Twenty-odd years ago, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from the Yugoslav Federation, precipitating a savage civil war that reached its lowest point with the forced secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Everyone could see the war was coming. Everyone could see that the Slovenian departure would be a non-event, but everyone was horrified at the slaughter in Croatia as the Federation’s army laid waste to Eastern Slavonia. However, the thing that truly shocked all observers was the savagery threatened in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a province slightly smaller than Ireland. A savagery that duly came to pass.
So why is Britain different? Why would London tolerate the dismantling of the British Federation?
Up to now, the debate has been characterised by a complacent assumption that the Yes side would be defeated, and it’s only in the last week that Westminster has woken up to the possibility that the Scots really might take that step and separate themselves from the Union, with the result that they’ve offered all manner of blandishments and sweeteners. Devo Max as it’s come to be known.
But now, what’s going to happen if the Scots really do vote to become a separate country? Will the London government take this lying down? For that matter, will the pro-Union Scots accept it? After all, the referendum hangs by a spider-thread and will probably end 51-49 either way.
Many will probably think that such a narrow margin is not democracy but majority rule and those people will include half the Scottish people.
If this were a Yugoslavia-style situation, I’d be gloomily predicting a military incursion into Scotland by a London-controlled overwhelming military force, backed up by a Scottish militia sympathetic to the Union, but this is not Yugoslavia. This is a political entity in Western Europe, even if it happens to be a shaky (at best) member of the European Union.
Pro-independence Scottish leaders can hardly have failed to at least consider the possibility of civil war. It would be utterly irrational to ignore all possible outcomes, and therefore it seems reasonable to assume that they would at the very least have made contingency plans. Surely any rational leader would try to establish which army barracks and which airfields are loyal to the cause.
What are the factors that prevent a military incursion, given England’s historical willingness to send soldiers into countries across the world? It can hardly be a reluctance to engage in military action. Given the ruthless crushing of the miners’ strike in the eighties, it can hardly be a fear of public opinion.
Is it NATO membership? Possibly. That must be a significant part of the calculation.
Is it the much-talked-about special relationship with the USA? Undoubtedly.
Is it the fact that Scotland doesn’t matter any more, since London has become a quasi-independent super-state populated by the super-rich and based on the international money trade? Probably, but that carries another corollary: the rest of the United Kingdom no longer matters to the elite either.
If London fails to react militarily to Scottish independence, it sends out a clear message that the periphery is no longer of any use to those who matter, and that means the rest might soon also drift away. If Scotland goes, then why not Yorkshire? Why not Lincolnshire? Why not the West Midlands?
For that matter, what about the Wee North?
Once Scotland leaves, are we witnessing the beginning of a break-up based on the old fault-lines that have always defined England as two nations? Will it begin with the Dane Law?
Ah, I’m only joking. Probably.