The results are in and Scotland voted no to independence. There is little point in asking ‘what if’, but one scenario we can all agree was never going to happen was it all ending with British tanks on the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
When was the last time a matter as serious as secession – with the issues of nuclear weapons and oil thrown in – resolved so peacefully? When was the last time a head of government responded to such a blatant challenge to his own nation by talking of broken hearts and assuring his opponents that he won’t be around much longer?
Of course, there has been unpleasant name-calling, bullying and jostling, widely reported in the media. But it was hardly Hungary in 1956.
And speaking of the East, let’s imagine, just for a moment, what Vladimir Putin would have done in Cameron’s shoes. Certainly not apologise to the rebellion for bothering them all with his tiresome governing.
Barack Obama in March delivered a speech about the Ukraine in which he drew a contrast between American/Western ideals and an “older, more traditional view of power” that threatened those ideals.
“In essence,” John Mearsheimer writes in this month’s Foreign Affairs, “the two sides have been operating with different rulebooks,” with Putin seeing the world from a realist perspective and Obama and his Western allies acting according to the dictates of liberal foreign policy.
The liberal-dominated, humanitarian-interventionist mindset rejects pure power politics as outdated and crude, yet time and again crashes into it. The ramifications of this are clearest in war. In Afghanistan post 9/11, Americans sought to win locals ‘hearts and minds’ – the counter-insurgency doctrine I prefer to call “building wells while cracking skulls” – because simply crushing the enemy is no longer palatable.
But it is not just the West and Russia, or the West and radical Islam, who are split along these lines. Our differing interpretations of power and its privileges are also splitting Western societies from within, as the strength of the independence movement in Scotland shows. If Scotland had gone the other way, then it would have been fair to consider the rest of Britain a failed state, with an out-of-touch government and a fragmented populace on the left and right. What reactionary forces come crawling out of the woodwork in that scenario would have been anyone’s guess. Even though he didn’t lose Scotland yesterday, David Cameron just may be best remembered as the only world leader to ever beg for mercy on the world stage.