Douglas Alexander appeals to emotion as one element of a successful ‘No’ campaign. For example – our sense of identity and solidarity with the Union which won Britain two world wars. This is a valid call, and I speak as someone whose father, when just a young child in Clydebank, was bombed by the Nazis. I feel real emotional loyalty to the multi-nation state entity – the UK – which fought and won that war.
But emotions are less important than facts, and the rational choices the facts suggest to be prudent in the name of naked self-interest (individual and collective).
An example. The two world wars of the twentieth century were won by allliances led by the United States and the United Kingdom. For a ‘No’ supporter like me, this is good evidence that we are, indeed, better together. Had Scotland been a separate nation state in 1939, I think it quite likely that Hitler would have invaded, as he did Norway. He might even have used Norway as a launch pad, like the Norsemen all those centuries ago whose language named the place where I was born, Thurso.
Nationalists, some of them at least, will argue that had Scotland been an independent country at that time, it would have been able to stay out of the war. Ireland did.
And if that questionable logic is deemed morally complicit in the face of Nazism, it will be argued that the era of total war is over. Such a conflict could never happen again, and thus the military and diplomatic might of the UK will never be needed by Scotland. Neither will nuclear weapons. If there is no existential nuclear-armed enemy anymore, who needs a nuclear deterrent?
The problem with this interpretation of the facts can be spelled out in one word: Ukraine. As that country of 44 million people, which gave up nuclear weapons in 1996 demonstrates, political processes and the conflicts they sometimes lead to are unpredictable and chaotic. One cannot foresee everything, and nothing is impossible. Black swans are real. The recent past is no guide to the medium term future (though events over a longer period may be). Thus, in 2014, Europe is watching a sovereign nation state being dismembered by a more powerful neighbour on ethnic grounds, threatening a conflict that could very easily escalate far beyond post-Soviet Europe.
I do not think this will happen, but what if something like it did? Would Scotland be stronger as a small country of 5 million cut off from the UK and unprotected by the US, perched strategically at the north western edge of Europe with no obvious means of defence against a hostile power armed with weapons of mass destruction? Or would strength lie in remaining a highly valued part of the NATO alliance, hosting a key plank of its nuclear deterrent and sharing a common defence apparatus?
This is not just or even mainly a question of emotion, but of sober risk assessment. I support the Union not because I fear war in Europe next week, or next year, or next century, but because it has protected its composite nations from annihilation twice in the last century, and because it is irresponsible naivete to believe that the Scots will never face such a threat again, ever. ‘Yes’ in September will set the Scots free to hope and work for the best. ‘No’ will enable them to plan for the worst.