Editorial: Scotland just might say Yes

July 18, 2013
Should Scotland break away from the rest of the UK? As Andrew Marr makes clear, the decision turns in the end on feelings about nationhood, not economics, and the result could be closer than the polls now suggest. If the sense of the value of independence makes enough difference to daily life, he argues, then those living north of the border will vote “yes” in next year’s referendum—and in those circumstances, they should.

There aren’t many exports from Kurdistan to Scotland. But lessons in the politics of independence might be one of them (p44). The age-old movement for a separate Kurdish state looks as if it might finally have traction, with the Kurdish-run northern provinces of Iraq, increasingly separate from the Arab provinces to their south, becoming a focus not just for Iraq’s 5 million Kurds but five times that number across the region. The lesson is to make autonomy a reality, striking new alliances before making the final dash for formal sovereignty—if, indeed, that is still attractive.

But sovereignty, for a small country at least, and even for bigger ones, means accepting the reality of a web of ties to others. Brendan Simms, is entirely plausible in arguing that the eurozone has not yet emerged from crisis (with which Vicky Pryce agrees) although his solution, of something resembling a United States of the Eurozone, is less so. One theme running through this issue of Prospect is the recent abrupt change in many countries’ relations with each other, whether triggered by financial crisis or upheaval in the Middle East. Christian Cary argues that a single year, 1979, was itself a watershed, a reaction against postwar arrangements, and the birth of today’s politics.

Where does this leave the United States? The real question about Samantha Power, picked by President Barack Obama as his Ambassador to the United Nations, is whether he has hired her because she puts words to a vision of America that he intends to inspire in his second term, committed to humanitarian ideals and intervention in the world’s bloodiest tragedies. Or whether she is a Washington (and New York) lightweight, with no political purchase to turn the principles she championed as an academic and war correspondent into national policy. Or both; it is all too possible, given Obama’s equivocal way of working, that those arguments chime with his own beliefs, but that he will embrace them publicly only if they survive the heat of Washington’s partisan cauldron.

The UN is hardly more popular in US politics than it was under George W Bush, and Power’s call for America to “surrender a little bit of its sovereignty” in working with other countries has provoked outrage on both sides of the political aisle. But the willingness to intervene abroad is in any case at a low ebb across the US while the Iraq conflict has understandably made others wary of US intentions—and capacity. But it would still be a loss, in many of the world’s most intractable conflicts, if the idealistic commitment to intervention that Power represents were to dwindle or disappear.