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The Scottish Referendum And The Cry For Independence

| by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( September 15, 2014, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) On 18 September, nearly 4.2 million people who are British citizens or citizens of the European Union who are resident in Scotland will be going to the polls to decide whether, after more than three centuries of being part of the United Kingdom comprising England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, they vote to make Scotland independent as a separate State. Curiously, Scots who live outside Scotland are not eligible to vote in the referendum. Not only is this a historic occasion for Scotland, but it is also an event which has excited the Scots, spurring every one of them into action and debate and enabling them to have a voice on their destiny. Scotland is all agog, where an otherwise politically indolent nation which was controlled centrally by Westminster, is becoming aware that if the people say "yes" they would become a sovereign State and control their budget, defence and trade activities as a separate member of the international community.

All eyes of the world are on Scotland which is facing its monumental democratic opportunity, not only because there are other parts of the world clamouring for independence such as Catalonia in Spain, and other secessionist movements in Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland and France just to name a few in Europe alone, but also because Scotland is a great nation which has given much to the world. It was a Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin and Scotsmen who invented the television and the telephone and of course the irresistible Scotch whiskey. It is a small country which has only 1% of the European Union's population yet which sits on 60% of the EU's oil reserve. Its per capita income is more than those of France, Japan and the entirety of the United Kingdom.

The biggest complaint of the "yes" group who want to get out of the United Kingdom is that although Scotland has riches, the Scottish people do not get the benefit of them as their budget and fiscal policy is controlled by London. Thus they want to take decisions that affect them in their own Parliament. They want to have the independence to spend their money on such key necessities as medical and health care, child healthcare and not, as they say, have London waste their financial resources on military priorities of the United Kingdom such as the Trident nuclear weapon. In summary, the "yes" camp want Scotland to be able to shape their own future. It is a saga of identity and independence.

On the other hand, there is an equally vociferous "no" camp which wants Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom, strongly backed by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition of the British Parliament. They claim that the union is strong with a robust and sustained currency and banking system. The British government has promised further devolution of powers to Scotland if the "no" side wins the referendum. The "no" camp is arguing that if Scotland becomes independent it will have to apply as a separate State to the EU, which might be difficult as countries such as Belgium and Spain who are facing secessionist movements of their own would oppose the application. Then there is the issue of an independent Scottish currency which will not be admitted into a union with the British Pound. What would Scotland's income be (notwithstanding the income from North Sea oil which would belong to an independent Scotland)? Would Scotland be able to defend itself militarily, alone, and what kind of armed forces would it have? Is this a good time to separate from the United Kingdom when it is uniting with its allies to impose sanctions against Russia and to fight the Islamic State?

Some political theorists claim that common interest, history or nationality are not sufficient reason for a valid claim to secession, and that groups of people can only have the right to separation when their rights are somehow infringed upon. Others claim that enforcement of national identity on an existing regime is sufficient ground for secession. Michal Rozynek of the University of Edinburgh says: "A related way of thinking about secession is through the analogy with other cases of separation. Much of recent writing on the subject compares political separation to divorce, and it is widely debated as to whether this analogy is helpful at all... On face value, there are obvious similarities between the two. Just as in the case of secession, in divorce we need to decide on the conditions under which both parties have the right to a divorce, and whether such a decision requires consent of both parties to be legitimate. There are some authors who go further in asking whether all those affected by the decision should be involved in it... A further similarity between secession and divorce is that the abilities of one party to opt for separation is limited by the legal arrangements of the contract of marriage they entered, as well as any practical consequences of divorce, which they would need to face should they successfully separate. In case of divorce this might mean the division of assets, which could leave one of the parties in undesirable economic circumstances. The case of secession seems to be similar here, with the Scottish Independence debate taking a strongly economic turn and the UK Chancellor specifically warning Scots about being financially ‘worse off’ if they do become independent from the rest of the UK".

It must be pointed out that, although secession is not recognized at international law, as in the case of Crimea where the people of Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine, decided by themselves to secede, without a plebiscite from Ukraine, Scotland has received agreement of Westminster to hold its referendum and is therefore legitimate in the eyes of the international community. Sussana Mancini writes of a unilateral session: " Secession is at once the most revolutionary and the most institutionally conservative of political constructs. Its revolutionary character lies in its ultimate challenge to state sovereignty; its conservative side, in the reinforcement of the virtues of the latter. This inherent duality is reflected in the legal regulation surrounding secession. With very limited exceptions, secession is prohibited both by international law as well as, albeit oft en implicitly, by the overwhelming majority of state constitutions. Nevertheless, a state born out of a successful secessionist project, is likely to be recognized both by international organizations and by the community of states. Often though, in that connection the term ‘secession’ is substituted by ‘dissolution’ (Yugoslavia) or ‘voluntary disassociation’ (Bangladesh, Eritrea, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union). Thus, it becomes apparent that legal regulation of secession tends to run counter and to dissimulate its revolutionary character, while legitimizing its conservative dimension, through state building in the context of a new sovereign entity".

In the case of Scotland, it boils down to the will of its people, and their right to shape their destiny and future prospects, without let or hindrance. The consequences of a "yes" or "no" vote win are therefore primarily their problem. Unfortunately, the repercussions of a "yes" win could well impact the rest of the United Kingdom, Europe and even the rest of the world.

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