While we’re on the subject of why political science might matter in the modern world, and while I’m in London
consuming warm Cornish beer for a conference, it’s worth thinking about the imminent referendum for Scottish independence. Points for brevity: the sum of the referendum question is, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Ever since an August YouGov poll showed the Yes vote (as in “Yes, Scotland should be independent”) with 51 percent of the vote, the entire British establishment has been freaking out. Meanwhile, Americans like me are struggling to catch up by watching John Oliver explainer videos.
As the possibility of a “yes” vote has become more clear, however, there is a school of thought suggesting that Scottish swing voters will belatedly recognize the economic maelstrom that they would unleash. Once they realize the actual economic costs and benefits of independence, this logic runs, the “no” vote will carry the day.
This is a sober, rational, economic analysis of how voters think. It’s a rationale I’ve used myself in the past week or so. But before you believe that, I’d like to take a brief detour into Russian public opinion for a second. Even back in the spring, it was clear that Russia’s economy was not doing well (matters have only gone downhill since). Nevertheless, when Pew polled Russian attitudes about their economy back in the spring, they got a startlingly different message. Despite a slowdown in the Russian economy, the percentage of respondents who said that their economy was good increased by 11 percentage points. Furthermore:
Notably, Russian satisfaction with their nation’s direction has improved 19 percentage points, from 37% to 56%, in the last year, possibly a byproduct of public backing for Russia’s newly assertive foreign policy.
Eliminate the word “possibly” and that statement is accurate. In other words, all of the polling data shows that a burst of nationalist sentiment can temporarily wash away bad economic news. Which is why three things no longer surprise me:
- Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond saying some nice things about Vladimir Putin; and
- Scottish citizens voting “yes” on the #indyref despite the economic calamity that could occur.
- Nationalism as a concept flummoxes the hell out of economists.
This is the thing about nationalism — it means that some people are willing to incur significant costs if they burnish their own nation-state in the process. This is why Putin has been able to remain popular despite a horrible economic year, and why Salmond can spout unrealistic nonsense about Scottish foreign policy and still make headway with voters.
Developing… until Sept. 18.