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opinion

Arthur Herman is the author of The New York Times bestseller How the Scots Invented the Modern World. He is current a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

On Thursday, Scotland, Great Britain, and the world dodged a bullet. By a large margin Scottish voters decided not to opt for independence in a referendum that was as ill-conceived as it was catastrophically timed.

The damage a majority Yes vote would have done was difficult to fathom or calculate. What a No vote will mean for the future, is almost as hard to predict, yet it requires a similar series of hard questions demanding hard answers.

First, why was the resolution defeated? As I explained in How The Scots Invented the Modern World, the Scottish personality brings a peculiar mixture of soft-hearted romanticism and hard-headed realism. The romanticism surfaces in the novels of Sir Walter Scott; the legends about William Wallace and the nostalgia for Bonnie Prince Charlie; and Scottish nationalist myths about how tartan-clad clans used to wallow happily in the heather until the hated English arrived, first with their sheep in the Clearances and then with their grouse and deer shooting stands.

It was this romantic, English-hating side that inspired Yes voters, who also bought Alex Salmond's promises of a welfare state heaven on earth with independence – even though he deceived everyone on what it would cost and where the money would come from.

In the end, it was a referendum designed for the credulous by the unscrupulous, and for a while the polls seemed to suggest it might work.

But then the other side of the Scottish personality, the practical side, asserted itself. People realized Scotland has done pretty well by 300 years of union – just as Britain has done well by the Scots. More recently, that legacy has begun to smart, with the embrace of an overcentralized and over-bureacratized government in London, especially the shameful squandering of Scotland's North Sea oil. Indeed, the desire for oil lies at the bottom of the Scottish independence movement, and the SNP, since the 1970's.

But oil alone was never going to be enough for Scots. They were not destined to become Europe's Kuwait. Scots are far too practical, and gifted with too much imagination and independence; too independent, paradoxically, to buy a cheap sham version of it in a referendum.

Second, who are the big winners and losers? Clearly the biggest winner is David Cameron, who's just saved his political career from obloquy and oblivion. Probably also the Labour Party, which will need those fifty-five or so Scottish seats in the next election.

The biggest loser, interestingly, is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had clearly hoped that the break up of Great Britain and very probably NATO, would extend his advantage in dominating Eastern Europe. It would also have sent the European Union into a tailspin as separatist movements from Spain to Belgium and Italy would have taken heart and broken out like measles.

As for the referendum's Rasputin, Alex Salmond, it's difficult to assess the impact of defeat and his intention to resign on the future. On the one hand, his side has lost, and badly; on the other, bringing Britain to the brink of dissolution will gain his successor leverage in the next round of negotiations with Westminster.

Which leads to the third question of what happens next? Most analysts predict London will now be desperate to placate Scottish national sentiment by giving the Parliament in Edinburgh the power to tax as well as spend, to its heart's delight.

This is a profoundly bad idea. The entire Scottish independence and other European separatist movements, as well as general anti-EU feeling in Europe and the Tea Party in America, are part of a single great revolt against big unwieldy government with a capital G, that insists it knows best but in fact continually makes things worse. Yet that's precisely what Mr. Salmond and his minions promise more of, if they can get more power from London. That's not a formula for a happy, healthy future Scotland.

So what should the Scots do now? Some in the Liberal Democrat Party are proposing that perhaps it's time to replace the old Act of Union with a federal system of government. But why should Scotland federate with the English and that hated government in London? Perhaps there's another place where Scots would feel more appreciated, with a far more dynamic economy and healthier standard of living, a country that's not immune to the blandishments of Big Government but that does it better and congenially – a country, in short, with a real future instead of just an illustrious past.

That's Canada. Most of the Scots' relatives live here anyway; they would certainly feel at home reading the local newspaper or shopping on the Internet. A transatlantic federation with Canada could only have a salutary effect on Scots' future – and on Canada itself. It would revive the Scots's native optimism and those Scottish innovative instincts that James Watt and Andrew Carnegie once embodied, but which have been buried alive under a morass of welfare payments, union rules, and government regulations issuing from London – and very soon from Edinburgh.

It could even trigger a new Scottish diaspora, as eager young emigrants create a new future for themselves in the neighborhoods of Toronto and Vancouver, or on the plains of Alberta – plenty of oil sands there to gratify their lust for petroleum.

As a wise person pointed out, Canada already has a Nova Scotia, so why not a Scotia Antiqua as well?

Farfetched? Scots have accomplished stranger things in their past. And if Ottawa balks, they could sweeten the deal by convincing London to take Quebec in trade.