The Lessons of Secession

A little over 6 weeks ago there was a huge election in Scotland.  But it wasn’t a set of candidates on the ballot; rather, it was a question of secession.  Ultimately, Scotland chose to stay part of the United Kingdom instead of striking out on their own.  But it was far more than simple Scottish Independence on the ballot and despite the outcome it should serve as a two-fold warning, to those in power, and to those seeking independence or secession.

There are those that would dismiss the Scottish Secession movement as a failed fantasy.  They do so at their own peril.  While Scotland has a long and storied history of fighting for independence, it has remained largely in the realm of discussions at the local pubs these past centuries.  But that fantasy stepped out of the pub and onto the ballot in September.

People seek secession not because of hate for their current country but because their voice is not heard on either the local or national stage.  Worse, those in power either treat them with contempt or outright dismiss them, and in doing so, they sow the seeds not just of discontent but of a dissolution of the union.

What drove the Scottish movement was the lack of response from Parliament in London.  It was the strength of that movement that gave London pause to the point of making promises to the Scottish people in hopes they voted no.  The Scottish people kept their end of the bargain and the Prime Minister has promised to keep his; however, should they fail, the secession movement will return in force and probably succeed.  Why?

When a ruling body ignores, or worse, berates its own citizens it fosters an environment in which secession movements can grow.  The Scottish movement wasn’t the first, last, or even the only movement.  In fact, there are large number of secessionist movements in Europe.  The sheer number of separatist movements isn’t a sign of the further Balkanization of Europe; what it does reflect is the complete contempt that many governments show for their people and the utter failure of large, centralized governments.

But the separatist movement isn’t confined to Europe.  One in four Americans are open to secession and not all of them are deep in the heart of Texas, famed for its secessionist stances.  That discontent is due to the political class failing to listen to the voters, so much so, 58% of Americans want a third party.

It’s easy to say that these movements will fail, but history tells a different story and indeed, that history is enshrined in our very own Declaration of Independence in its very first paragraph.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Historically, governments do not last.  It is extremely common for people to dissolve the political bands that connect them and most often, the bands are dissolved violently.  History and the Scottish vote should serve as a stern warning to governments everywhere.  Listen to your people before they decide to dissolve those bands.  They rarely dissolve peacefully and those in power rarely survive the dissolution.

Secession is rarely peaceful.  India, Poland, and Ukraine were the exception, not the rule.  History notes that those countries transitions were an aberration, not the norm.  Secessionist movements also fail to account for the consequences of their actions.  While it feels great to shed the hubris of Washington DC or London, we fail to notice or even consider the unintended consequences of such a choice.

It is the hubris of our current political stock that encourages and gives rise to the secessionist movements, even here in the US.  That hubris should serve as a huge warning to those that seek secession.  The dissolution of the union is a huge gamble and may have massive unintended consequences.  It may be your doom instead of the freedom you seek.

Both Scotland and Texas serve as great examples of what might happen should they secede.  Scotland wanted independence for deeply held emotional and historical reasons but the economic impact of independence was a disaster waiting to happen.  Currency issues, oil, and even banking questions would have caused financial and economic chaos had Scotland left.  Thankfully, they avoided that turmoil.

Texas too, pines for independence but that road is paved with difficulty and havoc .  Much of what makes Texas so powerful and great is tied directly to its union with the other states.  It is the stability that the Union provides that gives Texas a stable base to build on.  A solid and stable currency, large corporations with government contracts, and more than just a smattering of US Military bases.  These are just a few of things that help to make Texas the economic powerhouse of the United States, but secession would change all of that.

In less than a week, we hold our own elections here in the US.  This November promises a lot of change, but that change isn’t merely the repudiation of a party it will be the repudiation of a system, a system that Republicans are very much a part of and participate in.  Should Republicans take control of the Senate and retain the House, they would be wise to change the way they govern.  The people have spoken and it’s not about who is more popular, it’s about the way the Democrats have governed.

Republicans, should you win this next week, you can strengthen the bands that connect us and water down the secessionist movements by choosing to govern differently.  Choose to listen to the voters.  I could write another page on that but rather than re-creating the wheel I’ll simply point you to this excellent article by Glenn Reynolds.

The dissolution we feel starts with our own government.  Don’t let it build to the point that the feeling of dissolution with government becomes the dissolution OF the government.  Heed the warnings, listen to the people, change the way you govern, and strengthen the bands that bind us politically lest they be dissolved because of your incredible hubris.


  1. pro tip: ALWAYS check the ‘open in new tab’ box when you link something so people don’t navigate away from your site

  2. Peter Ream says:

    I’ll edit that later. Thanks.

  3. Trish Proulx says:

    Read, tweeted, and shared on my FB timeline ☺

  4. Peter Ream says:

    Links updated, post updated.