When you get past the details of the Scottish independence referendum Thursday, there is a broader story underway, one that is also playing out in other advanced nations.
It is a crisis of the elites. Scotland’s push for independence is driven by a conviction — one not ungrounded in reality — that the British ruling class has blundered through the last couple of decades. The same discontent applies to varying degrees in the United States and, especially, the eurozone. It is, in many ways, a defining feature of our time.
The rise of Catalan would-be secessionists in Spain, the rise of parties of the far right in European countries as diverse as Greece and Sweden, and the Tea Party in the United States are all rooted in a sense that, having been granted vast control over the levers of power, the political elite across the advanced world have made a mess of things.In the United States, trust in the federal government--particularly the legislative and executive branches--have fallen dramatically over the last several years. A recent Gallop poll showed that only 28% trust Congress, and 43 % trust the Executive Branch. That is not the whole story, however. While distrust of Congress is fairly equal among all parties, trust in the Executive Branch is a different story. While 83% of Democrats trust the Executive Branch, only 37% of independents, and only a meager 13% do so.
What the secessionist movements seem to show is that people are less willing to attempt to work through the system to correct problems. However, these are political movements which take organization and money--organization and money that generally means big donors somewhere in the background. Thus, the question we should be asking is whether these movements reflect popular discontent, or that some of the elites no longer want to use the current systems of government?