Geopolitics

Small And Selfish: Why Free Scotland Is Bad For Us All

As Europe continues to be divvied up into smaller, ethnically homogenous nations, the burdern falls on larger countries, compromising the leverage and a united West.

Bagpipes and kilts
Arnaud Leparmentier

-OpEd-

PARIS — For the French, there’s nothing quite so enjoyable as teasing their age-old enemies the English and the Queen. So it should come as no surprise that the Scottish independence movement arouses a lot of sympathy over here. Long live free Scotland!, we could be tempted to say, as some recent polls show the "Yes" to independence camp ahead, just days before the Sept. 18 referendum.

Mary Stuart, who was Queen consort of France and Queen of Scotland before she was beheaded by the English in 1587, would finally be avenged. With the nationalist leader Alex Salmond, we dream of a bucolic Scotland that would live off whisky, wind energy and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Even better, the independence movement is a left-wing movement, in favor of a "social" Scotland, which is perfect for revenge against these horrible liberal-Thatcherite Englishmen. Economically, the disunited Kingdom would fall behind Italy, would lose one-third of its land, and would be forced to send its nuclear submarines to Brittany for refuge.

That would be fun for a moment, but what a disaster! The Queen is urged to speak in favor of the union while Princess Kate announces she's expecting a second child to move the hearts of the coarse Scots, and prevent a breakup.

It might already be too late, and the desperate concessions of Britain's three main parties — the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal-Democrats — risk accelerating the nationalists' victory, the same way that the rallying of French elites had strengthened the vote against the European Constitution in 2005.

And the divorce procedures would be painful indeed. How would the British debt be shared? Could Scotland keep the British pound? Would wearing a kilt be enough to become a Scottish citizen? Could Scotland immediately enter the European Union? None of these questions have been resolved.

It would have a devastating effect in England. Deprived of Scottish votes, the Labour party is not so certain to regain 10 Downing Street, while the Conservatives risk ending up in a reactionary face-off with Nigel Farage and his Europhobic party UKIP.

But the worst of all is that the Scottish earthquake would cause many aftershocks. Not so much in Belgium, where the amicable split between the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking parts is all but official, as in Spain. On Thursday, exactly 300 years after Barcelona was taken by the Bourbons, hundreds of thousands of Catalans demonstrated in their capital.

A splintered continent

Europe didn't need all this, as it's divided up more than ever in modern history. Before World War I began in 1914, it was comprised of 19 countries. We now have more than 40, while the European Union, which counts 28 of those, has become an ungovernable monster, similar to the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Holy Roman Empire.

How did this happen? After the World War I and with the end of the European Empires, Europe applied to the letter U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's unwritten principle of self-determination, while creating multinational states such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia to limit the continent's crumbling.

It was smashed to pieces when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Small nationalities turned inward. The Czechs and the Slovaks amicably agreed to part ways, Yugoslavia exploded into seven small nations, and the Baltic countries freed themselves from the USSR.

Small is beautiful, the saying goes. And indeed, the current trend now favors small rich countries that believe they will be better off alone in the globalized world. And since they are incapable of having any sort of influence on that globalized world, they want to use the canoe strategy of passing the river rapids with agility, in the footsteps of successful mid-sized states such as Finland, Denmark, Singapore, Chile or New Zealand.

Small and selfish, these states are often ethnically homogeneous. They believe they can better finance their generous welfare system alone, with the protection of the EU, and refuse to pay for the others.

What explains this endless division of the continent? Well, peace and the rule of law. Small countries can act as they will without suffering their powerful neighbors' wrath. This is what Luxembourg and Ireland have done with their fiscal dumping policies, and without risk.

Interior peace might be guaranteed at the moment, but the same can't be said for the exterior, with Vladimir Putin knocking on Europe's door and the hundreds of jihadists coming back from Syria. One day, England and France might decide they've had enough of paying alone for the Old Continent's security.

This whole business is not reasonable. The Scottish referendum risks being extremely destructive. Now, we must protect big countries from small ones. Say no to a free Scotland!

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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