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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

We live in a time when everything seems too big or too small. We are told that the federal government is too big, too bureaucratic and too threatening to individual liberties. The same critics say that our military is too small, our oil pipelines are too limited and our economic growth is too constrained. People want houses that are bigger than ever before, but they want them to feel small and cozy. They drive hulking trucks while demanding the fuel efficiency and light carbon footprint of small cars. 

The same contradictions characterize international politics today. The majority of citizens in Scotland voted last week to remain part of Great Britain, but 45 percent said they wished to secede. Many of those who voted to stay in the union agreed that the political institutions based in London were too big and too threatening to Scottish freedom. The fact that Scots receive more money from London than they pay in did not deter this argument about alleged repression. At the same time, many advocates of independence believe that Scotland should join an even larger set of institutions: the European Union. They like the trade and currency benefits that could come from integrating their economy more closely with the continent. Many Scots want to be small and big simultaneously. 

The Middle East has more tragic examples of the same phenomenon. Sunni extremists in Syria and Iraq want to free themselves from these big, oppressive states, but they call for an even bigger state (a “caliphate”), and they are killing thousands of people who want neither the old states nor the new caliphate. The Kurds show similar, although far less violent, inclinations. They want to free themselves from Iraq, Iran and Turkey, but they are intent on creating a larger Kurdistan. They want to be smaller and bigger, too.

So what is the correct size for political authority? How can we build institutions that ensure local freedoms but still nurture the strength and diversity of large numbers? How do we preserve the specificity of small with the benefits of big? 

The founders of the United States thought about these precise issues. Their innovative solution was what we call “federalism”: the belief that big and small powers should be mixed in the same government. According to this system, the United States was to have a series of nested political institutions — nation, state, county and town — that would exercise overlapping authorities for taxation, infrastructure and security. From Congress to the county board, representative bodies of different sizes would share power, working together at times, checking each other more often. The founders believed that this kind of mixed system would allow big and small to coexist for the sake of building a strong nation that protected local freedoms. 

Great Britain, many states in Europe and most regimes in the Middle East are highly centralized. They have unchallenged national powers that make governing simpler, but also less responsive to local needs. In an age when media often magnify ethnic and cultural cleavages, they would benefit from implementing the kinds of federal reforms that empower more local governance, on the model of the United States, as well as Germany, Mexico and India. Messy, divided federalist authorities have a better historical track record for national unity and citizen freedom than other alternatives, especially secession.

Federalist systems, like the United States, would also do well to re-examine the other side of the equation. Politicians spend so much time condemning national leadership these days, especially in Texas, that we forget how important central authority remains in a government of mixed powers. Washington, D.C., protects our national safety, it regulates our financial system and it provides the funding for basic research, emergency relief and social security, among many other things. We would be a less prosperous and peaceful society without a strong national government. Big government, balanced by local authorities, has historically contributed to American freedom.

The appropriate debate, then, is not between big and small. Secession for Scotland would not make things better for the Scots. Nor would bigger states in the Middle East solve the problems of factional warfare. Good politics balance big and small, central and local. The correct balance is not formulaic. It changes over time.

The task we face today — at home and abroad — is to rethink how we can get the most from national, state and local authorities. Instead of recrimination and name-calling, we need more creative mixing. Effective politics are about building institutions that are neither too big nor too small. Democracy needs many young Goldilocks-inspired thinkers to help us find the sizes and shapes that are “just right.”  

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History.

After this Thursday, the United Kingdom as we know it may cease to exist. Every registered voter in Scotland has the opportunity that day to cast a simple, straightforward vote: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yes/No.” The American media has barely touched the topic, and U.S. politicians and state officials have avoided making meaningful comment. Why should Americans care about the Scottish independence referendum taking place this week? Why should college students in particular be interested? I want to look past the numbers, although these should be enough to justify more attention to the topic. The U.K. is, after all, the world’s sixth-largest economy and stands to lose about 5 million people and $250 billion in gross domestic product in the event of Scottish independence. There are also significant implications for NATO, the European Union and national diplomatic services should a new country materialize on the northern tip of the British Isles. The current generation of college students should be viewing the Scottish independence movement as an experiment in popular democracy, a renewed model of politics for an age of fragmented allegiances, unequal influence and new media.

