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The International Writers Magazine: European Conspiracies

• Dean Borok
“Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble!” Macbeth’s Scottish witches have cooked up a big vat of greasy haggis to brighten up our day. It should be a comedy movie. I would like to know why so many Scottish politicians are named after fish. The leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party is named Alex Salmond, and the deputy leader is Nicola Sturgeon.


They are treating the large “Yes” vote for independence from the UK as a kind of partial victory, even though they lost by a margin of 8%. “What we are not seeing, emphatically not, is any kind of endorsement of the status quo”, declared Sturgeon. These national sovereignty movements have a long half-life. The Canadian province of Quebec has fought three referenda organized by the pro-independence Parti Québécois provincial government, and lost all of them (sometimes by suspiciously small margins), but the issue there has still not been laid to rest. If the Scottish National Party continues to win majorities in their regional legislature, the issue of a second referendum will inevitably float to the surface.

The world has not grown smaller; it has gotten bigger as the promise of space travel has receded. When I was a kid, I assumed that universal brotherhood would evolve as mankind united in a common effort to conquer The Final Frontier, but it is now become apparent that until some genius comes up with a system to beat Einstein’s principle against surpassing the speed of light, we will be stuck in a small, inhospitable corner of the universe that holds little prospect for interplanetary development. A lot has been written about “the end of history”, but that was just a bunch of nonsense meant to sell books to middlebrow rubes, and here we are, left to sort out the same unsolvable Rubik’s Cube of idiotic national and territorial interests that has existed throughout human history.

Scotland long resisted any attempts at foreign domination, extending back to the Romans, who forsook any ambition of suppressing them and, indeed, built a great wall to keep them out of Roman Britain. (Two walls actually- Ed) Various English kings tried and failed to subdue them. It was only after a failed attempt by the Scots to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, which bankrupted the entire country, that they allowed the English to buy them out by signing an Act of Union in 1707.

One is compelled to wonder, what is the role of France in the Scottish separatist movement? Back in ancient times, French diplomacy was always inclined to meddle in Scottish affairs as a backdoor approach to weaken its hated English rivals. It came to a head when Mary Queen of Scots, who was a Queen of France as well, sought to promote a French invasion of Britain, presenting her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England, with ample provocation to arrange her execution. Mary’s son, John, ascended to the throne of Scotland and later of England, making him the first king of what would later become known as the United Kingdom.

Later on in the sixteenth, century, the whole country of Scotland invested every farthing it had in an ill-equipped attempt at building a Panama canal, (The Darien Venture) but that failed and the country’s economy collapsed. The English, calculating that it would be cheaper to buy Scotland than invade it, offered to make up the Panama losses on the condition of a peaceful unification by treaty of the two kingdoms. That is the basis of the current UK.

The French were powerless in all this, but it would be naïve to believe that they have abandoned all interest in the island, particularly since the British have stymied so many French initiatives around the world for so many centuries. Even today, they are squabbling over competing agendas for the European Union. A much-reduced England would have left the French and Germans to arrange things as they saw fit, relegating England to second tier status, if it in fact remains within the EU at all!

The French financing of the Scottish independence movement could be easily achieved through bank transfers without leaving any forensic trace, and it would be equivalent to the English buyout of 1707. No more scenes of a mysterious French agent stepping off a rowboat in the dead of night onto a moonlit Scottish beach carrying a satchel full of gold Louis to finance a rebellion. Today it’s all done by way of wire transfers emanating from a sun-drenched executive suite in La Défense.

The whole referendum, with its flat yes-or-no choice reminds me of the 1989 Chilean referendum about whether or not to retain Pinochet as president. A smart, modern advertising campaign reduced that issue to a series of cheerful TV ads that it as a happy, carefree repudiation of the dark forces of Pinochet totalitarianism, in favor of a bright, hopeful future. Somehow, the Scots, with their dour Presbyterianism could not conceive such a concept. Even if they were able to, Scottish people probably wouldn’t be able to identify with such a freewheeling depiction. But they should at least be able to conceive a synaptic connection between the word “Yes” and a more agreeable life.

Don’t get me wrong. The Scots are delightful people and devoted drinking partners. Just as their whiskey, which has little in common with the friendlier spirits of the Latin countries, is bitter and punitive to the palate but ultimately satisfying, the Scottish personality can seem taciturn and indifferent until you connect with their warm spot. Why the Scots never turned their distilling talent to, say, Calvados, I’ll never know. There surely must be apple orchards in Scotland. I had friends in a Scottish band called “Gaberlunzie”, who were all Scottish separatists. Their approach to England was to knock out the electric pylons delivering electrical current to the south and “Let the English bastards freeze in the dark”.

Whatever happens, British PM David Cameron will soon be out of a job, and will go down in history as the PM who nearly presided over the breakup of the UK. Either way, he’s sunk. Cameron’s regressive social spending cuts may well have driven left-leaning Scottish voters into the separatist camp, a self-inflicted wound. The current issue is a “bedroom tax”, which soaks welfare recipients and low-income tenants who live in social housing up to an additional US$100 a month if they have an extra bedroom in their apartment (maybe a kid moved out). This measure is taxing a lot of voters who can ill afford it, and the independence advocates promised increased social services under an independent Scotland, as opposed to the neo-Thatcherism favored by the English. *Cameron very likely to stay the course and win next election actually- Ed

Scotland’s participation in the British Empire has been so comprehensive and complete that it sometimes seems that the country’s finer qualities have been subsumed into the larger culture. Quite apart from its innovations in the sciences and economics, Scotland has possessed its full complement of writers, poets and artists. A more assertive, undiluted contribution of the country’s sophisticated attitudes and outlook would constitute another facet in the universal jewel of world civilization.

Naturally, many other emerging small countries can lay to this claim. The Catalonia region of Spain, which has fought for centuries to retain its uniqueness of language and culture, is due to vote on a nonbinding referendum on separation from Spain in November. The pro-independence parties just held a massive demonstration in Barcelona, which was attended by two million Catalans. But nowhere was the Scottish referendum followed more closely than in Quebec. Right now the Quebec independence movement is blown apart like a shredded tire, but it still has a hard base of support from a not-inconsiderable rump segment of the public. Public support for these movements ebbs and flows but, like a dormant virus, they are never fully eradicated.

If we go back to my little daydream about the ambitions of French diplomacy, which I believe are so ingrained in French psychology and culture as to be virtually intact from the seventeenth century (and Putin’s 18th century reflex of power politics is my proof of that theorem), an independent Scotland would lead to a weakened England, setting the stage for a resurgent Quebec separatism, which in turn might lead to enhanced French presence in that resource-rich region, not to say a strategic presence in the North Atlantic shipping routes. It may sound fantastical, but these diplomatic guys are trained to think in terms of centuries. French projection of soft power is one of the miracles of modern times, fulfilling the domination of the 28-state European Union by peaceful means in a way that would even impress Napoleon.
© Dean Borok Sept 21st 2014

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