If Scotland Bolts: What Happens to the UK’s Security Council Seat?

The Buzz

As Scotland approaches its independence referendum on Thursday, desperate unionists are groping to bolster the “No thanks” cause. There is no shortage of compelling reasons to stick together. But one claim being advanced is truly far-fetched: that Scottish secession endangers the United Kingdom’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Last week former British Prime Minister John Major alleged as much, warning, “We would lose our seat at the top table in the UN.” This ignores geopolitical realities and historical precedents.

The fear-mongers have concocted the following story: The UN Charter has no provisions for succession to UNSC permanent seats, and this legal void provides a potential opening for diplomatic chaos that spoilers and troublemakers may fill. The UK achieved its permanent seat in 1945 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Its dissolution will result in two successor states, the rump UK and Scotland, neither of which—or, alternatively, either of which—is eligible to claim that seat. The result will be political turmoil and jockeying, perhaps spurred by Russia or China, over which country should occupy the UNSC’s permanent fifth seat. The diplomatic crisis will also embolden major emerging powers like India and Brazil, and perhaps longtime aspirants such as Germany and Japan, to stake renewed claims.

This is not going to happen. The near-certain outcome, if the Scots unwisely choose to go it alone, is that the authorities in Edinburgh will immediately recognize the UK government’s UNSC claim. A newly independent but closely integrated Scotland has everything to lose and nothing to gain by disputing the UK’s permanent seat. (Nationalism may be “political romanticism,” in Isaiah Berlin’s words, but even the most starry-eyed Scots understand that a country of fewer than six million has no permanent slot on the UNSC). Perhaps more surprisingly, the attitude of the remaining permanent four UNSC members will be identical: they will quickly recognize the rump United Kingdom as the state entitled to permanent membership.

These decisions would be consistent both with historical precedent and the national interests of other Security Council members. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Commonwealth of Independent States (comprising the states that broke away from the Soviet Union) endorsed the Russian Federation’s claim to the permanent UNSC seat. Russian President Boris Yeltsin transmitted a letter to this effect to the UN secretary-general, who shared it with the broader UN membership. He received no objections, as UN members sought to avoid a UN constitutional crisis. The other permanent members quickly recognized the Russian Federation as the successor state on the Security Council. All this occurred even though the Russian Federation’s population (149 million) was 48 percent smaller than the Soviet Union’s (285 million). Russia also became the only former Soviet Union nation to earn recognition as a nuclear weapon state. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine all proceeded to eliminate their arsenals.

In proportional terms, Scotland’s departure from the UK would represent far less of a demographic and economic hit, reducing its population by 8 percent, from 64 to 58.7 million, and its GDP by approximately the same percentage. The two successor governments would have little difficulty negotiating new arrangements allowing the rump UK to retain control over its nuclear arsenals parked on Scottish soil, as well as military bases there.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union may be the most obvious historical precedent, but it is not the only one. Across the Channel, France provides another—albeit more violent—example, in the case of French Algeria. Unlike the majority of French imperial acquisitions, Algeria was no mere colony. After 1848, Algeria was constitutionally part of metropolitan France, administered as a French département. After a bloody civil war, the government of President Charles de Gaulle eventually agreed to independence in the Evian Accords, confirmed in an Algerian referendum of July 1962. Although this departure significantly reduced the territory of “France,” it had no impact on France’s status as one of the five permanent UNSC members.

So the past is the prologue. Unless, some argue, the other P5 members want to kick out the UK? Washington and Paris, obviously, will be solidly in London’s camp, anxious to (re)consolidate the Western triumvirate on the UNSC. But why wouldn’t Vladimir Putin, angered at Western “meddling” in Ukraine, seek to flex his muscles by opening up the question of UNSC membership? Might China, too, seize the moment to shift the balance of forces on the Council away from the West?

No. Neither Russia nor China will do anything of the sort. Russia is as much a declining as a rising power, given its dismal long-term demographic, economic, technological, and military prospects. A permanent seat on the UNSC, along with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, are its two central claims to great power status. Moscow has zero incentive to open up the Pandora’s box of permanent membership, and it has been most vocal among the P5 in opposing various recent proposals for UNSC enlargement. Beijing has been content to hide behind Russia’s position. At a rhetorical level, China claims to favor an expanded UNSC, but only in its “elected” (as opposed to permanent) membership. Beijing adamantly opposes the permanent membership candidacies of both Japan and India (its ostensible BRICS partner).

