Finally, after years of wanting to do it, Scotland the brave set out to establish its credentials as an independent country and prove to the world that it could go it alone. But when the chips were down it would give in to what has become a well-known psychological condition, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Defined by the American Psychological Association as the “inappropriate and excessive display of fear and distress when faced with separation from home or from the people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment.”
One would not have thought that the rugged and independent minded Scots would have been unduly attached to anything emotional, but there you have it. Perhaps it was ponderous and mostly dull old Gordon Brown who was overcome by a spell of unusual feistiness who inspired the no-voters and saved the day.
Yes, it was seen to have been on a knife-edge for some time, but in the end Scotland opted for “Better-Together”. It was probably the media that was trying to add excitement and drama to the referendum by talking about how evenly matched the opposing sides were and that it really was too close to call. But with the whole thing behind us now, the question must be: what was it all about? Is the drive for independence that has also been emerging in several other separatist movements really as strong as their supporters would have us believe?
Can the Catalans and the Basques and the Flemish and the rest of them make it on their own or is it just so much hot-air to be given more benefits and more rights to make their own decisions when the whole thing is over? Some years ago the Quebecois in Canada went through the same process and, like Scotland, also made a u-turn in the dying moments. What is it that fires these separatists? And why is it that when their yearning for independence is put to the test they pull back just in time?
The Catalans are the next ones to stake their claim. With their fiery red and yellow emblems and their passionate personalities they may have better luck leaving the mother ship when the voting starts in November.
The crisis precipitated by the 2008 financial collapse must take some of the blame. People lost their faith in national leaders and there has been a brewing perception that central government does not work. In Europe where the levers of government are based out of Brussels they say it is definitely not working. Independent-minded citizens, especially those in the more affluent areas like Flanders and northern Italy believe that they would be better off paddling their own canoes and not having to rely on the monolithic bureaucracy of the European Union.
In Scotland, where talk of devolution has been simmering for many years, the referendum has now brought some sensitive issues into the open. Conflicts that existed below the radar have been fully articulated and strong differences of opinion between friends, relatives and in the workplace have now caused uncomfortable fissures. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the differences are not going away. Scottish nationalism is still alive and well, especially in places like working-class Glasgow.
The drivers of the nationalism that is asserting itself everywhere from the Basque country to Catalonia, as well as in several parts of the old Soviet Union and beyond in Corsica, Veneto, and Lombardy would seem to exist on several levels. The economic argument usually comes to the fore straight away. Why should a country like Scotland with its more abundant natural resources and more vigorous economy have to play second fiddle to England? Why would an industrious and independent nation have to pay taxes and bend the knee to the English who have always behaved as if the Scottish were somehow inferior? The Catalans feel the same about Spain, as do the people of Venice about Italy.
Of course another strong driver for independence is the one championed by the politicians. Passion for independence and in due course more political power for the leaders is an appealing prospect. What else drives politicians if not power? The First Minister devoted his life to the issue of Scottish independence and was so overcome when his party lost their independence foothold that he chose to resign. No need to talk more about the real motives of politicians or their lust for power. They are the drivers, often behind the scenes, of wars and military interventions.
Probably the most important driver is deeper and more about the psychological elements of the desire for independence. Self-determination and the primordial need to differentiate oneself and one’s clan as a means of survival are very strong motivators. These are the well-springs of nationalism. Whether determined by religion or geography or whatever other cause there is always the passion to assert the self and the cherished values that are held.
But there is a paradox. Colliding with this brave overarching need for independence and being separate, is the fear of risk and the anxiety of separation. Scotland has proved to be a perfect example.
When all the talk-shows have had their say and when the think-tanks have done fulsome analysis it will be this anxiety of separation which finally did the trick in Scotland. Gordon Brown and the other political mates simply drove the message home and achieved the desired result.
And there is another paradox. Why would it be in a time when nation-states are supposed to have come to an end as predicted by people like William Rees-Mogg and others that there is still so much emphasis on national identity? Why in a time when borders are being ignored with Schengen visas for all of Europe and the escalation of flat-world technology tells us that we live in a global world there are still such virulent pockets of nationalistic fervour; that the people of Eastern Ukraine would rather die than be seen as Ukranian instead of Russian; that the Basques would kill and maim and throw bombs just to make their separatist point? And then that the Scots would be prepared to give up their outsourced convenience of a successful monetary system, a well-equipped army and no border controls with their neighbour, among other benefits, just to be bravely alone? Is their dislike or even hatred of the English enough reason? DM
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Johann Redelinghuys is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles the international leadership consulting business, which bought the firm Redelinghuys & Partners of which he was the founder. He has been deeply involved in career management and executive search all his life. He is the chairman of the South African company and now heads up its board practice working with chairmen and CEOs focussed on CEO succession, strategic leadership review and board evaluation.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon