The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 has slightly higher stakes for those on the rational side of politics than most realise; it risks ending Britain's chances of becoming the world's first true post-national state; and with it the potential of moving the world towards political unity.
Britain was the world's first truly modern country, being the first country to experience modern economic growth and possessing the world's first modern political system; that survives to this day. Britain, due to historical reasons, is also perfectly placed to be an innovator in another capacity; it could finally end the 200-year relationship between nation and state.
The concept of the nation was invented in the 18th century by primarily German philosophers such as Johann Fichte to justify strange ideas about culture, race, society and, sometimes, to justify the state. As a society we have moved past needing a justification for the existence of the state, any ideas of 'race' as a meaningful concept or of striving towards a single mono-culture. Society is now incredibly multi-cultural and there is no desire, besides on the fringes by people who should be ignored, to change that.
Nations mean certain things to certain people; I personally refute any notion of being described as belonging or subscribing to a 'nation'. Many other people take precisely the same attitude towards religion. Religion means a lot to some people, and less than nothing to others. Therefore as a society we have recognised the necessity of the separation of church and state, in Britain this divide is not strictly official, but in no real substantial way can the policies of the British government be seen to be driven by those of religious institutions. In fact, the British government arguably pursues more secular policies than the United States or France, model 'secular' states.
This separation of nation and state is an essential stage in the development of human society. The ultimate aim, 'the dream', as some would say, is a world with no 'national' or territorial boundaries. A world unified under a single state, operating for the good of humanity at every level. It's a bit pie in the sky as far as present realities go, but it is surely the only logical manner of organising the world; the present national boundaries and the nuances that come with them only exist for historical reasons.
Britain has the potential to help speed this process along by providing an example of a harmonious post-national state. While the most obvious step towards global integration in Europe comes from the European Union, in real terms the EU is currently in a state of uncertainty, and while it could be drawn closer together by the current crisis, and hopefully it will, it is not ideal that it is only in crisis that a supra-national state emerges, as lovely as 'baptisms of fire' are. Further, the EU is presently very dependent upon national boundaries and governments for its administration, while the UK is less so.
The potential to provide an example of a fully-functioning, post-national state, where the nation is the purview of the individual and civil society, and not the government, exists with Britain. Britain, already a country that endorses its four 'home nations', could go further; it could ultimately devolve power along regional lines, overlapping between the nations, and therefore diluting the official status of 'the nation'. Further devolution does indeed deal with most of the core complaints of Scottish nationalists which aren't totally moronic, ie 'FREEEEDOM!' The nation could go the way of the parish and Great Britain could become a prototype for states across the world.
It must be realised that, in moving towards the liberal dream of one united world, Scottish nationalism is as much an obstacle as other, more right-wing forms of nationalism. The notion that people feel a certain way is not a sufficient argument for facilitating such an obtuse and unhelpful ideology; liberals do not allow people's quite frankly incorrect ideas about the death penalty, national service, immigration and abortion to reflect actual policy or the discussion of it. In pursuing the goal of a harmonious, peaceful world, liberals should recognise that such irrational forces as nationalism are always, due to both the sentiments that underlie it and results that they produce, the opposition.
First published in the Student, the University of Edinburgh student newspaper.