28 December 2018

Scotland and How Identity and Economics Move in Opposite Directions

Scotland is weird. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has two goals that seem at odds with one another. She has already led one - failed - effort to break Scotland off from the UK. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, she has renewed that call for separation in order to ... [wait for it] ... be a part of the EU. Leave the UK but remain in the EU? If you are wondering how that makes sense and whether she's mad, stay tuned for an explanation of how it not only makes sense but helps to illuminate an important distinction (and no, Nicola is not mad but is instead delightfully wise).

The EU was formed as a means to create the largest economy in the world. People and goods can easily move across national borders within the EU, giving every employee in the EU access to more employers, every employer access to more employees and everyone access to more goods and services that can originate anywhere and be sold and consumed anywhere (else). 

Scotland was first made a part of the UK to unite kingdoms that shared a monarch. A nation-state is not just an economy. It lends an identity to the people within it. We can talk about the British or French or Americans and believe that we instantly know something about them. And more importantly, a child who grows up singing La Marseillaise or saying Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes will believe something about who he or she is. "I'm an American," is a statement that is rich with meaning in spite of how very different Americans are from one another.

The EU is about economics and the UK is about identity. 

When our focus is on identity, we move towards something smaller. Identity distinguishes us from others. "You're tall but I'm short." "You're Canadian but I'm French." "You're straight but I'm gay." "You're a Lord of the Rings fan but I'm a Harry Potter fan." Identity does not stop until we reach the point of the individual. The fewer people with whom we share an identity, the better.

By contrast, when our focus is on economics, we move towards something bigger. What we can do as an individual is paltry compared to what we can do as community. If we have the specialization and knowledge and skills that come along with a set of 7 people we live a life of poverty. If we have the specialization and knowledge and skills that come along with a set of 7 million - or even 7 billion - people we have the potential to live a life of abundance. The more people with whom we can exchange goods and ideas, the better. 

Your Californian blog author meets
Scotland's First Minister in 2017.
It is dangerous to confuse identity and economics. Smaller worlds economically make us poorer and bigger worlds in terms of identity make us invisible. (To be one of a billion Muslims or Christians with no further distinction is to disappear.)

And now we return to Nicola Sturgeon who wants for her Scotland an identity more precise than UK and for her Scotland an economy bigger than the UK. Why? She's intent on giving her people a distinct identity in which they are more likely to make themselves visible and a broad set of economic opportunities in which they can find jobs, create businesses, and buy products from a broad menu of options. Why the abundance of choices that come from a bigger economy? In no small part because it gives the distinct individual a better chance of finding a distinct job or product that matches their unique history and aspiration, skills and passions. 

We're going to see more communities that look like Scotland in that they will - at first glance - seem to be moving in two, opposing directions. Look more deeply at this, though. What we will see is a process of identity creation that won't end until we are all individuals and a process of economic integration that won't end until this is a global economy.

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