The upshot? The rump UK might face some diplomatic complications. But it is unlikely to find its permanent UNSC seat in jeopardy.

During its first term, the Obama administration declared itself open in principle to limited UNSC enlargement, including additional permanent members. But despite a flurry of diplomatic excitement in 2010 (including an oblique endorsement of India’s eventual membership), the White House has done zero to follow up on this diplomatic tease. And it is not about to do so now, at the expense of its closest ally. Indeed, a “yes” vote for Scotland’s independence would doom any prospects, however remote, of U.S. leadership on UNSC membership reform.

This is understandable. But in a larger sense, it is also unfortunate. With each passing year, the composition of the UNSC, particularly its permanent membership, diverges further from the global distribution of power. With no periodic reset to accommodate rising nationsprepared to contribute to international peace and security, and with some current members (notably Russia) devoting themselves to obstruction, the perceived legitimacy and practical efficacy of the UNSC will decline, and dissatisfied nations may increasingly ignore or bypass it in pursuing national security interests.

But this is a struggle for another day, when minds are not so focused on long-ago battles from Bannockburn to Culloden Moor.

This article first appeared in The Internationalist blog on the Council on Foreign Relations website here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons

TopicsSecurity RegionsScotland

Australia and India: A Nuclear Alliance?

The Buzz

Recently Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with India, allowing Australia for the first time to export uranium to India for civil nuclear purposes. The agreement is touted as a win for Australia’s small uranium sector and a needed step towards improving Australia–India relations. India’s refusal to sign the NPT constrained relations for decades. It’s widely understood that the uranium deal is more directly related to diplomacy than boosting Australia’s mining sector, so what’s next now that the safeguards agreement has been signed?

The uranium deal is first and foremost a diplomatic gesture meant to jumpstart Australia’s broader engagement with India. Both countries share an interest in Indian Ocean maritime security and bilateral military relations can be built around that common interest. We should expect to see strengthened dialogue between India and Australia on security issues. And we can expect that more joint military exercises and military-to-military exchanges will also be announced. A bilateral naval exercise is already scheduled for 2015.

There’s also potential for increased economic engagement between Australia and India. Trade Minister Andrew Robb plans to lead a business delegation of 300 to India early next year. Australia recognizes a need to diversify its trade partners, and bilateral trade with India trails far behind that with other major Asian partners. India could become a large-scale market for Australian goods and services. And its surging need for energy security coupled with Australia’s competitive advantage in energy-supply potentially makes for a strong partnership. In the short term, we can expect coal to continue to be a significant export and later LNG will emerge to fuel India’s economy.

Although this agreement will spark some optimism in the struggling uranium business, it won’t make anyone rich anytime soon. Uranium prices are extremely weak due to decreased global demand in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and there’s a global excess of supply. Although Australia’s known resources are the world’s largest, uranium’s only a small part of Australia’s massive mining sector.

Moreover, it’ll take some time before uranium shipments to India begin. Australian mining company Toro Energy said shipments could start within five years. Things will likely change for Australia’s uranium sector as India and China deliver on their prospective nuclear power projects.

There’s been some concern that the uranium will be used not just for civil purposes. That’s a point of controversy given concerns about India’s nuclear arsenal. However, this June India signed the additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) placing its ten reactors under the agency’s safeguards. That agreement also allows inspectors into the country and requires India to report to the IAEA all uranium within its control that is redirected for export to a third-party country. Australia also has its own watchdog, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). To ensure Australian uranium isn’t used for military purposes, ASNO accounts for it as it moves through the fuel cycle. India will be obliged to report to ASNO on the uses of uranium purchased from Australia.

While Australia can’t be completely certain uranium will never be diverted for military use, India knows there would be serious diplomatic consequences if it was discovered that such diversion had occurred.

The nuclear safeguards agreement is a diplomatic tool meant to build trust with India and move bilateral ties forward. As an economic tool, it’s a forward-looking measure to supplement India’s energy needs with Australian resources.

Kyle Springer is the program associate at the new Perth US Asia Centre at The University of Western Australia. This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: Office of the PM, India. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsIndia

The Blurred Lines of Religious Zealotry

Paul Pillar

Last week I commented on the unhelpful habit of throwing everything Islamist, no matter how extreme or moderate, into a single conceptual bucket and writing off the whole lot as incorrigible adversaries. That habit entails a gross misunderstanding of events and conflicts in the Middle East, and has the more specific harm of aiding extreme groups at the expense of moderate ones. Shortly afterward Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy presented a piece titled “Islamists Are Not Our Friends,” which illustrates almost in caricatured form some of the misleading attributes of the single-bucket attitude that I was discussing.

