Conservatism, not nationalism, explains Scots’ surge towards independence

Your future is being built in San Francisco.

While attending a wedding there over the weekend, of my various transportation options three competitors captured the destination we’re all heading towards – and how little politicians have to do with it.

Option 1: A regulated cab driven by an angry driver disgruntled by the Big Business takeover of his work space. The company he reports to insist he takes fare payment only through their processor of choice, thereby slicing a significant cut per transaction. Worse, the regulated cabbie must suffer the indignity of relinquishing control as ‘his’ customers are forced to sit one inch from a TV screen programmed to pollute the backseat with unwelcome adverts. For this intrusion he earns not a cent. No thanks.

Option 2: Uber. Drivers and customers are incentivized to treat each other well by the knowledge that a digital ratings system well weed out the worst of both.  It’s cheap (off-peak), track-able, and very convenient. Happy Days.

Option 3: Armed only with an entrepreneurial spirit, modern technology and an appreciation of how markets can empower communities and consumers, some local has created an app that enables neighbors to rent their cars to those in need for a few hours for a few bucks. Most cars sit around all day – a dreadful waste of economic assets suddenly liberated by a simple app. The future.

The cabbie companies are going nuts. Your future is driving off without them.

Following the Scottish National Party’s surge in the polls from San Francisco over the weekend was instructive for two reasons.

First, my future and yours will be shaped with increasing speed by ever more of the disruptive characters, technologies and innovations that define this great city. As your day-to-day life choices expand, many people will feel threatened, particularly yesterday’s men, Big Business and Big Labor.

Like the emerging economy that’s driving them, these fears exists globally and they help explain the paradox of the Scottish case for independence.

Alex Salmond’s case for independence is unlike most. His Scottish Nationalist Party are selling massive constitutional change not to build something new but in the furlong hope of preserving something old, the social democratic life Scots currently enjoy.

In a rapidly changing, opening, frightening, and exciting world, the case for the status quo – in terms of lifestyle, if not constitutional arrangements – is alluring.

Scottish voters understand that acting to secure independence carries risk. But they’re certain that inaction will have consequences too. The lifestyles made possible by Britain’s post-WW2 social contract, particularly the capacity and continuity of the welfare state, have always been threatened by radical English Tories – and never more than today.

Cameron’s Etonian cabinet shares even less of the instincts, experiences and values of contemporary Scotland than did Margaret Thatcher’s.

Analysts are wrongly attributing the struggles of the Scottish Unionists to their negativity and use of fear. This is a misreading.

Fear and negativity are working, it’s just that the Scottish Nationalists – “vote independence and banish the Tories for good!” – are deploying these tools much more subtly and effectively. (The Union feels abstract; the Welfare State is tangible and real.)

Second, Irish Nationalists are drawing all the wrong comforts from the success of their pro-independence Celtic cousins.

If Scotland’s national character is to the left of London’s, particularly when the Tories are in power, this presents Irish nationalists with an obstacle and a challenge, not a political playbook.

After all, the only serious case for Irish unity and independence is based on moving the north center-right, not leftwards.

Simply put, until Nationalists can create an environment where the north’s economy is based more on the disruptive innovations of local entrepreneurs than on British civil servants distributing hand-outs, Northern Ireland will remain an unattractive proposition to southern Irish taxpayers.

The priority for Irish Nationalists should be outgrowing dependence – economic and psychological- on the British welfare state.

Instead, both northern Irish Nationalists parties are fighting to preserve and expand it!

Where fear of change provides a powerful short-term framework for scaring Scottish voters into voting Yes in the hope of permanently removing the power of Tory cutters from their polity and lives, the case for change – not just constitutionally but economically – is the challenge Ireland’s nationalists must make.

Ironically, should Scottish independence actually come to pass, the positive knock-on effects for those in favor of a united and independent Ireland will come about in spite of their best efforts to resist.

The out-workings of an English and Tory dominated Westminster will be the effective dismantlement of the Welfare State so beloved of the British State Social Workers, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

As the Northern Irish are forced to think about their economic future without the culturally suffocating economic subvention of London, all-island competition, cooperation and collaboration will take on a life of its own.

Just don’t expect the political class to contribute much of value to the new dynamics. You can build your own future without them.

Strategic Communications Consultant, located Washington DC