Don’t Rock The Boat! (Looking at you Scotland)

In today’s progressive, fast-paced, and forward thinking society, it is often argued that conservatism has no place. In fact, conservatism has gained a pretty bad reputation. However, conservatism- at its core- isn’t that bad at all (shockingly)!

Me listening to Burke and NOT rocking the boat

Me over the summer listening to Burke and NOT rocking the boat

Despite liberal knee-jerk reactions, conservatism doesn’t have to mean social welfare cuts and tax breaks for the upper classes. Conservatism, stripped down to it’s essential elements, is a trust in traditions and a respect for our roots. As Burke, a political theorist we read in our Political Theory class, argues in his Reflections on the Revolutions in France: conservatism has a place in everything- it serves to keep the tried methods of our forefathers in place, so that we do not wander and make catastrophic mistakes. Essentially, he believed in the “if you don’t want to capsize, don’t rock the boat” ideal.

A prime example of true conservatism as Burke sees it playing out on a nation-wide scale happened recently and not far from Burke’s birthplace. Yes, that’s right- I’m referring to the Scottish Independence referendum. At first, the Scottish referendum looked like Burke’s worst nightmare- a naïve minority making an ignorant choice to trash centuries of tradition and make a break from its government. Of course, the issues behind the Scottish referendum go much farther than that and are actually rooted in history. Scotland and England have a long and bloody history of warring with each other, often ending in the subjugation and mistreatment of Scotland.  In 1707, the two were united into the Kingdom of great Britain, however the two were still not of equal status. Laws (Acts of Union) were passed aimed at suppressing Scottish national traditions and dissolving the Scottish parliament- making the parliament in London the only legislative branch (a.k.a the legislative power was literally moved out of Scotland). Now, and this is where Burke’s worst nightmare comes in, a margin of the Scottish people and legislators (whom Burke would consider a naïve minority), want to break away from the Union based on values of freedom and equality (which of course Burke would argue they have misunderstood) being denied to Scotland. As Prime Minister David Cameron explained in his plea to Scotland: Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce. Cameron was not the only one to speak out against the referendum: England & Co. (the Company being those against Scottish independence) made a good case for preserving the Union, with people like the Queen and J.K. Rowling citing many conservative ideals in their arguments. Alongside their common currency, military, and welfare benefits, the Scottish people faced the loss of a Union several centuries old.

Burke Approves

The outcome of this vote is what ultimately makes this referendum vote an example of conservative triumph. This was a prime example of the very core ideals of conservatism being challenged and it held its own- Scotland voted to remain in the Union.



  1. azaryff · November 20, 2014

    I think you draw an interesting point in the beginning when you mention that conservatism has gained a bad rep in contemporary American politics. I think the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have very different meanings in different contexts. Here in America, economic conservatism, for example, is how people express economic liberalism everywhere else in the world (the whole Supply-side economics like Reagan and Thatcher advocated). Back in my home country, both words liberal and conservative have a bad reputation and negative connotation, but they refer to social policies. Conservatism is a derogatory way of saying “super-religious”, and “liberalism” is in some ways a code for “anti-religious”, as ridiculous as that may sound, and politicians tend to side-step these words altogether even though everyone is technically pretty conservative. Just thought it would be interesting to note. Great post 🙂


  2. rconybeare · November 23, 2014

    I think that this is a very interesting post! It was great to read about another country’s politics. I also thought that you did a good job explaining conservatism. In today’s society, many people connect conservatism with the Republican Party, and liberalism with the Democratic Party. While the two party’s ideals may be derived from these philosophies, they are not the same thing. Republicans can practice liberalism, and Democrats can practice conservatism because they are not identical. This post did a great job of bringing that to the forefront of people’s thoughts.


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