This era of globalisation has had a suffocating effect on local, ethnic and national traditions. Unified global markets and the speed and ease by which ideas and products can be exchanged are a powerful force for uniformity.
The Scottish government released its blueprint for independence last month, ahead of the 2014 referendum. If Scotland votes to assert its independence identity next year, it may inspire others to follow and, as a consequence, help reverse this era's dulling tendency towards assimilation.
The independence march held in Edinburgh in September reflected a wider movement advocating self-determination. The 20,000 marchers also included representatives from similar movements that desire self-determination, for Flanders, Catalonia and Sardinia. Scotland could be the catalyst for other movements to grasp the opportunity to agitate for a political expression of their respective unique cultural or national identities if the ''Yes'' vote is successful next year.
Both reason and romance would leave most informed Scots inclined to vote yes. The current political context alone is a compelling argument for change. Scottish voters strongly rejected the Conservative-Liberal government last year - only one Conservative MP holds a seat in Scotland - yet it is this government that will define the immediate future of the Scottish people. Most of the arguments against Scotland becoming an independent nation that appear in the mainstream press in Britain relate to economics. Even if one were to make an informed, rational decision based on economic interest and fiscal reality, however, Scotland should vote for independence next year.
Democracies are occasional servants of minorities. Scotland pays more in taxation than it receives in public spending. Scotland has, in recent years, contributed national surpluses to the overall deficits run by Britain.
It also has comparative advantages suited to the times. Scotland is energy rich in an era of energy insecurity. It has invested wisely in renewable energies to complement its impressive oil resources. Some believe that there are about 300 oilfields off Scotland's coast not yet explored or not properly tapped.
In recent years, Scottish exports have also often increased at a faster rate than those of their southern neighbours - further evidence the argument that Scotland cannot afford to be independent is baseless.
This rational approach to Scottish independence complements the romantic argument to vote yes. If some assume that sentimentality is behind the campaign for independence, it is only because there is good reason to be both angry about Scotland's past and optimistic about what could be achieved if it separated from its southern master.
The streak of romantic stoicism in the face of oppression runs particularly deep.
One recalls Burns' song Scots Wha Hae, written to commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn, where the Scots defied great odds to defeat the English army:
By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Many Scots feel they are treated as an appendix of England or, worse, as second-class citizens. Governments of both political persuasions have been guilty. Examples are many, but those most often cited are sobering for those favourably inclined to the union. More recent examples include the unpopular poll tax, introduced in 1989 but inflicted on Scotland one year before the rest of Britain, making Scotland the testing ground for London's public policy.
A decade later, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords acted on the recommendation of a select committee in the Scottish Office to shift Scotland's maritime boundaries from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Carnoustie, a distance of about 100 kilometres. A golfer who wistfully looks out to the sea from the sixth tee at St Andrews is actually looking upon English waters.
Even though the romantic and emotional arguments align in favour of Scottish independence, it remains to be seen if people will take the leap of faith necessary to grasp the opportunity open to them. Why would any nation wish to remain a minority in a larger political entity when there is no sound economic, emotional or political reason to do so?
Are the majority of Scots now ''fearty-gowks'' (a colloquial Scottish term for ''fearful'') on the question of independence? Do they collectively lack the national confidence to believe that they can self-govern? If the Yes Scotland campaign fails, it would be an unfortunate indictment on the nation. Not all contexts are alike, and not all movements for self-determination reflect the civic nationalism desired in Scotland.
The broader regional arrangements in Europe, however, provide an opportunity denied of nations in Asia intent on asserting their cultural independence. Local and national identities may be inspired to reassert their cultural vitality and find an appropriate political expression for it. If Scotland finds the national strength of character to stand alone, other nations in Europe may follow.
If it votes for independence next year, Scotland will have resisted one of the more destructive consequences of this era of rapid integration and increasing interdependence: cultural assimilation. The impact may be more far-reaching than one can in this moment reasonably anticipate.
- Andrew Hunter is chairman of the Australian Fabians. He collaborated with Derek Hunter on the writing of this article.