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Could Scotland be the Next Slovakia?

- November 23, 2009

One of the fun things about writing for a blog is that you never really know what is going to attract people’s attention. When I decided to post on “suspicious election results in Russia”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/11/what_passes_for_election_resul.html and some “musings about the potential for Tony Blair to return to Downing Street”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/11/where_have_you_gone_tony_blair.html last week, I assumed the former topic would be more interesting to readers of the blog. Instead, the latter one has generated more comments than anything else I’ve posted in the last few months.

So in recognition of this apparently untapped interest in British politics out there among readers of The Monkey Cage, I figured I’d go back to the well again. _The Economist_ has an interesting recent commentary suggesting that English politicians should “call Alex Salmond’s bluff”:http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14844055 and allow a referendum on Scottish independence. The magazine’s Bagehot columnist writes:

bq. Failure in the defining purpose of Mr Salmond’s career would neuter him. The quest for independence would be suspended for at least a decade. For anyone who thinks it wrongheaded and disruptive, that is a valuable prize.

But this got me thinking: from a political perspective, wouldn’t it be extremely beneficial for the Tories to have Scotland leave the union? Could Labour ever return to power without MPs from Scotland? In a sense, wouldn’t this be a brilliant strategic move for the Tories?

And yes, of course there would be a cost to Mr. Cameron in being the Prime Minister the presided over the dismantling of Great Britain. And yes, there would certainly be some tension between the Tories’ reputation as the party of a unified Britain and a role in facilitating an independent Scotland. But think about it for a minute: wouldn’t it be a huge advantage for the Tories in terms of winning control of the government if they never had to worry about MPs from Scotland again?

Thinking about this brought to mind the example of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. While the world is full of examples of countries that have engaged in bloody civil wars in response to one region’s desire to secede, Czechoslovakia proved the exception to the rule when Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus essentially called the bluff of Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who had been using the threat of secession to extract both financial and policy concessions, and let Slovakia “leave the union without a fight”:http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300090635. We rarely ever see such type of behavior, but clearly at the time Klaus was better off politically no longer having to face opposition from Meciar and his allies.

Thus rather than struggling against Scottish independence for real, it would seem that the optimal political strategy for Cameron would be to _appear_ to fight against independence while in actuality doing what he good to ease it along. I doubt they will, but it is still interesting to consider why not.

Of course, this is all probably moot if _The Economist_ is correct that only “one-third of Scots support independence”:http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14844055. Still, another example of how politics could make some very strange bedfellows.