In the centuries old battle between freedom and collectivism, Scotland can look with some justification to her history of being a doughty fighter for freedom. From the speech of Calgacus before facing the Roman armies at Mons Graupius; to the Declaration of Arbroath; to the intellectual work of enlightenment scholars such as Adam Smith, our history has been enriched by love and respect for liberty.
Tacitus recorded the speech of Calcagus as follows:
“You have not tasted servitude….We are the last people on earth, and the last to be free: our very remoteness in a land known only to rumour has protected us up till this day… But now there is no people beyond us, nothing but tides and rocks and, more deadly than these, the Romans. It is no use trying to escape their arrogance by submission or good behaviour. They have pillaged the world: when the land has nothing left for men who ravage everything, they scour the sea. If an enemy is rich, they are greedy, if he is poor, they crave glory. Neither East nor West can sate their appetite. They are the only people on earth to covet wealth and poverty with equal craving. They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of ’empire’. They make a desert and call it ‘peace'”
Our children and families, the people we love above all others, they’ve conscripted and carried away to serve overseas… Our possessions and wealth are eroded by forced taxes, our fields and crops compelled to yield contributions. Under threat of blow and insults we’re put to work clearing woods and ditches. Most slaves are bought just once, and then maintained by their masters, but every day we Britons pay for our own slavery, every day we feed it. …. We, though, are undivided and unconquered. Our destiny is freedom, not regret. From the start of this fight we’ll show what men Caledonia has in reserve.”
Although there is doubt as to the degree to which Tacitus’ beautiful prose reflected the reality of Calcagus’ pronouncements, there is no such doubts over the declaration of Arbroath, a national claim of Right written in 1320 and signed by 51 magnates and nobles. Memorably it concludes “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
And in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations we find the position of those who love liberty and seek freedom from government diktats stated plainly “[Without trade restrictions] the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord. Every man…is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest in his own way…. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty [for which] no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interest of the society”.
Surely, one might conclude, with such a history to draw upon, contemporary Scotland must be awash with the ideas of individual liberty and economic freedom. Sadly this is far from the case. The recent independence referendum was a big-state versus bigger-state argument. The Yes Campaign sought the levers of power for their own reasons and promised a socialist utopia, if only we believed devoutly enough and embraced “hope over fear”. The Better Together Campaign, when they said anything coherent at all, pointed to the benefits of a big state and warned of the terrible consequences of the harsh financial reality that would establish itself if we were to lose those bastions of the post war consensus; the national debt and the British welfare System.
Outwith the political parties, think tanks and pressure groups vie with each other for the most left wing (or sometimes fascist) concepts, where more state control is needed to end poverty, inequality, sickness, war, ignorance and a whole plethora of other ills. We are assured that collectivism is the only answer. It is as if none of the last 50 years actually happened, not the fall of communism, not the worldwide failure of central planning, not the relative richness of post-Maoist China. In contemporary Scotland the path of liberty is not stated boldly; in fact it is seldom even mentioned.
When Mises was 81 years old, he was invited to address a student rally at Madison Square Garden that was sponsored by the Young Americans for Freedom. He looked out over the sea of young people who had rejected the socialistic propaganda then common on college campuses and said
“The spell of the dreadful conformity that threatened to convert our country into a spiritual desert is broken. There are again young men and women eager to think over the fundamental problems of life and action. This is a genuine moral and intellectual resurrection, a movement that will prevents us from falling prey to the arbitrary tyranny of dictators. As an old man I am greeting the young generation of liberators.”
In Scotland today we do not have that generation of liberators, but have every day a more pressing need for them. This is the reason we need the Mises Institute of Scotland.