Until relatively recently, Scottish independence was considered a fringe movement, its motives defined largely by the Scottish National Party.  The SNP has developed a mixed political profile since its inception in the 1930s, with dips and spikes in membership reflecting its changing platforms. Until the last decade, its peak of success was considered to be a period in the 1970s when it sent several Members of Parliament, MPs, to the House of Commons in Westminster, where those MPs made a case for Scottish independence that did little to motivate anyone outside the party’s core.

The intervening years, however, have done much to reveal the democratic deficit that now forms the basis of a widespread, cross-party drive for independence. From 1979 to 1997, the Conservative Party, led first by Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, consistently held onto power in the U.K. Much of the party’s success has been attributed to its support base in the densely populated southeast of England. Scottish support for the Conservative Party has dramatically diminished since Thatcher’s first victory — and hasn’t been particularly strong since the 1950s. Scotland’s current constituency boundaries send 59 MPs to Westminster in a general election. In the last four of these, not more than one Conservative MP has managed to get elected in Scotland. The present U.K. government, however, is led by the Conservatives in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a party that obtained only six Scottish seats in the last election. By contrast, the Scottish Parliament — which for our purposes here can be thought of as akin to a U.S. state legislature, though there are some significant differences — is dominated by the SNP and Labour Party, with a more pluralistic representation of other parties than that seen in Westminster. This situation, which seems intractable in light of a “No” vote on independence — and another potential Conservative victory in 2016 — has left many in Scotland feeling that their supposedly representative government in Westminster has no mandate north of the border.

To make a more direct comparison to American politics, the current situation in Scotland resembles a hypothetical American state, roughly the size of Colorado in terms of both population and economy, where the two-party Republican and Democrat system of Washington has simply ceased to exist. Instead, the dominant party in Congress has virtually no representation from this state, and the state’s own legislature is composed of multiple, more regionally focused parties that feel perpetually thwarted by Washington’s Republican and Democrat machines. 

Ideas that until recently seemed the dogmatic remnant of the SNP have spread across the political spectrum in Scotland, engaging younger voters in particular, who have transformed the notion of independence into a renewed and creative vision of participatory democracy. The outline of an independent Scotland, agreed upon across party lines, encourages local decision-making, constitutional reform and fairer representation for small political parties. While the SNP has often been accused of promoting “anti-English” attitudes and a vague ethno-nationalism — charges that had some merit in the 1970s — the cause of independence has been adopted by numerous English people living in Scotland as well as other immigrant communities within the country. 

Many latecomers to the Yes camp describe a journey from skepticism, or even scorn, to a hopeful sense of possibility for a more just and democratic society. “Inspiration” is a word that commentators on the Yes campaign tend to use regularly, and with justification. All indicators suggest that the vote on Thursday will be very close, and the majority may choose to stay bound to the United Kingdom. Even if that happens, there are vital lessons to be learned from this campaign that should be the source of inspiration far beyond Scotland’s borders. 

First, the independence campaign proves that no political system is too ossified to be broken apart. Second, the growth of the independence movement owes nothing to puppet masters. While it was once possible to easily conflate Scottish independence with a single political party, even unionists concede that the Yes campaign owes much of its success to a masterful use of new media, grassroots organizing and a diverse, self-supporting base. Finally, the independence movement cannot be reduced to a tired left/right dichotomy. Voters can only guess at the political composition of an independent Scottish parliament, but the Yes campaign is unified in its belief that more direct representation will produce a better outcome for all. Unusually, partisan rancor has been muffled by a diverse consensus around a common objective.

It is probably too late to hope for a similar style of politics to emerge in America before our next election cycle, but if the Scottish independence movement can teach us anything, it’s that “hope” and “change” don’t have to be empty slogans or targets of mockery, but can — and should — influence politics within a broad range of opinion. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, Scotland has shown that politics outside of entrenched elites, big money and partisan warfare is not only possible, but may be the only route to building a more legitimate representative democracy.

