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Analysis
Salmond's message of hope masks a cry of despair

Salmond's message of hope masks a cry of despair

A Yes vote in Scotland is a vote against the present

by John Nugée

Mon 8 Sep 2014

The Scottish referendum is now too close to call, with the first poll showing the separatists actually ahead. This weekend the German newspaper Die Welt called the nationalists ‘eine Glaubensbewegung’, a faith movement, and the voice of hope.

Die Welt is surely right. Scots nationalism is a faith movement, an emotional belief in a better tomorrow irrespective of practical realities.

But the Scottish nationalists’ dream of independence is also part of a greater shift: a reaction from electorates who feel sidelined by globalisation and the new world of 21st-century economics.

Globalisation is one of the great success stories of our times. Much of the world is richer for it and many people’s lives are vastly more comfortable. But for those left behind, the globalised economy seems remote and alienating. This breeds a tendency to turn away from the cosmopolitan world and retreat into smaller units in which ‘they’ can no longer dictate to ‘us’. The UK Independence Party, with its desire to turn its back on the European Union, is part of exactly the same phenomenon.

The challenge is that the nation state – the building block of society for around 300 years – is itself out of its depth in a globalised world. Whether it is multinational companies (powerful enough to push countries around and certainly powerful enough to treat the tax they try to levy as voluntary), or global issues such as regulating international finance or addressing climate change (both of which require countries to put the common good above national interest) or non-state movements like the Islamic State, national politicians cannot solve these problems without reference to transnational institutions and multilateral blocs.

An example is the euro area. The EU political class knows what is needed to cement the single currency’s future, but it also knows that these measures are not popular. Do politicians press ahead regardless, fuelling the cries of 'democratic deficit' and the anti-EU votes of the disadvantaged, or do they listen to the people, knowing that to follow the popular line will make things worse in the long run?

Many would instinctively say that democracy is not negotiable and that the people’s will is sovereign. Even his critics would probably concede that this is British Prime Minister David Cameron's core position: by allowing Scotland a vote on its future he accepts the right of the popular will to be heard.

But if our leaders retreat into merely carrying out the vox pop they are not leaders, and our politicians are not representatives but delegates without a mind of their own. Ultimately they will become redundant. Without powerful national governments the world will be less well-governed and the four 'horsemen of the Apocalypse' - global companies, global finance, global climate change and global jihad - will overrun the life that many in the West take for granted.

Ultimately, for all that the SNP, or UKIP, or France’s Front National may claim that theirs is the voice of hope, their message is one of impotence. They appeal to those who have lost out in the last 20 years and they promise a false future based on nostalgia for the past.

But since the 'orthodox' political class offers such people nothing at all, who can blame the electorate for following their Pied Pipers?

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