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Agenda: why Robertson is wrong to claim Scots should vote on basis of geopolitics

Lord Robertson's castigation of Scottish independence was, characteristically, peppered with references to conflict and the Balkans but, this time, his narrative reached feverish new heights.

Independence "would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms" and might lead to "the fragmentation of Europe". The "forces of darkness" would love to see Scotland split from the UK, he warned.

It is curious to reflect upon the assertion that the fate of the Western world might rest upon Scotland's referendum decision. Scotland is a truly special nation but is the wellbeing of billions of people really so closely tied to the aspirations of five million?

Of course it is not. Scotland's significance to global affairs should not be overstated; nor, by extension, should the UK's. Scots should not vote in September based upon how their vote might affect geopolitical contours.

Robertson's thesis rests upon the assumption that the global status quo is to be defended, and that Western solidity and security is tied to the UK maintaining its current composition and military posture. These are hugely questionable assumptions. Lord Robertson predicts that "dark forces" would be unleashed by Scottish independence but those forces exist already. It is naive not to acknowledge the role the UK has played in unleashing and enflaming those forces.

The UK has been hugely supportive of US military adventurism in recent times and has been at the vanguard of the terrible damage visited upon other nations. The UK backs questionable regimes with little regard for what this means for local populations. It also sells weapons to those regimes. It does nothing to diminish the tendency towards antiquated military posturing by championing its nuclear capability.

Lord Robertson defends this stance as a "necessary evil" in a world which is not as we would like it to be. He is of the mind that the UK has to maintain its position at the vanguard of these activities so as to maintain order and soothe various geopolitical pressure points.

His assumption about the UK's role is highly questionable. The events of the post-9/11 period demonstrate that the UK's capacity (even when allied with the US) to bring about desired political outcomes across the globe, whether or not through the use of force, is negligible. Not only has this expeditionary approach been damaging and counterproductive, it has also proved to be unaffordable.

In allocating vast resources to "global outreach", the UK's domestic security has suffered. Scottish waters and airspace have been afforded no protection from the frequent incursions of Russian military ships and aircraft while scant attention has been paid to important human security issues and to environmental protection and maritime safety. It can be argued that Scotland is poorly defended as part of the UK.

Lord Robertson fails to acknowledge this. He contends, instead, that Scots should vote in September to maintain the UK's position within the existing order. In taking this stance, he is focused not on what might be best for Scotland and its people but upon how a Yes vote might affect the global order. Scots should vote No, he contends, in order to maintain the status quo.

It is unrealistic (some would also say disrespectful) to ask Scots to cast their democratic vote with a bigger eye on the international arena than on their day-to-day lives and the future wellbeing of their country. Quite why Lord Robertson feels Scotland's citizens should be expected to make this sacrifice is anyone's guess. He has cast his eye to far horizons in search of his "dark forces". Many Scots do not need to look so far to see oppressive "dark forces" encroaching upon their lives.

Many Scots face daily challenges associated with impoverishment, a punitive tax regime, poor childcare provision, lack of employment opportunity and inadequate access to amenities. It is these "dark forces", not those posited by Lord Robertson, that will steer Scots' votes in September.

Dr John MacDonald is the director of the think tank Scottish Global Forum.

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