Secession

by Chris Bertram on January 23, 2007

There’s a somewhat weird article in the Guardian today by Simon Tisdall , which rather highlights a question that has been bothering me for a while. There’s been a rumbling debate in the UK for a while now about the possibility that the Scottish National Party might gain a majority in Scotland and then win a referendum on independence, thus ending the union. Tisdall cites possible Kosovan secession as an important possible precedent for this on no stronger grounds than the fact that, like Scotland, Kosovo has been an integral part of a larger entity for several centuries.

Most popular discussion of the Scottish case has simply assumed that Scotland ought to be able to secede if the nationalists win a referendum. But, whatever the merits of that view, it isn’t one that would draw much strength from recent work in political philosophy (so much the worse for political philosophy, I hear you say). Allen Buchanan’s article “Theories of Secession”, (PPA 1997) for example, argues for a remedial right to secede – that is a right, akin, to the right to revolution – to depart an entity if the seceding party has sought and failed to remedy a serious injustice of which they are the victims. Buchanan does not support a “primary right” to secede by national or other groups, partly on the grounds that to grant such a right would generate perverse incentives against many desirable policies, including ones favouring decentralized or devolved administration.

I think the disanalogies between Scotland and and Kosovo are pretty clear. Albanian Kosovans are the recent victims of sustained injustice and rights violations; modern Scots, who provide a good proportion of cabinet minister for the UK, who benefit from significant flows of revenues and who have their own parliament, are not. [1] Kosovans therefore meet Buchanan’s test for a remedial right to secede and Scots do not. Whether permitting Scottish secession would be a good or bad thing prudentially is another question, but I can’t see that it would be unjust to refuse such secession even if there were a majority for it in a referendum. Scottish secession, and the break-up of the UK, might have all kinds of desirable consequences, including for democracy and for the effective control of resources by people, especially if Scotland were to stay within the EU. But as a right , inherent in the Scottish people and exercisable by a one-off vote? I’m not convinced.

fn1. I don’t deny, of course, that Scots have been the victims of serious injustice in the historic past, just that they are presently the victims of such injustice.

{ 100 comments }

1

magistra 01.23.07 at 3:34 am

The issue of justice depends partly on who holds the referendum. If the UK government holds a Scottish referendum on independence, then they have got to follow through on the results or the referendum (and by implication the democratic will of the people voting) is rendered meaningless. Theoretically, if the Scottish parliament holds a referendum and the vote is for independence the UK parliament could ignore it, but it’d then be very hard to justify not running their own refenderum.

For the UK, in addition, you can’t consider the issue of Scottish independence without relating it to Northern Ireland. The essence of the British claim to hold onto Northern Ireland (since Partition) is that this is what the people of Ulster want. Implicitly (and I think it may even have been made explicit now), if the people of Northern Ireland voted to rejoin Ireland the UK government would not stand in their way. This view seems to have been widely accepted. The nationalists in Northern Ireland certainly have many historic grievances, but like the Scots (and unlike the Kosovans) suffer little current discrimination. If you accept that Northern Ireland may choose to leave the union, it’s hard to say why Scotland may not. (As usual, I’m afraid that no-one is really interested in what the Welsh want).

2

mijnheer 01.23.07 at 4:08 am

Quebec has considerably more autonomy than Scotland does, and despite the Conquest of 1759, can hardly be considered a present victim of injustice. Yet almost everyone in Canada recognizes that the people of Quebec have the democratic right to decide whether or not to remain part of Canada, though Quebec does not have a legal right to secede unilaterally. See the Clarity Act .

Now Segolene Royal, the French Socialist presidential candidate, has stuck her nose into the matter, despite — or perhaps because of — her ignorance of the issue.

3

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 4:20 am

magistra: I’m afraid I think there’s a disanalogy between the Scottish and N.Ireland cases. There’s a tacit or perhaps even explicit understanding in the case of N.Ireland grounded in statements by UK ministers over many years (and perhaps by more than this). That would ground a special right to secede rooted in a prior agreement. In the Scottish case there’s no such special right and secession would have to be based on a general right applying to all peoples. But there may be (if the Buchanan view is correct) no general right to secede other than as a remedy for injustice, and modern Scots have no plausible claim to be the victims of injustice.

4

wizzen 01.23.07 at 5:49 am

No serious injustice? Wake and smell the (Scottish) oil.