Ross's article probably is not grounded in Islamophobia, although it partly appeals to such sentiment. The piece ostensibly is about how “a fundamental division between Islamists and non-Islamists” is a “new fault line in the Middle East” that provides “a real opportunity for America” and ought to guide U.S. policy toward the region. In fact it is a contrived effort to draw that line—however squiggly it needs to be—to place what Ross wants us to consider bad guys on one side of the line and good guys on the other side. The reasons for that division do not necessarily have much, if anything, to do with Islamist orientation. Thus anyone who has been unfriendly to Hamas or to its more peaceful ideological confreres in the Muslim Brotherhood are placed on the good side of the line, Iran and those doing business with it are put on the bad side, and so forth.

Ross tries to portray something more orderly by asserting that “what the Islamists all have in common is that they subordinate national identities to an Islamic identity” and that the problem with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was that “it was Islamist before it was Egyptian.” What, exactly, does that mean, with particular reference to the short, unhappy presidency of Mohamed Morsi? There were several reasons that presidency was both unhappy and short, but trying to push an Islamist-more-than-Egyptian agenda was not one of them. (And never mind that Ross is risking going places he surely would not want to go by making accusations of religious identification trumping national loyalty on matters relevant to U.S. policy toward the Middle East.) It would make at least as much sense to say that the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was more authoritarian and more in tune with fellow military strongmen than he was Egyptian.

Where Ross's schema completely breaks down is with some of the biggest and most contorted squiggles in the line he has drawn. He places Saudi Arabia in the “non-Islamist” camp because it has supported el-Sisi in his bashing of the Brotherhood and wasn't especially supportive of Hamas when Israel was bashing the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia—where the head of state has the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the country's constitution is the Koran, and thieves have their hands amputated—is “non-Islamist”? Remarkable. Conversely, the Assad regime in Syria, which is one of the most secular regimes in the region notwithstanding the sectarian lines of its base of support, is pointedly excluded from Ross's “non-Islamist” side of the line because of, he says, Syrian dependence on Iran and Hezbollah. Of course, any such alliances refute the whole idea of a “fundamental division” in the region between Islamists and non-Islamists, but Ross does not seem to notice.

Getting past such tendentious classification schemes, we ought to ask whether there is a more valid basis on which we ought to be concerned about states or influential political movements defining themselves in religious terms. If we are to be not merely Islamophobes but true children of the Enlightenment, our concern ought to be with any attempt, regardless of the particular creed involved, to impose the dogma of revealed religion on public affairs, especially in ways that affect the lives and liberties of those with different beliefs.

Such attempts by Christians, as far as the Middle East is concerned, are to be found these days mainly among dispensationalists in America rather in the dwindling and largely marginalized Christian communities in the Middle East itself. In a far more strongly situated community, that of Jewish Israelis, the imposition of religious belief on public affairs in ways that affect the lives and liberties of others is quite apparent. Indeed, the demographic, political, and societal trends during Israel's 66-year history can be described in large part in terms of an increasingly militant right-wing nationalism in which religious dogma and zealotry have come to play major roles. Self-definition as a Jewish state has been erected as a seemingly all-important basis for relating to Arab neighbors, religion is in effect the basis for different classes of citizenship, and religious zeal is a major driver of the Israeli colonization of conquered territory, which sustains perpetual conflict with, and subjugation of, the Palestinian Arabs.

When religious zealotry involves bloodshed, especially large-scale bloodshed, is when we when ought to be most concerned with its infusion into public affairs. The capacity for zealotry and large-scale application of violence to combine has increased in Israel with the steady increase of religiosity in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and its officer corps. A prominent exemplar of this trend is Colonel Ofer Winter, commander of the IDF's Gilati Brigade, who has received attention for the heavily religious content of his instructions to his troops. With his brigade poised near the Gaza Strip before the most recent round of destruction there, Winter said in a letter to his troops that he looked forward to a ground invasion so that he could be in the vanguard of a fight against “the terrorist enemy that dares to curse, blaspheme and scorn the God of Israel.” After Winter's brigade did get to join the fight, he said that a mysterious "cloud" appeared and provided cover for his forces, an event he attributed to divine intervention. Quoting from Deuteronomy, he said, “It really was a fulfillment of the verse ‘For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to give you victory.’”

