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.

  • Jurassic Parke

    I found that quite insightful, so thank you.

    The Union feels abstract; the Welfare State is tangible and real.

    This is what I, as an economic liberal, small-state kind of guy have found depressing about the debate.
    As Scotland (superficially at least) seems to be dominated by two statist parties, Labour and the SNP, and the arguments have often boiled down to how the current welfare state can be best preserved- Barnett formula plus devo-max, or going independent and taxing anything that moves.
    If that is the choice, I would rather Scotland paid her own way.

  • mickfealty

    It’s telling that the story starts in California where innovation and creativity abound, which is great.

    However as a small counterpoint good government has never been one of its strong points. How can one of the richest states in the Union so often find itself broke or unable to run its own power distribution system?

    Thank goodness for the US Currency Union!! 🙂

  • chrisjones2

    Sadly all that innovation stuff will never catch on here. The degree of political corruption and clientism is such that monopolies and mates rule.

    Wanna bus ride? You can have a choice of 2 – both owned by the Government.

    Taxi? None of that Uber nonsense. In Belfast Black hacks are run mainly by one organisation. Otherwise its still an industry with two big companies in Belfast and a heavy does of para-militarism in the the rest where you can have a cab provided you know the right people and pay the rent. But it all must be licensed for protection reasons – one suspects to protect the jobs of the licensing staff

    Need your car MOTd – great. We have an excellent set of centers all run by the state. Very high quality testing regime. Of course you have to wait 4 to 6 weeks for an appointment and if we catch you in the meantime you will be prosecuted. But dont worry. Its all for your own good.

    Want to shop at John Lewis? Sorry ….might annoy some existing well connected businesses who charge much more so we cant have that.

    What about a house in North Belfast? Catholic? Sorry ….cant afford to build too many new ones.

    Rent a little cafe? With the right connections you can get a wee bung to help set us your businesses and key the clientele happy – very happy indeed. Without those connections, whoops sorry!

    Train ‘service’ – monopoly

    Want to drive into Belfast City Centre or work there and commute. Are you feckin’ mad? You’ll get in the way of our buses so we will change the road layouts to force you out. Still you can always use our monoploy services

    Creative? Got a great new product? Well hang on, if we support you A and B and C might lose their market and A is a great Chap who I went to school with , B is a {secret) party donor and C will never let me hear the end of it at the Church / Lodge Meeting. So sorry ….it will never work – for us

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “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.”

    All too true. What is more suspect is the flagging of San Francisco (San José and the Santa Clara Valley?) as an innovations capitol that can blaze a path we must all follow. The South Bay birth place of the “Silicon Valley” revolution is near to Stanford, which has a long history of cross fertilisation with the U.S. military/industrial complex. “The Bay Area had long been a major site of United States Navy research and technology.” (article “Silicon Valley”, Wikipedia). This permitted them to create a major science campus from the early years of the twentieth century. This led to the development of Stanford Industrial Park, where independent companies could cross fertalise their work. With venture capitol attracted to small local companies by the certainty of military research contracts, and hey presto! Adobe, Cisco, Apple…..

    Our masters watch this happen and, having “seen the future, and it works”, look to how to replicate it in order to build a free economy that can underwrite their borrowings (when Westminster finally lets them loose on us financially). But as chrisjones2 says below, there are very many local reasons why this replication will never happen. For me, having spent some time (Film Business, dear boy!) in California and having met some of the wizzkids from the Santa Clara, we just do not have people who think like that here! For many of the reasons chrisjones2 mentions. And we do not have the military industrial complex that runs like a thread through everything there even today, and remains the key element in funding innovation. Nor do we have Stanford spending a long gestation of over 70 years to create the environment for such innovation.

    “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.”

    Our own five century long traditions of local development in Northern Ireland have been running along the lines of simple resource exploitation and stagnation, with the eighteenth century Linen industry as the only exception. Even Harland and Wolff ran itself into the ground on Pirrie’s loss leader contracts. So faced with the removal of the Westminster dole, ” all-island competition, cooperation and collaboration” will create an economic miracle amongst a population/workforce debauched by handouts at every level of society (you don’t think most of those nice white collar jobs are really necessary, surely?). Dream on….the traditional response has customarily been despair and stagnation. It’s not a matter of simply pulling away the crutch, in the manner of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, and expecting the patient to walk on a leg jigsawed by fractures.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey, cj2, my reply (and agreement) seems to be a stand alone posting above.