5

~~~~ 01.23.07 at 5:55 am

…benefit from significant flows of revenues…

Alex Salmond claims this is not true:

There is of course no subsidy from England to Scotland – quite the opposite. You may not realise, but the basis for this attack on Scotland is a set of figures that excludes revenues from the Scottish sector of the North Sea and includes a charge for English courts, prisons and tourism promotion to name but a few. This year Scotland is in relative surplus to the UK to the tune of almost £3bn and including all our nation’s resources we have been in surplus for the last three decades. You may want to consider why it is that the SNP argues for full fiscal independence for Scotland (we raise and spend our money ourselves) while the UK Government wants to keep the current system with its supposed subsidy!

6

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 6:16 am

The last two comments are premised on the proposition that “the Scottish people” has a natural right to the natural resources of Scotland and any revenues accruing to them. It isn’t clear why we should accept such a claim anyway. But, certainly, the thought that states currently enjoy such rights as a matter of convention and international law can hardly be used to ground an argument for bringing a new state into being.

7

wizzen 01.23.07 at 6:26 am

Maybe there’s no reason why Iraqi oil shouldn’t go to Haliburton. Might=right, after all.

8

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 6:33 am

Well there’s certainly no reason to think that the revenues from Iraqi oil should flow to those parts of the Iraqi population with the good fortune to live over the oilfields (Kurds and Shia) and be denied to those with the ill-fortune to live elsewhere (Sunnis).

But from the fact that you would be entitled to benefit X if you were an independent state, it hardly follows that you are being done an injustice in being denied benefit X when you are not. Nor would we want to endorse a principle which incentivized secession for any group that found itself contingently located next to a valuable resource. The sudden discovery of valuable widgets off the coast of Brittany might mean that a hypothetical Breton state would be very rich. Does that mean that Bretons located within the French state when the widgets are discovered are being cheated of their riches by France? I hardly think so.

9

abb1 01.23.07 at 7:12 am

But from the fact that you would be entitled to benefit X if you were an independent state, it hardly follows that you are being done an injustice in being denied benefit X when you are not.

It doesn’t flow from this fact alone, but it sure could be a critical element in the combination of all factors – historical, demographic, political etc.

10

Ali Soleimani 01.23.07 at 7:22 am

Scottish secession, and the break-up of the UK, might have all kinds of desirable consequences, including for democracy and for the effective control of resources by people, especially if Scotland were to stay within the UK.

Chris, can you expand on this point? I for one am not too familiar with the UK federal system. So I’m not sure what it would even mean for Scotland to secede yet stay within the UK. Isn’t that just its current situation — part of the UK yet separate from England? And what sorts of desirable consequences do you think might result?

[Sorry: my fault, that should have read “stay within the EU” and I’ve corrected it now. CB]

11

Z 01.23.07 at 7:30 am

I agree with your critical stance on state rights Chris, but from a practical point of view, especially in the case discussed here, it seems to me inescapable that if a democratically elected body should decide to conduct a referendum that turns out to be in favour of secession, then, even though the people who voted might not have a right to secede, the bigger entity has even less right to prevent them from doing so.

However, I must confess I would wince at the idea of secession decided by a very short margin. From a strictly practical case, I guess I would favour a system of qualified majority.

12

Donal Coffey 01.23.07 at 7:40 am

I don’t read comment 5, dealing with revenue flow, as a claim of ‘injustice’ sufficient to justify secession. I believe it’s merely a factual claim.
The fact that in the main post you use this as an example that Scots are not ‘victims of…injustice’ does not, I think, mean the commenter meant to extend the point that far. Of course, I could be wrong.

13

Marc Mulholland 01.23.07 at 7:58 am

So much the worse for political philosophy!

I’d have thought that the US Civil War is the relevant analogy. The southern States arguably did have a revolutionary right to secede (nor a ‘normal’ right under the Constitution, at least as interpreted by the Northerners). However this ‘democratic’ revolutionary right was more than negated by the injustice of slavery. This was not, in the round, a democratic revolution of self-determination, but a slave-holders’ revolt.

This way of thinking puts the shoe on the other foot. It is not that Scotland requires a democratic majority for secession PLUS a an grievance, rather the right to self-determination must not vitiated by a greater injustice. No such case subsists, so Scotland has the right to secede.

14

chris y 01.23.07 at 8:04 am

Well there’s certainly no reason to think that the revenues from Iraqi oil should flow to those parts of the Iraqi population with the good fortune to live over the oilfields (Kurds and Shia) and be denied to those with the ill-fortune to live elsewhere (Sunnis).