Winter's brigade was involved in what could be described as a culmination of the synthesis of zealotry and bloodshed. When an Israeli soldier was missing and suspected (incorrectly, as it later turned out) to have been captured alive by Hamas in a battle at Rafah, Winter executed the "Hannibal" directive, an Israeli protocol according to which as much violence as necessary is used to avoid having any Israeli become a prisoner, no matter how many civilians or others are killed and no matter that the captured Israeli soldier himself is killed. Over the next several hours a relentless barrage of artillery and airstrikes reduced this area of Rafah to rubble, while Israeli forces surrounded the area so that no one could escape it alive. This one Israeli operation killed 190 Palestinians, including 55 children. There may have been other implementations of the Hannibal directive in the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza; this one is confirmed because Winter himself later spoke openly and proudly about it. Although some secular-minded private citizens in Israel have objected to the heavily religious content of Winter's leadership, officially there does not appear to be anything but approval for anything he has said or done. He is an exemplar, not a rogue.

In short, an operation officially sanctioned and led in the name of a national god was conducted to slaughter scores of innocents as well as one of the operators' own countrymen. We ought to think carefully about this incident and about what Colonel Winter represents when we decide how to conceive of fault lines in the Middle East, what it means to insert religion into politics or to be a religious zealot, exactly what it is we fear or ought to fear about religiosity in public affairs, and which players in the Middle East have most in common with, or in conflict with, our own—Enlightment-infused, one hopes—values.


TopicsIsrael Palestinian Territories RegionsMiddle East

Ronald Reagan Declares War on ISIS

The Buzz

Editor’s Note: How different would our response as a nation be if the Commander-in-Chief were Ronald Reagan? Sebastian Gorka has some ideas below:

My Fellow Americans,

Today we face a threat the likes of which we have not seen since the darkest days of World War II and the Cold War.

Our enemy is not ISIS, the Islamic State, or even Al Qaeda; it is the ideology that drives all such barbaric groups.

It is the ideology of Global Jihadism.

In the name of God, the adherents of this world view crucify Christians, behead Americans, and massacre or subjugate any and all who stand in their way—man, woman, or child.

These people are not driven in their ferocious violence by actual grievances, by a need to resist tangible oppression. They are not "freedom fighters."

Theirs is a totalitarian vision of the world just as binary and absolutist as that of the Third Reich or the political masters of the Soviet Union.

For Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and his followers in the Islamic State, there will be no negotiated settlement to this war. No cease-fire instrument signed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. For the global Jihadist Movement, there is either victory or death. And even in death, there is an individual victory with martyrdom in the name of killing the infidel, guaranteeing eternal salvation for the jihadist.

Whatever name they go by—Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, or the Islamic State—these organizations are cut from the same cloth. They are born of the ideas that founded the Muslim Brotherhood. The conviction that "true Muslims" cannot live under un-Islamic systems; that democracies, those systems in which humans make the laws thus abrogating Allah's sovereignty, must be destroyed; and that the only choice for the infidel is between conversion or death.

Our Republic was born out of a resistance to tyranny. We all know that America was founded on the principle that each and every human being has unalienable rights.

Why do they have these rights? Because they are endowed with them by The Creator. And this is why every soul that walks the earth has innate dignity. A dignity that Global Jihadism wishes to negate and, through its actions, destroy.

Tonight, America is declaring war on the ideology of Jihadism and commits herself to destroying not only the Islamic State, but anyone who subscribes to the same beliefs, whatever name they give themselves.

Our nation is often criticized for its unique sense of self, for the idea that we have a special job to do in the World, a Manifest Destiny as some have called it. But let the facts speak for themselves. When totalitarianism based on racial purity threatened the whole world, and which in the course of six years would result in the deaths of 60 million people, it was America that saved Europe from herself, from the vision of a "thousand-year" Reich.

When a class-based absolutist ideology later threatened not just Europe, but Asia, Latin America, and even Africa, with its goal of all humankind yoked underneath the "dictatorship of the proletariat", again, it was America who answered the call, stood firm, supported those who would resist the inhumanity of the Marxist, and ultimately facilitated the collapse of Communism.

The threat is no smaller today. In fact, the religious totalitarianism of the Jihadist Movement has a narrative that in many ways is more powerful than either Mein Kampf or Das Kapital. We never faced members of the SS or the KGB prepared to be suicide bombers. Today we do. From the World Trade Center, to the London Underground, from Amman, Jordan to Bali, we face an enemy who will literally stop at nothing to subjugate or destroy us and our way of life.

But there is good news that I must share also.

