Smaller countries' historical disadvantages have largely disappeared, and in terms of economic growth, there's actually a "triumph of the tiny," said Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland.
"The average economic performance of small countries has been better than that of larger countries," Salmond said Thursday at the Credit Suisse Megatrends conference in Singapore. He added that the optimum size for the population is probably around the 7-8 million mark. Scotland's population is a bit over 5 million.
"For most of the period of human existence, if you are a successful small country, what would happen is you were taken over by a larger country," Salmond said. "Although we still live in a very troubled world, by and large, in most areas of the planet, you can be a successful small country and still have security and not be taken over by a larger country."
Salmond noted that one of the determiners of a small country's economic success can be its ability to join a larger trading bloc or country association. As an example he cited the ability of Ireland to leverage its European Community membership to emerge from the U.K.'s shadow, although he joked that the country's whiskey was "second rate."
Scotland became part of the United Kingdom in 1707, but it's often questioned those ties. In 2014, Salmond led a referendum seeking independence from the U.K., but Scottish voters rejected it, with the "No" camp gaining 55.4 percent of the vote, against 44.6 percent in favor of independence.
"The Scottish referendum obviously didn't go the way that I wanted it to go," Salmond said Thursday. "Sometimes you have to try, try again."
Scotland's current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said previously that if the U.K. votes to leave the European Union in a June referendum, a so-called "Brexit," Scotland may take another vote on independence so that it can remain in the bloc.
"About 50 countries became independent from the United Kingdom since (World War II)," Salmond noted. "Not one single one of them has ever said to me that they intend to go back under London rule and were reapplying to join the Empire."
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—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1