Why not? I wouldn’t be in favour of such an outcome, but by your logic Iraq might just as well be obliged to share its oil revenues with the Maldive Islands, or any other country that springs to mind. Iraq exists as a creation of the Treaty of Versailles, and was brought into being by forces which no longer exist, under a political dispensation which no longer exists. The people who live there were not consulted. Other countries invented by the same treaty include Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia: obviously the Slovaks enjoy a natural right to their share in the profits of the Budvar brewery.

OK, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but the whole discussion avoids the question of why any state should continue to exist for 20 minutes longer than suits the convenience of its inhabitants – obviously the practicalities of large scale map redrawing would be pretty damn inconvenient to many people, and that is an important factor to be considered. But that’s all it is.

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Bondwoman 01.23.07 at 8:25 am

I am curious why no one has mentioned the Act of Union, which seems to me to be relevant and to also bring some interesting distinctions into the cases of the different component parts of the United Kingdom. Surely the **really** interesting question in relation to the UK is whether **England** has the right to secede. In reply to questions about NI earlier, S1(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is the crucial text: “It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.”

16

Bonapart O Cunasa 01.23.07 at 8:32 am

But what’s so good about the status quo? Isn’t Buchanan’s position simply a defence of the status quo, however that happens to have arisen? If by some accident of history, two groups of people happen to be part of the same country, let’s call them Czechs and the Slovaks, is he saying that the Slovaks would have had no right to independence if the Czechs were to object out of simple bloody-mindedness?

There is an interesting corrolary – presumably Buchanan would say a country has no right to expel some of its territory either. So the UK is wedded to Gibraltar, come what may?

17

David B 01.23.07 at 8:36 am

There is a legal point about ‘Scottish’ oil: the border between England and Scotland runs approximately SW-NE, and if it is projected into the North Sea a substantial part of the oilfields would fall on the ‘English’ side of the line, though actually closer to Scotland. Since under international law there are precedents for the ‘projected borderline’ approach, it is not clear how much oil would fall to Scotland – assuming thre is any left at all by that time.

As to the ‘right of secession’ point, call me old-fashioned, but I thought the right of self-determination was generally accepted? Isn’t it somewhere in the UN charter? And what about the rights of the English (of whom I am one)? Suppose we want to get rid of the Celtic Whinge?

18

TheIrie 01.23.07 at 8:37 am

Chris B: “The last two comments are premised on the proposition that “the Scottish people” has a natural right to the natural resources of Scotland and any revenues accruing to them. It isn’t clear why we should accept such a claim anyway.”

I can see the potential in this argument, if you are claiming that all natural resources should be shared by everyone, presumably by some form of international administrative body. But if you are not proposing this, what possible alternative is there that is more just than that the inhabitants of a certain region should enjoy sovereignty over the resources? Your view has of course served British imperialism well over the years – justifying our interventions in Africa and Asia (welll everywhere actually) to control the resources.

Unless you have any viable, just alternative, I think we ought to stick for the time being to the concept that the people of a region have a natural right to the natural resources of said region.

19

David B 01.23.07 at 8:40 am

In reply to bondwoman, the United Kingdom Parliament is always free to amend its own previous Acts, including the Northern Ireland Acts and the various Acts of Union.

20

Backword Dave 01.23.07 at 8:51 am

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to try to make a few points. I think one of Labour’s great mistakes in 1997 was to promise a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. These were presented as if the Scots were getting more representation, when what they got was another tier of government, and no extra power – importantly no extra power when it comes to where government supports jobs. The way the Scottish Parliament works – effectively making certain decisions in Scotland so that Westminster MPs with Scottish constituencies don’t (but do legislate for England) – seems essentially unfair and wrong to me. Further, when people say ‘Democratically elected’ they should know that turn out for both the Parliament and the Assembly is woefully low; most voters are pretty indifferent, and the claim of democratic support here seems very tenuous. Lastly there seems to be the assumption that there is an entity called Scotland which is as well defined as the entity called ‘Chris Bertram’ which can secede if it wishes. I really can’t see why the part which secedes shouldn’t start as far south as Hadrian’s Wall or as far north as the Highland Line.