Just as we destroyed Hitler's Third Reich and vanquished Communism, we will destroy the ideology of Global Jihadism.

This will be done not only on the battlefield, but in the court of world opinion. We will strike, and strike hard at its forces in Iraq and elsewhere, recognizing as we do so that this type of irregular war cannot be won from 20,000 feet by airpower alone. It will take brave men on the ground to take the fight to the terrorists and insurgents, men who will ideally be from the Muslim allies of the United States—Iraqis, Kurds, Jordanians, even Egyptians. But they will be accompanied by forward-deployed members of our Special Forces, those brave Americans who have proven time and again, from battlefields as far apart as Afghanistan and Colombia, that where they can be the backbone of the local resistance to the enemies of all that is good and fair, the fight is winnable.

Our Muslim and Arab allies must be the frontline in this conflict, but without America's fighting with them, this war will not be won. Not simply because our forces are so superior, but because if we are not prepared to send our people in harms way to fight the barbarians that wish to destroy our civilization, then we send a very simple message to the Enemy and to the world: our civilization is not worth saving.

Make no mistake, this will be a long and hard fight, but we have faced off and defeated the enemies of modernity and civilization before and with God's help, we will do so again.

But we must learn the lessons of the past. When fighting totalitarians, it is never enough to defeat them militarily. One must defeat their ideology. We must de-legitimize their claims to righteousness and justice. We much demonstrate to the world that our values are the true and universal ones and that we are prepared to fight for them.

God Bless our Troops, God Bless America.

Sebastian Gorka is the Matthew C Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory at Marine Corps University and National Security Affairs editor with . Follow him at @SebGorka.

TopicsPolitics RegionsUnited States

It's Not Fear That's Clouding the Scotland Debate: It's Amnesia

The Buzz

According to Scottish nationalists, it's "Team Scotland vs Team Westminster." A Braveheart view of the past predisposes them to see separateness. Essential is retrieving the "lost world" of Scottish Britishness. Even before the union, it was growing inter-dependence that defined the relationship between the various parts of Britain.

In 1695, the Scottish government granted a license for the so-called Darien Company to plant a colony in Panama. To tap Spanish trade in the Caribbean, Scots had sunk some £153,000 - a quarter of the country's liquid capital - into a distant plantation. By 1700, tropical disease and Spanish raids had killed most of the colonists off. Edinburgh blamed London for not coming to its rescue.

A Union of Crowns had existed since 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the throne of England as James I. But without a union of parliaments pooling risk and resources, London had no responsibility for Scottish commerce and no stake in a colonial enterprise that conflicted with England's need to keep Spain onboard against France.

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that next week's referendum can return Scotland independence lost in 1707: the Darien scheme confronts us with two kingdoms legally separate but increasingly seen by their inhabitants as interdependent.

The referendum's thorniest issues - the pound, the economy, defense and a shared monarch - point us back to the problem 18th-century proponents of the union sought to fix: how to arrange the relationship of two nations, highly if unequally dependent on each other for trade and defense, that shared an island, a crown, a language and (we forget how important it was) the 1613 King James version of the Protestant Bible.

Unfashionable as it is to say, the union achieved what its designers meant it to - secure the diverse but inter-connected peoples of the island of Great Britain against foreign threats to their liberties, and promote their common prosperity.

For Scotland, the economic relationship with England, its Caribbean and North American colonies and the booming colonial trade in sugar and tobacco, was critical. For England, the imperative was strategic: fear of Louis XIV's France in Europe, on the high seas, in North America and India.

But an ideological conflict - the defense of Protestantism and parliamentary government (albeit with an excruciatingly limited franchise, especially in Scotland) - was crucial to the making of Britain. On both sides of the Tweed, Louis's France was the nightmare both feared most: absolutist and Catholic.

To fend it off, the two Protestant kingdoms of the island of Great Britain created a common market (then the world's largest), a common currency, common army and navy, with a common foreign policy directed through a common parliament at Westminster.

They pooled the national debt. By 1713, Louis was contained.

This Anglo-Scottish fiscal-military union out-strategized, out-spent and out-fought all its rivals. In the Seven Years' War (1756-63) and again in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), it defeated the French threat to Protestantism and parliament.

Victory at Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815) made possible the third element of Britain's high imperial credo: free trade - a Scots idea first expressed in Adam Smith's 1776 Wealth of Nations. Another Scots invention - James Watt's 1765 steam engine - made Britain's industrial lead unassailable for a century. By 1762, a Scot, Lord Bute, was prime minister.

