Yesterday, I was catching up on a bit of Scottish independence referendum chat.*
I came across some talk** of Orkney and Shetland making a counter bid for indepedence.***
It set me thinking about what the minimum size of a practically independent nation-state is. There appear to be lots of institutions that nation-states need one of. Not necessarily a large one of whatever it is but definitely one. Difficult to be a nation-state if you don’t have a diplomatic service. Then there are a bunch of things that a nation-state, or any community needs access to. A police training college, someone to write regulations for hotel health and safety. Someone who knows how to buy fire engines and lifeboats.
I’m not necessarily thinking about the minimum size to have an economy large enough to afford these things or to afford to buy them in. Orkney, for example, is likely to have significant oil and fisheries and renewable energy to sell.
But with a population of 20,000 would Orkney have enough people to do all the things that needed doing? And, if it contracted out a lot of services does being reliant on (foreign) suppliers for a bunch of important stuff undermine the idea of a nation-state.
Two examples. An Orcadian diplomatic service that wanted to set up embassies in the top 50 countries Orkney wanted to influence, with 5 staff in each embassy would require to base abroad more than 1% of the population of Orkney.
If Orkney contracted with, say Scotland for access to the Police Scotland training college for the training of the Orcadian Constabulary how much of the culture of the Orcadian Constabulary is actually the culture of the Scottish Police and therefore determined by the government and people of Scotland?
How big do you need to be in order to be large enough to do in-house enough of the things that shape and project your national character?****
*To be honest I’m not paying that much attention to the substance of the debate. I’ve already made up my mind pretty firmly. I’ve come to terms with the necessary ambiguity and uncertainty. No new information that might reasonably be expected is going to change my mind. I want to avoid getting in to an argument with my wife about it.
** Often this talk is by some agrieved English person and is along the lines of “Ha, ha, just you wait Scotland / Salmond (for the two are interchangable like the Kim family and Korea), just you wait as soon as you leave England, Orkney will declare independence and take all “your” oil with it. Then you’ll be bankrupt like Zimbabwe. Ha, ha, ha.”
To which the only rational response is, “Cheers, cheers for that. Perhaps we’ll manage to not treat Orkney like some second rate provence or the personal fiefdom of second rate Labour politicians and, if we fail, well, we’ve still got a higher GDP per capita than you, so I reckon we’ll be just fine thanks all the same.”
*** Which I think they would be entitled to do and I can see why they might not fancy being run by the Central Belt.
**** If indeed that is a thing you want to do.