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Scottish Independence Would Be Good For Liberty

Scotland is not happy with the Brexit result. While the citizens of the United Kingdom backed exiting the European Union by a narrow 52-48 majority, 62 percent of Scottish voters opted to remain.

That is a massive discrepancy, reflecting a populace that has a far more favorable opinion of the EU than the broader British public. It is therefore unsurprising that talk of another Scottish independence referendum has come roaring back into the public discourse.

Independence Day Redux

A 2014 referendum saw Scottish voters reject independence by a 55-45 margin, but that was before the UK opted to leave the EU, and before anyone took the thought of Brexit seriously. Now, with Theresa May at the head of a Conservative government blowing full steam toward the exit, Scotland should consider a do-over.

Scotland benefits from its EU membership, just as it does from being a constituent part of the UK. When the UK was part of the EU, there was clear evidence that Scotland would be less well-off economically if it left the UK. That math has since shifted, as the UK faces a roiling economic storm ahead and the threat of losing its dominance in its key industries, such as financial services. Already major banking institutions are planning to pull up stakes. Scotland might as well do the same.

Left Wing Nationalists

At the forefront of the original independence referendum, and still in power in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has not given up its dreams of an independent Scotland. Despite their defeat in the referendum, the party swelled in size in its wake. Since 2014, party membership has expanded massively, quadrupling in the two months after the referendum alone. In the 2015 general election, it made a virtual clean sweep. In the 2010 election, the SNP had won just six of Scotland’s 59 seats in the national parliament. In the 2015 election, it won 56.

There has been a mass ascendance of this pro-independence party, which sounds great to those in favor of more localized government and authority. But there is a problem: The SNP is a very left wing party. The SNP is redistributionist and favors heavy regulation of many industries; hardly something a libertarian can easily get behind, pro-independence or not.

A Return to Normal Politics

Some might argue that this simply reflects Scottish voters, who lean farther left than the rest of the UK. Yet survey after survey shows Scottish voters, by and large, share most of the same ideological balance as the rest of the country. But if there’s nothing especially leftish about the Scottish voter, why does the SNP clean up?

The answer lies in the one key issue that the SNP owns: Independence. The mainstream national parties in Scotland (even the social democratic Labour Party) have all campaigned against the breakup of the union. This means that the only political party that actively backs independence also happens to be quite left wing in its politics. So, voters who want independence, but don’t care much for the SNP’s particular policies, will back the party despite their ideological mismatch. That results in an inflated vote tally for the SNP and thus, in a multi-party system with a winner-take-all first-past-the-post voting system, inflated power.

If Scotland were independent, the SNP’s core differentiator would no longer have any meaning. Instead, it would have to fight on policy alone. If that were the case, the actual political ideology of Scotland might be better reflected in its elections and its governments. For that reason alone, lovers of liberty ought to be hopeful for another, successful independence referendum in the near future.

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John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His company, Almington Capital, invests in both early-stage venture capital and in public equities. His writing has been featured in a number of academic journals, as well as the blogs of the Heartland Institute, Grassroot Institute, and Tenth Amendment Center. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford, John’s first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013.

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