Wilbur is a media support technician in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

NAIRN, Scotland— Britain-Ireland rallied past the United States on Sunday to win the Curtis Cup, ending the Americans’ 16-year domination of the tournament.

The outcome means that for the first time all four major professional and amateur men’s and women’s team trophies are held by Britain, Ireland and Europe.

Britain-Ireland beat the Americans 10 ½ to 9 ½ despite needing to win five of the eight singles matches Sunday. Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland scored the critical point by defeating Amy Anderson.

Britain-Ireland and Europe now hold the Curtis Cup, men’s amateur Walker Cup plus the pro Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup titles.

“It is very, very special to have captured golfing history today,” Britain-Ireland captain Tegwen Matthews said. “I had joked and joked to the team about all the pressure they were under to win this week given that it would mean holding all four main team trophies between GB & I and Europe against the States.

“So that was a challenge for me and it’s just fabulous we’ve won because I am just as competitive as my players in wanting to achieve that goal and we have managed to do that.”

This was only the second time the team won in Scotland in the 80-year history of the event.

Britain-Ireland captured the opening three matches — Kelly Tidy beating Austin Ernst 2 and 1, Amy Boulden beating Emily Tubert 3 and 1 and Holly Clyburn beating Erica Popson 3 and 2.

It put Britain-Ireland ahead for the first time in the event by 8 ½ points to 6 ½. While it lost the next two matches — Lisa McCloskey beating Pam Pretswell 4 and 3 and Tiffany Lau beating Bronte Law 2 up — the home team sealed the victory by winning the next two matches.

England’s 16-year old Charley Hull sent her team to 9 ½ points by defeating Lindy Duncan 5 and 3 before Meadow clinched the winning point in defeating Anderson 4 and 2.

No. 4-ranked Leona Maguire of Ireland lost the final singles match 6 and 5 despite a recent run of good form that included a recent eight-shot victory in the Irish U-18 Girls Open Stroke-Play Championship.

“It was certainly not the result I was looking for,” U.S. captain Pat Cornett said. “So I am a little disappointed, but then the result is good for the game and good for the Curtis Cup. Then it just shows how fickle this game can be and I reminded the girls that after all it is just a game.”

Cornett’s leg is in a cast and she will head home to California for an operation on her left ankle. She broke two bones in a golf-cart accident Friday. Her husband, Mike, remains in an Inverness hospital because of cellulitis in his feet.

“It’s now a case of we can’t get out of Dodge City quick enough,” Cornett cracked.

Cornett has yet to decide if she will try to captain the 2016 U.S. team in St. Louis.

Yang Guang settles into his new home at Edinburgh Zoo, as the two giant pandas — the first to live in the UK for almost 20 years — arrived in Scotland on Sunday. Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrived at Edinburgh Airport on a specially-chartered non-stop flight from China.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LONDON — Two giant pandas from China landed Sunday in Scotland, where they will become the first to live in Britain in nearly two decades.

The 8-year-old pair, named Tian Tian and Yang Guang — or Sweetie and Sunshine — were welcomed by bagpipe players and dignitaries at Edinburgh Airport on a specially chartered Boeing 777 flight called the “Panda Express.”

The pandas are to stay for 10 years at Edinburgh Zoo, where officials hope they will give birth to cubs.

The loan marked the beginning of a U.K.-China research program on the animals, and both sides have described it as a signal of a growing friendship between Scotland and China. “It shows that we can cooperate closely not only on commerce, but on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues as well,” said British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Zoo officials have spent the past five years securing the loan of the animals. The loan was announced in January, when Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang visited Britain to sign billions in trade deals.

The pair of pandas, which were given an in-flight meal of bamboo, apples and carrots, will have two weeks to settle at the zoo before going on display to the public. They will be kept in two separate enclosures for a few months until they are ready to be introduced to each other.

The zoo also plans to put four hidden “panda cams” in their enclosures and stream the footage online to attract viewers from around the world.