The Scottish vote on independence earlier this week meant a lot. The vote mobilized millions to decide their future. The vote tapped into long-running issues, with its heart centered on how an entire nation of people wanted to define their own national identity. The results are in, and the results are clear: however strong a Scottish identity exists, the Scottish identity is inextricably linked with the rest of the United Kingdom. The Union will remain.
The vote should also be construed as a refreshing vote for a representative political system that underpins the world order. Specifically, the vote (re)affirms the sense that democratic systems can and do protect all people better than any competing system.
Scots voted not under duress or violence or threat of violence, but instead with enthusiasm and vigorous, open debate.
The contrast is marked compared to recent unrest elsewhere. The mid-2014 referendum in Eastern Ukraine comes immediately to mind, wherein Russia introduced a referendum that makes a sham of democracy, which incidentally hews closely to Russia’s own model of democracy. An honest referendum would have, just as in the Scottish case, revealed a strong Ukrainian identity and desire to stay united with Kiev. Moreover, an honest referendum would have ended Russia’s justification for intervening along the border.
Granted, a successful referendum can pull other nation-states apart. An honest referendum on a Kurdish homeland would redefine the borders of Iraq and Turkey. An honest referendum on Palestine (and sponsored by Israel) would forever change the Middle East. In these two examples the world would arguably be better off.
Back to the main point, however: compared to dictatorships (Syria), ogopoloies (Russia), and one party rule (China, wherein ethnic minorities such as Uighurs and Tibetans are clearly repressed) representative democracy is still the best system for coaxing competing nationalities to peacefully coexist. Scotland made that clear in its vote this weekend, and its example should inspire nationalities elsewhere to demand an open, transparent, and democratic system of governance that treats everyone fairly.
Achieve this, and the payoff is immediately clear: a world at peace with itself.