Secessionist movements were once seen as the last option for embattled ethnic minorities or struggling democrats lodged inside brutal autocracies. But the Scottish deal represents the first wave in a new tide of independence claims in some of Europe's most stable democracies, from Spain to Belgium. The success of the Scottish independence movement in persuading London to accede to a referendum serves as a warning to Europe's democracies on how calculating politicians can undermine the very institutions most in need of preserving.
And to would-be secessionists in other countries, it is a lesson about the uses of quiet maximalism – the way in which astute regional parties can dismantle a workable country while no one seems to be looking.
Scotland joined its royal house with that of England in 1603; the countries' two parliaments were merged in 1707. Afterward, Scots retained many of their ancient institutions, such as a separate legal system, and Scots spread throughout the British Empire – from America to India – as soldiers, administrators, and merchants. In 1998, the Scottish Parliament was restored in Edinburgh, giving Scots much greater control over local governance and eventually even significant tax-raising powers.