I’m also hugely uncomfortable with the ideas that states have ‘rights’. Individual rights I can understand, but states just seem like containers for large numbers of people, and they aren’t greatly different, in my view, from buses.

That said, if a seceding Scotland became properly nuclear free (in the way that a state can be, and a city like Sheffield can’t), I’d support it and probably move there. If not, then not.

21

John Emerson 01.23.07 at 9:12 am

Start the popcorn — it’s time to dust off some of the old songs, I guess. I’m sure that Segolene has a Stuart heir sitting in waiting somewhere, and the English must a new Duke Cumberland, Prince Harry perhaps, who knows what to do with the Scots illegal combatants.

Agreed, it’s not like Kosovo. Yet.

22

franck 01.23.07 at 9:43 am

This depends on your viewpoint, I suppose, but since it has just been proved that the RUC was aiding and protecting death squads in Northern Ireland, that seems like a serious injustice for people living in Northern Ireland.

Since the Act of Union was a voluntary joining of the nations, it seems clear to me that one should suppose a right to voluntarily split apart the nations. In Ireland the case is even more strong, since there was nothing voluntary at all about British rule in Ireland.

I can’t help but feel a lot of people (not you Mr. Bertram), have ulterior motives in this debate. It’s pretty clear that Scotland has been ill-served in the past 30 years (expecially in comparison to the Republic of Ireland), and large numbers of leftists in the UK fear Scottish secession because they fear (wrongly in my opinion) that that would mean Tory domination of whatever part of the UK plus England remains.

The American Civil War was always prosecuted by the Union on the basis of the attack by Confederate forces on Union forces at Fort Sumter.

Wny can’t Brittany secede, by the way? It is suffering a continuing injustice by the French states’ refusal to allow public schooling or local government in the Breton language, which almost all other European states allow and is a right supported by the UN. Despite decades of attempts to change these unjust laws, the French government continues to maintain them. (What’s good for the Quebecois goose is good for the Breton gander.)

23

john burke 01.23.07 at 9:47 am

An interesting post – some observations

Comment 13 – I think the US Civil War is an appropriate analogy but not in the way suggested. The southern states asserted a right to leave the union they had freely joined. The verdict of the Civil War (and not of the US Supreme Court) is that it the US Constitution created a union from which you may not unilaterally secede.
Coming back across the Atlantic Ireland joined a union in 1801 following a vote of its parliament at the time – undemocratic by today’s standards and following a vote that was corrupt even at the time. In terms of English constituional theory, Ireland (well the south at least) left the union because Westminster voted to allow it to leave. In Irish theory however the union was dissolved by a vote of a constituent assembly equivalent to the one that had created the union. Why can’t the union of Scotland and England (if we assume that Wales was absorbed by conquest) be dissolved on the same basis? Because you need an act of parliament passed at Westminster? Are there any scottish legal theorists out there.

The historical problem in northern ireland was that a nationalist minority in the North was left behind in 1922 when the majority on the island exercised the right of self-determination for the island as a whole. What happens if Scotland as a whole issue decides to dissolve the union but the Shetlands and Orkneys want to stay? or go their own separate ways? (and keep their own oil?)
One man’s democratic act of self-determination is another man’s unlawful secession.

24

Scott Martens 01.23.07 at 9:49 am

The Quebec analogy isn’t precisely right either. Quebec fought long and hard, and made enough of a pain in the ass of itself, that most Canadians wouldn’t even contemplate the prospect of trying to keep in Canada a Quebec that had voted to pull out. People in Canada generally see that a hostile separation would be far worse than a relatively amicable one, so if Quebec did try to leave Canada, the negotiations would be over price, not “territorial integrity”. And, the current separatist movement campaigns for an independent Quebec that remains within a customs and currency union with Canada, that has freedom of movement with Canada, that retains a common regulatory law, maybe even a common citizenship… at which point one has to ask what the point of seceding is.

If Scotland contemplates independence on those kinds of terms, I have to ask what the point is there too.

As a general theory, I ask whether a separatist movement will genuinely do something different from the state it’s withdrawing from, and what real needs a separate state is expected to meet, and whether or not those needs might be equally accommodated within the existing framework. The Kosovo Albanians might well have a case that within Serbia, their legitimate need for a responsible state can never be met. The Palestinians, definitely. Although in both cases, there’s a cost to residents whose needs are better met by the existing arrangements. For Quebec and Scotland: neither foresees establishing a state with meaningfully different policies from the current one, nor is it clear that whatever legitimate gripes they have can’t be met on other terms.

But the idea that people should have their own country merely because they identify themselves differently is just dumb.

