Just like Scotland, I’m in the middle of an identity crisis (Niall Ferguson, 28/01/2007, Sunday Telegraph)
Having once been the best educated and most entrepreneurial part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has become a byword for big government, high unemployment and low achievement. Southern Ireland — once regarded by Scots like me as a benighted outpost of Popery and poverty — has eclipsed Scotland at everything from foreign direct investment to football.
The answer, argue the Scot Nats, is independence. And the “Celtic Tiger” is not their only role model. The SNP website also lauds the achievements of Australia, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Montenegro, New Zealand and Norway, all places where “independence has worked”.
It is, of course, a little premature to conclude that independence has worked in Montenegro, which has enjoyed self-government for less than eight months. Still, the point is superficially a reasonable one. There are indeed plenty of countries smaller than Scotland (population 5.1 million) that have prospered under their own flag. And it is not wholly implausible to imagine an independent Scotland as Finland West or New Zealand North.
On the other hand, there are plenty of countries with populations of around five million that have made rather less of a success of independence. Sierra Leone springs to mind. As does Eritrea. As does Turkmenistan. Small isn’t always beautiful. The question therefore arises: Just when does it make sense for a people to go it alone?
The past century has seen a remarkable global experiment in what used to be called “self-determination”, so we have plenty of evidence to go on. Back in 1913, around 82 per cent of the world’s population lived in some 14 empires. Nation states were the exception, not the rule. But two world wars, a depression and a spate of revolutions shattered the old imperial order, ushering in an era of almost incessant political fragmentation. In 1946, there were 74 sovereign states in the world. By 1995 there were 192.
It’s hardly a purely economic question, but from an economic perspective there is no question that an island people who were colonized by the Brits will succeed on their own and smallness is a huge boon.