How a Centralized Europe Makes Scots Feel the Oats of Independence

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It may seem paradoxical that centuries-old nationalist passions are reentering the political mainstream at a time when Britain itself is being increasingly absorbed into the European Union's supra-state, but the gradual merging of Europe's nation-states may be actually encouraging renewed claims to sovereignty in its component parts. And making London and other capitals more relaxed about extending autonomy.

Europe's nation-states are, after all, a comparatively recent phenomenon: The continent had been an unruly smorgasbord of tiny kingdoms and fiefdoms before the emerging urban manufacturing economy of the 18th and 19th centuries began drawing them together into the nation states we know today. The modern economy required that a single currency, language and set of laws be generalized across that smorgasbord to create the large national markets that would sustain economic growth.

Thus, for example, Bavarians, Saxons, Prussians, Swabians and numerous other regional identities were all absorbed into the single entity of modern Germany. The urban industrial economy assimilated many of those distinct regional identities and forged a single culture. In some areas, this process occurred relatively smoothly; elsewhere, the process was uneven and sometimes sparked a nationalist backlash. Among the Basques of Spain or the Corsicans of France, this has taken the form of separatist violence. Among the Scots it has been largely confined to the soccer field. After all, they receive 32 percent more per capita of London's public funds than the English do, which may be part of the reason why Tony Blair's Labor Party is still the largest bloc in Scotland even though voters denied it an outright majority last week.

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