Who's Afraid of Scottish Independence?

Azeem Ibrahim urges Joe Biden to discourage Scottish independence on dubious grounds of security:

All that domestic turmoil, however, risks obscuring the most consequential aspect of Scottish independence—that it would be a geopolitical disaster for the United Kingdom, the United States, and Scotland itself. Scottish independence would effectively neutralize the U.K.’s military and diplomatic power on the global arena and deprive the United States of one of its most pivotal allies, an ally that remains a critical pillar of the United States’ defense structure.

We have heard some version of this argument many times before, and it is no more persuasive now than it was then. There were many such warnings issued during the debates leading up to the first referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, and they were all similarly alarmist and wrongheaded. The effect of Scottish independence on U.S. security would be nil, and the president should say nothing about this issue one way or the other. As a general rule, the U.S. should refrain from interfering in the internal political and constitutional affairs of other states. When Obama chose to insert himself into the debate seven years ago, it was probably somewhat detrimental to the unionist side, but it was unnecessary for him to comment at all.

It is doubtful that the security of the ex-U.K. would be harmed if Scotland left. Scots are hardly going to start raiding Northumbria. Relocating nuclear-armed submarines might finally force the government to see what a costly and unnecessary drain on the military budget they are, and perhaps they will choose to scrap them and spend more on their already much-diminished conventional capabilities. The current British nuclear arsenal isn’t really an independent deterrent anyway.

Most of the article is baseless speculation that Scotland might align itself with an adversarial power. That seems very unlikely. If an independent Scotland aligned itself with any other government or group of governments, it is much more likely that they would align themselves with the European Union. Opposition to British withdrawal from the EU received overwhelming support in Scotland, and British withdrawal has led to calls for a second independence referendum in the near future. The only real question about Scotland’s entry into the EU is whether some current members will choose to block it for their own reasons. It is even possible, though less likely, that an independent Scotland might apply to join NATO. Seeking alliance membership is currently the official position of the Scottish National Party, but the issue remains a contentious one. That hardly sounds like a country that is about to become a Russian satellite once it is independent.

The least persuasive part of this polemic is that a former U.K. government in London might be stripped of its permanent seat on the Security Council. If Russia was permitted to keep the Soviet seat, it seems very unlikely that England would lose the British one. Even if this were to happen, it’s not clear why this would be such a terrible thing. The Security Council desperately needs reform, and that includes expanding the number of permanent members and changing the composition of the membership. If the rump ex-U.K. might lose its seat following Scottish independence, that just underlines the absurdity of treating the current U.K. as if it were really one of the five greatest powers on earth.

The hawks’ unspoken fear is that the end of the U.K. might make it more difficult for the U.S. to engage in military adventurism. The U.K. has been a fairly reliable follower in every major post-Cold War intervention, and in some cases it has been the U.K. that has egged the U.S. on to take military action when our leaders were not so eager to get involved. This fear is probably misplaced, because an ex-U.K., post-“Brexit” government in London would probably be even more determined to do whatever the U.S. wanted, but it is also a terrible reason to oppose the peaceful self-determination of another nation.

If another independence referendum is conducted in cooperation with Westminster and it passes, it will be a legitimate constitutional change endorsed by the Scottish people. There would be no reason for our government to object to it. The U.S. has no business discouraging Scottish independence, and that outcome poses no threat to us. If Scotland votes Yes, our government should respect a pro-independence result and recognize Scotland without delay.