I was alarmed when I learned that 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in Scotland’s bid for independence. What might happen if complicated economic and social issues were fanned with the flames of developmental yearnings? Extending the franchise to such young people seemed as dubious as introducing Ayn Rand to resentful teenage boys. After all, what adolescent chafing for freedom doesn’t want to be the self-determining hero who defies the influence of the state?
It might be unwise to superimpose youthful reading follies or one’s own household experience onto geopolitical affairs. The Scottish independence movement rests on an uneasy history and understandable grievances about economic and social policies that favor the rich and southern countries at the expense of the North.
Still, I couldn’t help but think of my own children’s strivings for independence over the years: The two-year-old who insisted on negotiating a steep flight of stairs by herself, chanting, “Self! Self!” with every step. Perpetual refrains of, “You’re not the boss of me!” Then the heavy artillery of adolescence: “Stop treating me like a kid!” “It’s so unfair!” “I can’t wait to get out of here!”
Is it really that far from my house to the blended Houses of Stuart and Hanover? Let’s drop in on a typical family meeting as it might have been unfolding recently at Balmoral Castle. We join parents David and Elizabeth (aka Queenie) as they sit down for a serious talk with their teenager, Scot:
David: Scotty, your mother and I want to talk with you about this petition for emancipation you’ve filed.
Scot: Stop calling me Scotty. I’ve told you a million times I prefer Scot. Besides, what’s there to talk about? I’ve had it with you, and I’m leaving.
Queenie: Is this about our taking all those pound notes from your billfold without asking?
Scot: It’s so unfair. You treat me like a serf. I’m outta here.”
David: Don’t be ridiculous! You can’t possibly make it on your own!
Scot: Sure I can! In fact, I’ll be better off without you.
Queenie (crying a little): How could you do this to us after all we’ve done for you? I’m tired of you blaming us for everything!
David (shouting as Scot gets up from the table): We’ll cut off your allowance! If you walk through that door, there’s no coming back!
Scot slams out of the room.
David (turning to console his weeping wife): There, there, dear. It’s just a bluff. Scotty will calm down and be back in time for dinner.
In the ensuing weeks, Scot is more resolute than ever. He hangs out with friends, eliciting sympathy and offers of supper and a spare bed from their mothers, who have never much liked those imperious snobs, David and Elizabeth.
We rejoin Scot’s parents as they argue over whether to double down on tough love, or reach out to their wayward child.
Queenie: Perhaps we’ve been too harsh . . .
David: Nonsense! We can’t give in to these antics!
Elizabeth: Maybe we could grant a little bit more independence . . . a later curfew, more control over his money . . . I don’t want to lose him.
David (sighing as he reaches for the phone): Scotty, er . . . Scot . . . It’s me, Dad. Listen, your mother and I want you to know we miss you. We love you very much and wish you’d come back. Can we talk?
A few hours later, Scot strolls through the front door.
Scot: Now that I’ve got your attention . . .
Or something like that . . .
Now the ballots have been counted. Scotland, despite the youth vote, has decided to stick with the parental unit. Perhaps the realities of going it alone registered; perhaps gaining concessions, more autonomy, and a later curfew were sufficient. With high-fives for democracy all around, the UK and Scotland are still one big, happy, dysfunctional family.
Which may be about as good as it gets for reasonable households and countries everywhere.