25

P O'Neill 01.23.07 at 9:58 am

I think #22 raises an important point with comparison of Scotland to Republic of Ireland. Alternative history, say since 1973: Scotland in EU but with freedom to set its own exchange rate and individual and corporate tax rates — is it better or worse off than it is now? Side question: is Republic of Ireland better or worse off with such a Scotland able to steal its multinational corporation lunch?

26

ajay 01.23.07 at 10:02 am

The last two comments are premised on the proposition that “the Scottish people” has a natural right to the natural resources of Scotland and any revenues accruing to them. It isn’t clear why we should accept such a claim anyway.

This is such a bizarre statement that I have difficulty coming up with a response. Do you actually mean that, in the event of Scottish independence, the government of Scotland – unlike every other nation state in the world – should not be allowed to dictate what happens to the natural resources within its borders, territorial waters and EEZ seas? Are there any other countries you think should be covered by this strange rule? Iraq, for example?

27

chris y 01.23.07 at 10:02 am

If Scotland contemplates independence on those kinds of terms, I have to ask what the point is there too.

Scotland certainly contemplates independence as a member of the EU. This has been SNP policy, mutatis mutandis, since at least the 1970s.

28

Matt 01.23.07 at 10:08 am

I’m course if those arguing in favor of a right to secede here think that any territorial bit where a (bare?) majority supports this has such a right. If the libertarians in the US were successful with their plan of taking over New Hampshire would they then have this right? If a bar majority in New York City wanted to become independent (tired of subsidizing the rest of the state and the country, say) would it? These seem like highly unlikely cases to me for several reasons, but they would be supported by the arguments given above so far. (The Quebec case is instructive, too, since as mentioned above most there don’t really want a seperate country- they want all the benefits of being part of Canada but many fewer burdens. It’s not at all clear why the rest of Canada should go along with that, and when reality is presented a much smaller group of people in Quebec support independence.)

29

franck 01.23.07 at 10:15 am

I think it is pretty clear that an independent Scotland would have different policies than the UK as a whole. For starters, no Trident submarines, no nuclear deterrant, no preemptive wars, no Tory governments, much more leftist policies, economic policies not designed for southwest England, joining the euro, etc.

30

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 10:16 am

ajay: I’m sorry that you think that it is a bizarre statement. But if you had read that comment (and the subsequent one) with more care you would have found that I agree that an independent Scotland would have as a matter of international law and convention the same rights as any other state. What you regard as a “bizarre statement” is simply the denial that “the Scottish people” have some natural entitlement to the benefits that might flow to them if state boundaries were different.

31

Jacob T. Levy 01.23.07 at 10:16 am

Someone above asked, “what’s so good about the status quo”? (for Buchanan and those others of us who deny primary right theories of secession).

Only that it is the status quo. Once you come to terms with the thought that state boundaries are inevitably deeply arbitrary, and that there does not exist any (non-question-begging) principle for carving up the whole world on a non-arbitrary basis, then a) living within a reasonably just state now prima facie defeats any claim that overturning it (by revolution or secession) is justified; and b) the primary right theory vanishes in a puff of logic because you start looking too hard at who the rights-holder would be. In Canada, the name of this problem is “on what grounds could Quebec secede that would not justify the First Nations in seceding from Quebec?”

I haven’t seen any attention to the new Scottish rumblings from Europe outside Britain. But I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some. The present balancing act of states-and-regions could be badly upset by one instance of unilateral secession. Spain, Italy, France, Romania, etc. would all be deeply displeased by the thought that an EU-recognized region could just decide to become a state, and that might spell the end of the system of regions.

32

Bondwoman 01.23.07 at 10:24 am

Ad 19, as indeed is implicit in 22, the Act of Union was not an Act of Parliament, but a treaty. That makes a difference. I’m really curious about this point on natural resources disputed between Chris Bertram and ajay. It needs to be remembered that this is thrown into the debate so often precisely because Scotland has to put up with the argument that it is a “subsidy junkie”. I don’t understand how one can distinguish between the question of Scotland as an independent state having territorial jurisdiction over its own natural resources and whether ““the Scottish people” have some natural entitlement to the benefits that might flow to them if state boundaries were different”. Is this some sort of natural law argument?

33

Katherine 01.23.07 at 10:26 am

Comparisons to other territories, interesting though they are, are inevitably comparing apples and pears surely.

