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An end to political unions

As Scotland threatens to split the United Kingdom, could the same thing happen this century to the United States?

May 17, 2015 12:00PM ET

The U.K.’s 2015 general election was an earthquake that may well crumble three centuries of the union of Scotland and England and lead to dramatically new sovereignties across the British Isles. On May 7, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 of the 59 seats for the Westminster Parliament from historical Scotland and makes little secret of its ambition to shed itself of English authority.

Are we witnessing in America’s mother country a foreshadowing of what might come to the U.S. over the next century? Will the American people welcome devolution to geographic sovereignties that renders obsolete the idea of our two-century-old union? The political divides that separate the country and Washington’s institutional corruption and dysfunction suggest that it’s possible.

The Scottish model

It has been 800 years since Scottish hero William Wallace rose against his country’s English occupiers. It has been 300 years since the Parliament of Scotland yielded to the Parliament of England. It has been a century since the families of Scotland watched their sons massacred by poison gas in Belgium and by machine guns in Gallipoli in the defense of jingoistic Prime Minister H.H. Asquith’s war cabinet. Over the course of the last century, the Scots’ grievances against the English are mountainous. The SNP aims to stand as a sovereign power in the marketplace of the European Union.

How might new sovereignties arise in the U.S.? Certainly not violently, as in the cases of William Wallace or the Confederate States of America. Instead, the devolution of the U.S. could come about gradually, following the same logic and pace as the SNP’s. 

Founded by combining two small nationalist parties in 1934, the SNP did not win a significant place in the Westminster Parliament until it secured 11 seats in 1974 during the initial excitement of the North Seal oil finds.

Challenging the dominant Scottish Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, which sits at Holyrood in Edinburgh, the SNP steadily gained membership until it won a majority at Holyrood in 2007. Led by Alex Salmond, who left the Westminster Parliament to become the First Minister of Scotland, the SNP secured the right to hold a referendum for devolution in September 2014. It lost the vote 55 percent to 45. Rather than retreat, the SNP threw itself into recruiting candidates and campaigning for the Westminster Parliament in the 2015 general election.

The party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, up from just six, making it the third-most-powerful bloc in Westminster, sitting in opposition to Prime Minister David Cameron’s 331 Conservatives.

The next step for the SNP will be to insist that Cameron’s government grant Scotland an ever more powerful voice in its fate — the necessity of which Cameron acknowledged in the run-up to the election. 

However, SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has strongly indicated that the SNP will advocate for a new referendum for devolution to an independent Scotland. And Scottish separation from England would likely be accelerated if the U.K. votes to quit the European Union in 2017.

The failure of the United Nations to protect Ukraine from fragmentation or to solve the serial civil wars in the Middle East and Africa suggests that the nation-states of 1945 may have unsolvable limitations.

American devolution

U.S. devolution would start with recognition of the reality that there are whole sections of America that are dominated by a single party. A dominant party can gradually overwhelm even multiple party opposition, just as the SNP has elbowed aside and rendered mute the Scottish Labour as well as the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Greens.

For example, in the U.S. the Democrats are supreme in the Northeast, from Boston to Washington. The Republicans rule at all levels across the Old South, from the Carolinas to Texas as well as the Mountain West, the Plains and Arizona. The Democrats dominate the West Coast. The minority parties in each instance will gradually wither or transform, as is happening with Scottish Labour.

These three U.S. regions can start to create sectional parties from citizens alienated by Washington. The regional parties can build, following the SNP model, at the local, municipal, county and state levels.

Using a Philip K. Dick license to project an alternative future, perhaps the U.S. can divide into the Atlantic National Liberty Party, the Gulf National Freedom Party and the Pacific National Independence Party. 

Each of these sections has the cities, population and commerce to stand and prosper as a sovereign state in the global marketplace. Each would benefit from the authority to tax its own prosperity without being required to share with a distant, spendthrift, unaccountable federal power dominated by K Street lobbyists and careerist legislators.

Additional advantages for the regional powers would include shedding the burden of funding the federal government as the global sheriff. The fresh sovereignties could follow the European model of maintaining police, border and self-defense forces. A mutual defense organization such as NATO would be possible but not critical. For example, the SNP is adamantly opposed to Britain’s Trident submarine program and wants those funds used for the social safety net. Once sovereign, Scotland is likely to look to Brussels rather than London for police issues, and as of now, there is no talk of joining NATO.


What of the sections of the U.S. that do not fit or are not welcome under the umbrella of the elite megacity regions? Would a Great Lakes National Party or a Rocky Mountain National Party be economically viable? Would Canada absorb the thinly populated and financially fragile northern New England region? Would South Florida collect the Caribbean islands into a maritime archipelago?

The answers will come helter-skelter if the nation-state concept — endorsed hastily in the Versailles Treaty of 1919 — proves as ungainly, alienating, impotent as the empire concept it replaced.

Judging from recent history, the nation-state is in flux. For example, the failure of the United Nations to protect Ukraine from fragmentation or to solve the serial civil wars in the Middle East and Africa suggests that the nation states of 1945 may have unsolvable limitations.

Watching Scotland shake off John Bull was nearly unimaginable to the British patriots of 1915. Just as watching the Pacific Rim technocrats, Northeastern Yankees or Southern burghers of 2115 shake off Uncle Sam is incredible to us.

John Batchelor is a novelist and host of a national radio news show based in New York City.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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