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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

Scotland has a clear question, but no clear reason Add to ...

At least Scotland’s secessionists are honest (maybe), which is more than could be said of Quebec’s secessionists.

This week, in a potentially momentous development, Scotland’s secessionist government unveiled the question it proposes to put to Scots in a 2014 referendum. It reads: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” Yes or no.

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Critics cried that a clear question should have mentioned Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. But compared with what Canada had to endure twice in the Parti Québécois referendums – convoluted questions full of suppositions and affirmations – the Scottish one is a model of clarity.

Secessionists in the Scottish Nationalist Party have a majority in the Scottish Parliament. They were elected on a promise to hold a referendum, and they appear to be intent on keeping their word. Why wait until 2014?

Because that’s the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and all the historical mythology and ideology that will bring. Braveheart, kilts, bagpipes, the clearances, Robbie Burns – if you think we of Scottish descent, however distant, can summon up history, you haven’t seen anything until you witness what SNP leader Alex Salmond and his group will do leading up to the referendum. They need time to explain, cajole and convince Scots.

Scotland joined England in a forced merger by the Acts of Union in 1707. The union produced one of the world’s most enduringly successful countries, in which Scotland played more than its full share. We in Canada know that, since the Scots largely ran the place for a long time – and ran it well.

Why anyone would want to smash such an enduringly successful country is a mystery to those who think rationally instead of letting nationalist emotions run riot.

The key question for small political entities in today’s globalized world is: With whom are we better to be in association? In the United Kingdom, Scotland has a much, much bigger voice than it would in the 27-country European Union, where it would be swamped. Moreover, it would lose all the money England transfers to Scotland, something the Scottish secessionists ignore. Or rather, they say the money would be more than accounted for by all that North Sea oil revenue. Except that North Sea oil is a declining resource, whereas Scottish independence is forever.

In this week’s document, Mr. Salmond admits: “Ours is a lucky nation, blessed with natural resources, bright people and a united society. We have an independent education system, legal system and National Health Service. … Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated.” And so?

He argues that even better things lie ahead for a small unattached country that repatriates all power, only to give a bunch of it away to Brussels. It’s the same false argument Quebec secessionists made for three decades.

While in Scotland, secessionists love ripping the English, rooting against English teams, bemoaning Scotland’s sad fate in the union, deploring this or that cultural trait of the English. While in London this week, however, Mr. Salmond said the Scots and the English would be great friends – after Scotland separated. An independent Scotland would even keep the Queen, he promised.

The English aren’t buying. Polls this week say support for Scottish independence is higher among them than among the Scots.

That’s also what Quebec secessionists kept repeating. After the agonies of splitting one of the world’s most successful countries, Canada, everyone would live happily ever after. In the breakup negotiations, it wouldn’t matter that Canada would be bigger; things would work out just as Quebec wanted. Just as in the Scotland-England breakup, everything would work out just as the Scottish secessionists believe, or want to believe.

Much can and will happen in the long period before the referendum. There might be constitutional challenges. Mr. Salmond has hinted he might add a third question to the referendum about maximizing devolution but stopping short of full independence. There will be endless speeches, campaigning and efforts thrown into the fray – just as Canadian energies were diverted, with terrible consequences, into the domestic constitutional wars of 1976 to 1995. Those who lived through those wars here would never wish them on anyone else.

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