in the US feel that the government at the center either doesn’t get it or can’t perform.  The social divisions between citizens and the top 1% is huge.  The 1% dominate political discourse and elections as well as the economy. They are creating a calamitous paralysis.

The United Kingdom of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland is going to have to redraw its relationship to its parts. Scotland did not leave, but the United Kingdom has been shaken.  The separatist movements across the globe are the first warning rumbles that the status quo is not sustainable.

About Dr. Ewa Bacon

Dr. Ewa Bacon is a professor emerita of history at Lewis University. Her areas of expertise include the Holocaust, Auschwitz, concentration camps, Russian history and Central European history (especially Germany and Poland).

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