Scottish Independence – For Whom?

Alexander Richardson,

Might I be in favour of Scottish Independence by reason or virtue of being a Libertarian? As a Jeffersonian Libertarian, it follows that I favour less government – indeed, to the extent that any policy works towards the reduction of government is the extent to which I favour it and vice-versa. My standpoint on whether Independence is a good or bad idea for old ‘Alba’ is therefore determined by that question alone: will Scottish Independence reduce government for the people of Scotland?

I am persuaded that a ‘YES’ vote in the referendum of Autumn, 2014 will lead not to less government but more. Scottish politics is dominated by the SNP and Scottish Labour – which is to say, that it is essentially a two-party game between a social-democratic, ‘nationalist’ party and a far-left, Socialist one (unlike their social-democratic English comrades). In other words, the political scene in Scotland is in all essentials a struggle between two left-wing political parties. The mythical ‘centre-ground’, so beloved of party spin-doctors, is much further to the left in Scotland than in England.

But Scotland has another political tradition – Classical Liberalism. The principles of political rationalism, born of the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave birth to this small state, free-market philosophy were Scotland’s greatest gift to the world of ideas. Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ explicated these principles of wealth creation. The subsequent industrialisation, however, brought with it a more visible poverty and an increased political awareness of the division between the property owning class and their disenfranchised tenants and labourers. Like the industrialised areas of other parts of Britain, a sense of unfairness and injustice was ripe for exploitation by the newer political ideas of the Left and, over time, that indignant demand for equality became confused with Socialism and the misconception of Socialism as being the political expression of fairness and equity that exists to this day. Scotland’s people became proud of a left radicalism that demonstrated their ‘humanity’ and forgot – or were untaught – their just as radical and home-born philosophy of Liberty. The new Scottish Nationalist Party in the latter half of the twentieth century realised this and allowed itself to be taken over by left-wingers – in which Alex Salmond played no small part. An opportunity for Scottish Nationalists to revivify their own unique Scottish political tradition was lost – a tradition whose principles had been the foundation and inspiration of the American Revolution and its subsequent Constitution. It looked instead to the Continental social-democratic parties for its model of government.

All that said, there are some potentially positive prospects: there is a new and fledgling Scottish Libertarian movement and a business community who are aware of the need for free enterprise. The Scottish Tories could ( conceivably though unlikely! ) ‘morph’ into a ‘classical liberal’ party; indeed, as described Scotland needs and should have such a political party in the birthplace of those principles. Perhaps, as the Tory Party in Scotland becomes redundant a Classical Liberal/ Libertarian party might take its place as the party of ‘the Right’. This may be wishful thinking – although the possibilities are there it is doubtful that the collective mindset of a nation will be so easily persuaded…

However, as it stands the major political parties – and, it would appear, the majority of Scottish citizens – are fully persuaded that government somehow creates wealth, that the State knows best, that State ‘Welfare’ is the most important aspect of a society; its left-wing politicians and bureaucrats will do nothing to dispel these illusions. Individual self-reliance – which creates wealth and prosperity – is hampered and ultimately smothered by government. Any ‘independence’ achieved therefore will be for Scottish politicians to do as they please with their citizens’ wealth rather than their Westminster counterparts – it will most certainly NOT be independence for the individual Scots man and woman.

England, too, is afflicted by such thinking. However, an innate radical distrust of government per se still exists to a much greater extent albeit under constant threat. Indeed, Scottish Independence may even be a boon for the rest of Britain. Almost certainly the Labour Party would be out of office permanently (relying so heavily as it does on the Scottish vote). Despite this, the Conservative Party is viscerally Unionist and will fight for a ‘NO’ vote just as vigorously as Labour.

I would not like to bet on the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Although support for Independence remains in the minority ( around a third of the electorate who express an opinion ) a lot can happen in two years and ultimately the vote will rest on the general ‘mood’ prevailing at the time – and what the Scots do when it actually comes to marking the paper. The excitement of ‘change’ and ‘new beginnings’ can often outweigh prudence and ‘the status quo’. As a Scot, I can easily understand the temptations involved in voting ‘YES’ – emboldened by persuasive, non-rational concepts such as ‘manifold destiny’ and other ‘shibboleths‘. As as a Scottish Libertarian, if a strong libertarian constituency existed north of the border I would instinctively vote for separation from a British political environment wholly dominated by social-democratic political parties. As a Libertarian, given the realpolitik of Scotland as it currently stands, I would be forced – however reluctantly and counter-intuitively – to vote ‘NO’.


  1. It is true that the current status-quo of Scottish politics is FAR too left wing, however, independence may give the Scots the kick up the ass out of big-state utopia land to a more efficient lean machine of a state.

    We’re not going to get that opportunity unless we can get the right to be the lords of our own land.

    I largely agree with you though, we have a bloated public sector and it seems like every single University student is going towards a life teaching… I have no doubt that in the short future we are going to have too many teachers, and not enough producers.


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