“Recent work in political philosophy” aside, why should a group of people in a discrete geographical area not be able to secede from another group of people in a different geographical area if they wish to do so? What is the ethical case for refusing them?

34

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 10:46 am

Is this some sort of natural law argument?

No. There’s international law governing this kind of thing and a Scottish state would be entitled to be treated on the same terms as other states and that consideration of fairness and reciprocity would give it similar rights over its resources to those enjoyed by others. It doesn’t follow from that that the principle that generally assigns to states such rights is a good one, and one can certainly think that we should stick with the existing convention as a matter of practice without thereby giving moral endorsement to a finders keepers principle assigning rights to pre-institutional “peoples”.

35

abb1 01.23.07 at 11:19 am

Metaphysical “peoples” certainly shouldn’t have any rights to anything in the real world; totality of residents of a geographical area is a different matter.

36

Rich B. 01.23.07 at 11:23 am

No one seems to oppose the right to secede by mutual consent. If the Czechs and the Slovaks want to go their own way, is there a “secession theory” reason to oppose it anyway? (Maybe there is. I don’t know, but it’s not self-evident.)

If not, then I think “Right to Secession” question has it backwards. Where does the “Right to Prevent Secession” come from? If you want to Secede in order to commit grave injustices against a minority that seems like a good reason to oppose it. If you want to Secede for any non-frivolous reason, why should I have a right to stop you?

37

tom hurka 01.23.07 at 11:27 am

How’s this for a non-question-begging principle? So far as possible, people should be able to associate politically with all and only those people they want to associate with and that want to associate with them. It’s not an ideal that can be achieved completely, but it can be approximated more or less. And when it can, it’s better to approximate it more. If all Quebecois wanted an independent Quebec and all other Canadians wanted a Canada without Quebec, would the anti-secessionists say the break-up wasn’t justified unless there was also some injustice?

Of course real-world cases aren’t that simple, since often some people want to associate politically with others who don’t want to associate with them, e.g. the Irish with (some) Northern Irish, Canadians with (some)Quebecois, and Quebecois with (some) First Nations. But then I think the desire not to associate beats the desire to associate. That certainly fits our thinking about personal relationships, where x’s desire not to be y’s friend trumps y’s desire to be a friend of x’s.

This idea about association is only one consideration, to be weighed against various others,including about the viability of the resulting political units (so tiny ones are out). But I think there’s a prima facie case for political self-determination, understood as letting people associate with who they want to associate with.

As was said above, that’s the consensus view in Canada, which has been dealing with secessionist issues for 30 years. And I would say that Allen Buchanan’s views, cited initially by Chris, are at the restrictive end of the spectrum of views on the subject rather than at all representative.

38

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 11:37 am

Katharine: “Recent work in political philosophy” aside, why should a group of people in a discrete geographical area not be able to secede from another group of people in a different geographical area if they wish to do so? What is the ethical case for refusing them?

Tom Hurka: So far as possible, people should be able to associate politically with all and only those people they want to associate with and that want to associate with them. It’s not an ideal that can be achieved completely, but it can be approximated more or less.

Well one reason might be that the reasons people want to secede and associate only with those of their own group can be very morally unrespectable indeed. For example, one group, let’s call them “Flemings”, who are rich, healthy and fully employed might want independence so as to escape having to pay the welfare and health bills of the poor, sick and unemployed “Walloons”. (Any resemblance to actual Flemings and Walloons is purely coincidental.)

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ajay 01.23.07 at 11:47 am

There’s international law governing this kind of thing and a Scottish state would be entitled to be treated on the same terms as other states and that consideration of fairness and reciprocity would give it similar rights over its resources to those enjoyed by others. It doesn’t follow from that that the principle that generally assigns to states such rights is a good one

It’s the belief expressed in the second sentence here that I found bizarre. I know perfectly well, as do you, that an independent Scotland would have such rights. I’m just startled by your suggestion that maybe it shouldn’t. What exactly is your problem with the principle that countries should control their own natural resources?

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ajay 01.23.07 at 12:00 pm

And another point: doesn’t this mean that a well-ruled colony (one not suffering any “serious injustice”) has no right to declare independence, even if its entire population demands it?

41