The joint Anglo-Scottish Empire was to contemporaries as it is to us, British rather than English. By 1750, a quarter of the officers of the East India Company were Scots. A century later, William Mackinnon, from a middle-class Clyde family, founded a line of mail steamers (Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co.) that would become the British India Steam Navigation Company, official carrier of British troops as well as mail from the Persian Gulf to Burma.

The Scots presence all over the British Empire made Darien a distant memory. Its fruits reshaped Scottish cityscapes. Between 1745 and 1850, colonial wealth built Edinburgh's famous New Town. The Empire's second city until the 1950s, shipbuilding Glasgow, created a handsome center of its own. By 1880, as much as 40 percent of Australian borrowing was from middle-class savings in Scottish banks.

Union also promised an empire of Christ for Scots missionaries - unsurprising in a society so profoundly shaped by the Kirk. Born in 1813 in Lanarkshire and buried in 1873 in Westminster Abbey, David Livingstone took "Commerce and Christianity" to deepest Africa and became the patron saint of high Victorianism.

A British identity took longer to build than a British state. But by the mid-19th century, it had crystallized around what most Britons thought of as Britain's unique winning formula: Protestantism, parliamentary government and free trade. Among Scots, allegiance to this triune formula made the Conservative and Unionist Party the most successful political party north of the border until the 1960s.

Spurious is the argument of today's nationalists that Scotland got nothing more out of union than occupation. For generations of Scots, from Louis XIV until the defeat of Hitler, it meant the defense and expansion of British Protestantism, the protection of British freedoms symbolized in parliament and an arena for their talents, commercial and spiritual, as wide as could then be imagined: the free-trading British Empire.

Today, the empire is gone and Scots Protestantism is more cultural artifact than creed. But can nationalists' vision for Scotland outside the United Kingdom provide the security and prosperity previous generations identified in the union?

To trade a union that works for a separation that doesn't isn't a step forward; it's a step back to the unhappy days of 1700.

The SNP patriotically rejects the basing of Britain's nuclear force in Scotland but says an independent Scotland will shelter under NATO's nuclear umbrella - partly provided by Britain but dependent above all on Washington's goodwill.

The SNP trumpets "independence in Europe" and holds out Scots as more enthusiastic Europeans than the English. But why then the need for admission on Britain's terms - without the Euro and with London's passport controls? In the EU, too, bigger is better: in the depths of the euro crisis, Irish pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears in austerity-minded Berlin.

That crisis made clear that the European Union is manifestly not what the United Kingdom is: a fiscal-political union pooling risks at the same time as opportunities. British government bonds ("gilts") guarantee the pound; Eurobonds may never exist.

That's why the pound goes to the heart of the debate. Independence plus the Bank of England are probably the only terms on which the SNP can win. But why should the Bank of England (that is, British taxpayers south of the border) act as lender of last resort to Scottish banks or back Scottish government debt without control over how that debt is created?

To trade a union that works for a separation that doesn't isn't a step forward; it's a step back to the unhappy days of 1700. It's Darien without the Caribbean sun - the benefits of union without the risks. As Gordon Brown, Britain's most recent Scottish prime minister, has argued, a patriotism based on Scotland's real story of inter-dependence would look for allies south of the border for renegotiating the terms of the union rather than tearing it up (and inventing a separate past to justify it).

Lost in the fog-shrouded heather of nationalist romance is the truth that the peoples of Great Britain have always been as divided within their kingdoms as connected between. Scots nationalists remember the crushing of the clans at Culloden as English-imposed genocide. Eighteenth-century lowland Scots (Saxons, or "Sassenachs" to the Highlanders) saw in it deliverance from a Catholic tyranny with worrying links to France. None would have been caught dead in a kilt until Queen Victoria made it a fashion and the British Army made the Highlanders the loyal crack troops of Empire.

The "Yes" campaign shamelessly holds the union up as a failure. But if the modern parliamentary state was born in England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1689, it was the 1707 union with Scotland that secured it for posterity. And it was the successful Anglo-Scottish model of political and fiscal union rather than looser confederation that inspired the founding fathers in designing the United States and every successful union, including the Australian, since.

It's not fear that's clouding the referendum debate; it's amnesia about the scale of the union's achievements and the inter-dependence of the British peoples. After 1707, Scots and English (and Welsh) invented Britishness together. It's entirely within their creative capacity to reshape its content for the 21st century.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This piece first appeared at ABC's The Drum here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsHistory RegionsScotland