The big news of the past week has been the independence referendum in Scotland, in which the voters got to decide whether to remain in the United Kingdom or secede and become an independent nation. By the hefty margin of 55% to 45%, the people of Scotland rejected independence. It was the right decision.
I love Scotland. My maternal ancestors arrived in America from Scotland in 1906. I have visited Scotland many times. I've hosted Burns Night. I listen to Scottish music, eat Scottish food, drink Scottish beer, and read Scottish literature. Far too many Scottish-Americans think that they take their heritage seriously just by watching Braveheart, but I like to think that I'm at least a little more genuine.
It's also easy for me to understand the emotional desire that any proud people might have for independence. History is largely the story of people fighting to free themselves from others, as Americans can attest. Looking over the globe today, we can still see how the striving for independence continues to drive much of what happens in the world. The Kurds in Iraq are perhaps the most obvious example.
Yet Scotland was correct in rejecting independence. Had they voted to secede, the United Kingdom as we know it would have effectively ceased to exist. And a world without the United Kingdom would have been a much lesser place.
The United Kingdom is probably the most successful political entity that has ever existed, exerting an enormous and beneficial influence on the rest of the world. It was the United Kingdom that played the crucial role in defeating the imperial ambitions of Louis XIV and Napoleon and, in the 20th Century, played critical roles in defeated fascism in Nazi Germany and containing communism in Russia until it collapsed. Through the expansion and eventual independence of the British Empire, the United Kingdom spread over the whole world the concepts of parliamentary democracy, free market economics, the rule of law, and (not to be underrated) association football.
But aside from preserving the United Kingdom, Scotland was right in rejecting independence because being part of the United Kingdom is part of what makes Scotland what it is. For too many people, Scotland means William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. It should mean James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine; Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics; James Clerk Maxwell, the discoverer of electromagnetism; Robert Burns, the poet; David Hume, the philosopher; Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; Patrick Geddes, the father of modern city planning; David Livingstone, the explorer of Africa. With a tiny fraction of a percent of the world's population, Scotland has produced some of the most important and influential thinkers of the modern age. Being part of the United Kingdom has allowed Scotland to punch far, far above its historical weight.
(Readers interested in the contributions Scots have made to the wider world should read Arthur Herman's outstanding book How the Scots Invented the Modern World.)
It's important to note that William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are warriors from the semi-barbaric medieval age. The truly great Scots are made their mark on the world after the 1707 Union between England and Scotland. It was through the United Kingdom that Scotland prospered and flourished. Walking away from that glorious historical legacy would have been a mistake.
So, to the voters of Scotland, I say thank you. Thank you for saving the United Kingdom and thank you for respecting the brilliant heritage of your nation.