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My Scotland, Our Britain, a Future Worth Sharing

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Although we share the same language, religion, history and traditions and have no border disputes or evidence of discrimination, many Scots will vote on September 18th to secede from the United Kingdom.

Could this historic nation of just five million people on the northern periphery of Europe make history yet again, leading a new wave of secessionist movements in the advanced industrial world?

Could Scotland be the pacemaker for nationalist breakaways in Spain, Belgium, Italy and Eastern Europe? And could it demonstrate, as victories for anti-immigrant parties did in last month's European elections, that even the most advanced industrial nations are not immune from nationalist or protectionist movements?

No one commemorating the centenary of the First World War can doubt the elemental, explosive power of nationalism. With at least 6,000 identifiable ethnic groupings scattered round the globe, many struggling for recognition in just 200 states, nationalism may yet have many more pages to write in our history books.

But it is the quiet yet dramatic rise of a non-violent Scottish nationalism that now has the world watching. There have been no riots, few demonstrations, hardly any petitions and not a moment of civil strife.

Scottish assertiveness should surprise no one. In spite of a union that 300 years ago incorporated Scotland into Great Britain, summarily abolished Scotland's Parliament and transferred all political power to London, a strong Scottish national identity has survived an industrial revolution, two world wars and the rise and fall of the British Empire. Consequently, Scotland has never become the North Britain many marked it out to be - we have always been a nation. Today Scotland has its own Parliament with more power to come. But inside the UK, nationalists want to break all remaining links with the UK.

Many claim that England is the "first nation" and a great number of Americans believe their country has been blessed by God. But the Scots have always thought of themselves as history makers.

Scots, like me, are proud of our record as inventors of everything from the steam engine, chloroform and penicillin to the telephone, television and radar - and of our explorers, missionaries, and empire builders. At the peak of Britain's industrial revolution, Scotland, with just over a tenth of one percent of the global population, produced one-third of the world's ships and one-fifth of the world's steel.

We are also proud that, as the first nation in the world to make basic education available to all children and as home to the Enlightenment led by Adam Smith and David Hume, we have played our part in contributing egalitarian values and an ethic of social responsibility to the development of Great Britain.

It was these values that encouraged Scottish leaders to ruthlessly abolish their own separate Scottish Poor Law and instead to lead a century-long movement away from Scottish-only solutions to create a UK-wide national insurance system for pensions and the unemployed, a UK-wide guarantee for funding education and, more recently, UK-wide minimum wages and minimum family incomes.

It was anger caused by the sight of nurses leaving the beds of patients to run charity flag days to fund the most basic of medical equipment that persuaded Scots to demand an end to their broken patchwork of charity, municipal and private fee paying hospitals. This led to the initial push, during wartime in 1943, for a universal, UK-wide health care system, available free at the time of need and irrespective of whether you were Scots, English, Welsh or Irish.

It is these guaranteed social rights of citizenship - shared equally by every resident of all four UK nations irrespective of nationality - that make the UK unique among multinational states. Under the European Union, a single market encourages the free flow of goods, services, money and people, but European lawmakers have been unable to guarantee equal social and economic rights across the 28 countries.

Quite simply, richer German workers will not contribute to the pension benefits or health care of the Greek unemployed. Whether you call what Britain has achieved a social market, name it a union for social justice, hail it as the best insurance policy in the world or label it a modern covenant, one thing is unmistakable: the United Kingdom is today defined by its willingness, unparalleled anywhere in the world, to pooling and sharing risks and resources across four nations.

It is an arrangement that may have been in Scotland's self-interest as it coped with the loss of its world lead as a manufacturing nation, but the 'sharing' union is also an invention firmly rooted in enduring Scottish values.

Britain's experience teaches the world that in this new, interdependent global economy, cooperation across national borders can be so deep that one nation's citizens can help another nation's citizens - sharing the risks each face and sharing the costs of welfare, health care and education. The results have been startling.

On average, a citizen in the poorest nation in the EU has one-fifth of the annual income of a citizen in the richest EU nation. In the US, the typical citizen of the poorest state has just 50 percent of the income of their counterpart in the richest state. By contrast, the differences between Scotland and England have been narrowed to a vanishing point, with the earnings of a typical Scot nearing parity to that of their English neighbor. And while redistributive transfers in America take just 25 percent of poor Americans out of poverty, they eradicate the poverty of between 55 percent and 60 percent of the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish poor.

It is this unique settlement, a British invention that is a beacon for the world, which is now at risk. Will the world learn, to its cost, that even now nationalist passions can still be so aroused that centuries of integration and cooperation across nations can be brought to a juddering halt? Will people everywhere lose confidence in the ability of separate nations to integrate their economies and cooperate successfully across borders in multinational associations?

Or, by continuing to show the world that you can share resources across nations, will the UK become the beacon for all those struggling to balance strong attachment to identity while embracing cultural diversity? Progressives everywhere should hope Scotland's future is as part of Britain -- not apart from it.

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