Will braveheart nationalism or unionist tradition win the Scottish referendum on 18 September? Neither is really relevant any longer, as a healthy dose of European common sense would suffice.
Alex Salmond appeals to Scottishness and David Cameron to Britishness, both of which are both better than Nigel Farage's English exclusiveness. But they are nevertheless all wrong. Full independence and national sovereignty are antiquated schemes in today's European reality. And so much the better.
A good part of the new Europe, whose foundations were laid after World War II, is now in existence in the form of the euro common currency area, the Schengen Area (common borders) and a continent-wide common market. All three have lifted both the quality of life and the ease of commercial transaction for a majority of Europeans. Incidentally, overseas visitors profit as well, as passports, border formalities and currency exchange are all things of the past when skipping from one European capital to the next.
Some will object and point to the euro's woes and other European crises. Yet the economy would have been bad within at least some of the old borders anyway, and probably worse, as Southern Europe's ills have their origin precisely in closed national shops. And Europe is slowly bouncing back, thus disappointing the feverish national dreams of those wanting to go back to the Deutschmark, the French franc and other historical currencies.
Let me give an often overlooked yet clearly visible example of how radically Europe has changed for the better: its physical infrastructure and especially its public transportation now represent a global gold standard (not everywhere in Europe but in many places). On a recent trip to New York, on occasion of my 30th anniversary of discovering the Big Apple, it was depressing to note that US public infrastructure has not changed one iota since; it is filled with rusting bridges, potholed and jammed highways, substandard urban trains and dismal overland transportation. Greater metropolitan areas such as the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington corridor will not see rapid train transportation soon, if ever.
The same goes for the Australian equivalent, the Brisbane-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne corridor, where urban and overland transport appear to have been frozen in the late 19th century (try the the museum train from Sydney to Canberra). If there is any competition for modern European infrastructure, one has to look in China.
Such European progress meant a certain transfer of sovereignty from the national to the supranational level. Why then this headlong rush to embrace national independence for small historical regions such as Scotland and Lombardy? Or for language groups to break away, as in Catalonia, the Basque country and Flanders?
Some Scots appear to feel that 'living in your own country' will make a big difference. In fact, the great majority of Scots will go on living after 18 September just like they have before, regardless of the referendum's outcome. National borders have become somewhat irrelevant in borderless Europe.
As Gordon Brown, possibly the last Scot to preside over a government of Great Britain, explained recently and Philip Stephens pointed out in the FT, this surge of nationalism is a reaction from those whose sense of self has been eroded by globalisation. Nationalism is thus apparently not only the last refuge of the scoundrel but also of the globalised insecure man.
The real problem for Europe with regard to the Scottish vote lies in its potential as a precedent. If the Catalans, Flemish, Basque, Lombardians and Corsicans take their cue from the Scots, political mayhem could ensue. Instead of getting closer as they have over the last 75 years, Europeans would drift apart, as newly created states have a tendency to accentuate, not dilute, their formal sovereignty.
Thus the continent would probably turn inward, preoccupied with itself, at a moment in its history when a more active European foreign policy, as well as a common effort to deal with continent-wide challenges such as migration, is urgently required.
Small can be beautiful. Local autonomy increases the civic awareness of citizens and as a result their participation in, and identification with, affairs of state. This can be seen in the decentralised states of Germany and in my own country, Switzerland. But big challenges need big solutions that only supranational effort, and a single democratic centre of decision and supervision, can provide.
It is often said that Alex Salmond's success with his 'Yes' campaign is due to his ability to pull at the heart strings of his countrymen, rather than than their common sense. I see another part of the human body as Salmond's leverage: the stomach. The German expression Bauchgefühl ('gut instinct') describes exactly the kind of emotions involved.
This kind of reasoning might be good enough for a sporting bet or a decision to run with bulls, but it falls woefully short as a basis for the political decision to make one country and break another.
As a citizen of the world's most direct-democratic country, one feels sorely tempted to call Scots to reason. Referenda are tricky: the people's mandate is always right, but the people do change their minds occasionally. The Scots, just like many other national minorities as they become ever more European, don't really need independence anymore. With the EU they are getting something better.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kyoshi Masamune.