After a flurry of interest in the Scottish referendum, with the vote featuring on the front page of the New York Times and dominating nightly news programmes, Americans may now be wondering what all the fuss was about.
Before the No vote, American perceptions of the Scottish referendum were diverse. Some feared the consequences of the break up of the UK, while others lauded the fruition of a long struggle for national independence.
In the United States there is both a feeling of solidarity in having seen a nation press for the freedom to govern themselves as they see fit and earnest puzzlement and shock that Scots would even consider such a move.
The UK/US relationship
An independent Scotland has been seen as perhaps less of an issue than a divided United Kingdom. There remains a perception of the UK as a critical American ally and of the continuance of a “special relationship” even if the US and the UK do not appear as closely aligned as they have been at times in the past.
How would that have changed if Scotland seceded? The remaining UK would be more conservative without Scotland, but perhaps more importantly it would be dealing with the consequences of the separation for many years to come. This creates a great deal of uncertainty about the UK in terms of its role in the global arena and as an American ally.
The US/Europe relationship
The break-up of the UK, if it harkened an era of political separation in Europe, would have significant consequences for the US. There remains some chance that Catalonia will attempt to separate from Spain, and Ukraine continues to struggle to retain territorial integrity.
Scottish separation would have been democratically based and, even if difficult, not violent. The same cannot be said for many groups seeking independence both in and outside of Europe. Shifting borders in Europe should concern the US both because of the potential for conflict, but also for the potential to lose stable allies.
Global security and economics
The No vote certainly allays concerns about the separation (or at the extreme, fears of disintegration) of an ally. The threat of the Islamic State and uncertainty about the ability of the US to counter that challenge with or without support from other states makes the stability and unity of allies even more important than it might otherwise.
Insofar at the US depends on British support for its policy agenda around the world, continued unity is clearly a positive for America. Likewise, uncertainty about the extent of economic fallout from an independent Scotland, and how that might affect the US, has played heavily in the discussion of the referendum. Economists have particularly emphasised the potential catastrophes of a currency union between the UK and Scotland.
An exercise in democracy
Outside the context of global affairs and security, the Scottish bid for independence resonates with many Americans. I’ve seen Scottish flags flying in my own neighbourhood for the past few months.
Scottish heritage still defines many Americans whether they have been to Scotland or even know of any living relatives still there.
The referendum was a spectacular exercise in democracy and right to choose one’s political future, which is at heart what many Americans believe our national culture is about.