However Scotland votes on Thursday, the simple fact that it will have a referendum on independence peacefully and only after careful deliberation testifies to Britain’s greatness.
It wasn’t so long ago that the peoples of Eastern Europe fought and died to liberate themselves from Soviet oppression. Only in recent years has the unrest that accompanied separatism in the Basque Country calmed down yet to this day, the rest of Spain refuses to give the Catalonians even the choice to secede. In the Middle East, the Kurds are on the verge of gaining their own state but only after decades of violent struggle. The people of eastern Ukraine have to defend their independence from another state altogether.
The Scottish referendum is almost unique in that the breakup of a country would be accompanied without bloodshed. It is also almost unique in the sense that the rest of the United Kingdom is willing to let the Scots go their own way, should they choose to do so. No one doubts that on Friday, the English, Northern Irish and Welsh will accept and respect whatever decision the Scots have made.
There has been bitterness and vitriol on both sides. Scottish independence is an emotional issue. But it is a far cry from the turmoil that accompanies separatism elsewhere. And by far most Scots, and most other Britons, have engaged in an inspiring debate about what it means to be Scottish and what it means to be British.
For all the pros and cons of independence — which many Scottish voters are weighing as they make up their minds today — it is this question that is central to the referendum: Does the Scottish nation need a state of its own?
Few peoples ever get to make that choice and when they do, it is rarely with the blessing of the state they live in. That the Scots now have this opportunity shows how seriously Britain takes its commitment to freedom and self-determination. That is something to be applauded.