Independence for Scotland? It's my heart vs. my head

I admit it. I’m not a Scot, but like so many Americans, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Scotland. My husband is Scottish-American, two of our children went to Scottish universities and we take annual vacations in Scotland.

My husband collects Scotch whisky, we wear McFarland tartan kilts and we celebrate Hogmanay. Even the golf course we play on was copied from one in Scotland. So, while I can’t vote in this week’s referendum, I feel entitled to an opinion on Scottish independence.

In fact, I have two opinions: one from my heart, and one from my head.

My heart dreams of an independent Scotland with all the values that once made the Scots great: hard work, integrity, thriftiness and personal accountability.


Much that I find best about America came from Scotland.

Our Founding Fathers created a country modeled on the civil society envisioned by Scottish philosophers like David Hume and John Locke.

Our Navy’s first hero was Scottish-born sailor John Paul Jones. Scottish-Irish immigrants, including some who fled the Highlands after the Battle of Culloden, were the backbone of the American Revolutionary Army.

Our education system was modeled on the Scottish system.

Our greatest entrepreneur, Andrew Carnegie, and one of our greatest inventors, Alexander Graham Bell, originally hailed from Scotland.

Who doesn’t love "Braveheart’s" William Wallace, and Mel Gibson crying “freedom” as downtrodden Scots watched the English torture and execute him, then rise 10 years later to win independence with Robert the Bruce … “The Chariots of Fire” athletes running along the beach at St. Andrews before historic Olympic victories … “Downton Abbey’s” Christmas in the Highlands … Harry Potter’s seven glorious years at Hogwarts ... The Edinburgh Fringe Festival … Bagpipers … kilts … Scotch whisky … shortbread? Maybe even Haggis!

I can see this kind of independent Scotland succeeding, with leaders who encourage the Scottish diaspora and its heirs to take up citizenship and bring their considerable wealth to invest in a new Scotland.

I can see an independent Scotland, with its highly literate population, becoming a mecca for knowledge industries and high technology centered around Scottish universities.

I can see an independent Scotland that expands on its already considerable offshore oil resources by developing shale oil and natural gas. I can see those entrepreneurial Scots using all that cheap energy to create a second industrial revolution.

If those fiscally prudent Scots vote to lower income taxes, the world’s wealthy will flow in, spending wads of new Scottish pounds. If those canny Scots peg their corporate tax rates below those of the U.S. and Europe, international corporations will rush to set up headquarters in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I can almost smell the peat fires and warming single malt. But then my head takes over.

What exactly is it that the politicians have in mind for Independent Scotland? Sadly, no one knows. I attended a breakfast meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Chief Alex Salmond last spring, and he answered “those things will have to be worked out” to questions about currency, taxes, banks, health care, armed forces, NATO’s bases and EU membership.

By intentionally being so short on specifics, I fear many Scots believe independence means they’ll get to keep all the oil revenues and won’t have to assume any of the government’s considerable debt. That’s hardly a plan the rest of Great Britain will agree to, and they have all the leverage.

If recent history is any example, the Scots have little appetite for Adam Smith’s pro-market capitalism. Their leading politicians espouse a far-left-wing political agenda. Scotland’s largest political party, the SNP, is socialist and constantly pushes for more entitlements and higher taxes. It thrives on a soak-the-rich, England-has-robbed-us mantra.

It’s hard to see how Independent Scotland can balance the books without aid from London, since Scotland has for quite some time received more in benefits than it pays in taxes.

The average Scot receives 1,300 pounds more in government spending than his English counterpart. If Scots have to go it alone, how will they meet that shortfall?

If they refuse to adopt a pro-growth program, their economy will languish. If they refuse to cut benefits, they’ll go bankrupt. Is there any chance Independent Scotland will suddenly throw off the addiction of the welfare state? Or will it spiral ever downward, shackled by big debt and big government?

So, as much as my heart yearns for an independent Scotland with all the vibrancy of the Enlightenment, inventiveness of the Industrial Revolution, cohesiveness of the Clans and romance of the Highlands, my head tells me that it’s unlikely.

Scots feel ignored and exploited by London, and if they vote to remain in the United Kingdom, that is unlikely to change. But that would still be better than a socialist independent Scotland, which neither my heart nor my head would think an improvement.