- - Friday, September 19, 2014

The Scots thought twice about independence, and did the right thing. They preserved the United Kingdom as we know it and saved themselves and the world from a lot of grief that would have inevitably spilled into unexpected places.

The vote was decisive, 54 percent to 46 percent, but not so decisive as to put the issue permanently to rest. The result, as Wellington said of Waterloo, was “a close run thing.” Scotland is obviously split into two almost equal fragments, and the national government in London, which made promises of enabling further expansion of local rule, must now make good on those promises. Nevertheless, 307 years of union survives, and that’s a lot.

“Something that thousands of Scots wanted to be wonderful or merely just to witness has disappeared,” Martin Kettle, a columnist for The London Guardian, observed on the morning after. “For others, the majority, there will be thankfulness above all, but uneasiness, too. Thursday’s vote exposed a Scotland divided down the middle and against itself. Healing that hurt will not be easy or quick. It’s time to put away the flags.”

But in a time of rising appreciation of national and ethnic differences, putting away the tribal flags is not a pleasing prospect for millions across the world. The vote in Scotland focuses a look at the similar ambitions of the Catalonians and Basques in Spain, the Corsicans and even the Sardinians of France, the Flemish in Belgium and the Venetians in Italy. Not so suddenly, everyone wants a flag and an occasion to wave it. The Catalonians had counted on the independence movement in Scotland to boost their long campaign for independence from Madrid, but even when that didn’t happen, they took heart that the Scottish vote spread a focus on other independence movements. Homage to Catalonia is much appreciated.

Secession talk has become fashionable even in the United States. The frugal and the far-seeing who took heed of the cry in 1865 to “save your Confederate money, boys, the South will rise again,” can feel bemused, if not exactly vindicated, by a new Reuters-Ipsos poll that finds 24 percent of Americans who say they’re “open” to the idea of their states leaving the union. The sentiment is not particularly strong in the South, which actually tried secession once but has since become strong in the union.

South Carolina, which long ago spiked the guns that fired on Fort Sumter, is not making secession noises, and President Obama, who imagines he emulates Abraham Lincoln on so many things, has not asked for volunteers to march on Austin or wherever the sentiment comes to a boil. Secessionist sentiment, such as it is, sounds more like anger and frustration over smaller obsessions than independence. In the West, there’s anger over the federal government’s arrogance and usurpation of grazing rights on land that belongs to the government, but shouldn’t.

Mark Denny, 59, a Republican who lives outside Dallas on disability payments, may be the accurate voice of secession sentiment. “I have totally, completely lost faith in the federal government and the people running it, whether Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever.”

Secession sentiment, which is actually nothing like the anger that drove the South out of the union a century and a half ago, has nevertheless encouraged a group of partisans in Texas to petition the legislature to put a secession question on the ballot. That’s not likely, but clearly the natives, like those in Glasgow and Aberdeen, are getting restless. The wise take heed of small things.

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