Are we doomed to decline if Scotland separates?

The 'big-is-beautiful' era in geopolitics was an aberration. It is small states that once again seem to have the advantage

If Venice made it, why couldn't we?
Douglas Carswell MP
On 1 May 2013 13:22

I can think of lots of good reasons why Scotland might want to vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. But the Commons' Foreign Affairs select committee report today is not one of them.

According to the report, if Scotland votes for independence, it would mean the UK was "a world power in irreversible decline".

Set aside the question of whether we should expect folk to vote in the interests of geopolitical greatness, does being small mean you're doomed to be weak? Not at all. The assumption that in geopolitics strength comes from scale is simply not true.

How did that piddly little mud bank off the coast of Italy, called Venice, become a great power? By opting not to join the Holy Roman Empire, wasn't it also doomed to decline?

Wee Venice became so strong, she eventually overwhelmed mighty Byzantium.

What about that tiny little Dutch republic? Shortly after opting out of the mighty Habsburg block, she became the world's leading naval and commercial power.

To be sure, with the industrial revolution, size did seem to matter more. Small states – Holland and England – were eclipsed by bigger states – the US, Prussia, Russia. In the age of mass production, strength seemed to come from having bigger everything, including larger markets, economies of scale and big trading blocks.

The European Union is built on many of these residual assumptions about the need for size and scale.

But the 'big-is-beautiful' era in geopolitics was an aberration. As the EU illustrates rather neatly, being big also means being cumbersome – unable to innovate or adapt (see Euro crisis).

In the age if the internet, we are moving towards niche production and distribution. Prosperity lies in the long tail, not big uniform trade blocks.

It is small states that once again seem to have the advantage: the Singapores, the Dubais and the Switzerlands.

Whether Venice in the Middle Ages, or England or Scotland in 2013, there are three things small nations need to grow great:

First, independence. You won't be as well governed if you are ruled over by men and women who do not live amongst you.

Second, dispersed power. Those who do make the rules amongst you need to be accountable to you.

Third, you need to be part of a global network. Venice benefited from its connections to Byzantium and a Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean world. England and Scotland today are each part of the Anglo sphere – that network of the most prosperous and innovative people on the planet. And of course even the tiniest states today are on broadband…

Small can be beautiful, rich, innovative and strong.

Douglas Carswell is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Clacton. This article originally appeared on

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