John Quiggin 01.23.07 at 12:03 pm

Western Australia voted to secede in 1933. The Australian (Commonwealth) government rejected the proposal, and the British government (this was before Australia ratified the Statute of Westminster) refused to ratify it. As far as I can tell, everyone promptly forgot about it after that.

42

Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 12:04 pm

Ajay: first, distinguish between “control” and “are entitled to the full fruits of”. Control, in the sense of stewardship, might be very good and necessary. But given the uneven and arbitrary distribution of natural resources, favouring some and disfavouring others, as a matter of brute luck, we should be reluctant to endorse a strong finders-keepers principle. (See Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, pp. 136-143 for some discussion).

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Matt 01.23.07 at 12:06 pm

Tom Hurka of course accepts that the case he describes is an unreal one- where everyone in one section wants to leave and everyone in the other wants to let them go. Who could oppose seccession in such a case? But of course in every real case there will be people who are harmed, and often treated unjustly, when one section of a state secedes. Compensation for such people is a minimum, but that’s rarely given and perhaps often can’t be given very well. This is a strong reason to think that secession should be highly limited, usually to remedial cases, I’d think. (It’s not the only reason, but a strong one, surely.) Also, given the involuntary nature of membership in a state I don’t think the right to association argument by itself gets going very well.

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Rich B. 01.23.07 at 12:07 pm

For example, one group, let’s call them “Flemings”, who are rich, healthy and fully employed might want independence so as to escape having to pay the welfare and health bills of the poor, sick and unemployed “Walloons”.

There are Flemings, and then there are Flemings, though. One might think that there’s a distinction between Killington, VT wanting to “secede” and move to low-tax New Hampshire, and the state of New Jersey not being able to help its own poor people because only 55 cents of every dollar it pays coming back from the federal government, so that the money can flow to Mississippi and Alaska.

Killian, VT

Jersey Taxes

45

lemuel pitkin 01.23.07 at 12:11 pm

Important to remember that a premise, not only of secession, but of the legitimacy of states in general, is that there is a pre-existing nation or people whom the state represents. We’re not talking about any abstract “group of people in a geographic area.”

Plenty of people may object to the notion of nations as real or natural objects, but our whole political system depends on them.

46

Stuart 01.23.07 at 12:36 pm

So if Scotland were to secede on economic grounds, what stops some historical minor kingdom/barony on the east coast of Scotland that would happen to get a lions share of the oil reserves because of its geographic location from then following the same principal? I am sure you can repeat the same for any similarly localised valuable resources, especially in Europe were you have a colourful history of political ownership of almost every blade of grass that could justify hundreds of different ways of chopping up any geographic area.

47

franck 01.23.07 at 12:38 pm

Nice way to tar the “Flemings” there, who actually do suffer from government policies in Brussels that favor French speakers in housing allowances, etc. Not to mention the historic discrimination that their language and culture suffered under French language administration.

The French can’t have it both ways. If Quebec can secede, so can Flanders. Unless you are a French language imperialist, of course.

48

mpowell 01.23.07 at 12:41 pm

I pretty much agree with Chris Bertram here. This oil thing seems to stem from a argument about whether Scotland receives subsidies or not. Setting the question of the Scottish people’s rights to stuff found in the sea, if we are looking at the matter as a question of different regions within a single state, its pretty clear that tax revenue from actual labor should count for a lot more than revenue from easy profit on a substance pulled out of the ground when we are talking about a redistribution of wealth.

49

engels 01.23.07 at 12:50 pm

Why don’t we let Scotland become independent, then invade them and nick their oil?

50

TheIrie 01.23.07 at 12:52 pm

“we should be reluctant to endorse a strong finders-keepers principle” – I repeat my question – what is the alternative? One alternative is what we actually have, which is that the strongest power comes in and takes over. The fairness of this doesn’t merit comment. Another conceivable alternative would be that all resources are administered internationally for all humanity, which might work, though it would be central planning on a huge scale, which we capitalists are supposed to be against. Therefore, as far as I can see, we are left with the least worst principle that those who live in the region should have sovereignty over the resource. If there is an alternative I haven’t thought of, I’d like to hear it.

51

abb1 01.23.07 at 1:11 pm

So if Scotland were to secede on economic grounds, what stops some historical minor kingdom/barony on the east coast of Scotland that would happen to get a lions share of the oil reserves because of its geographic location from then following the same principle?

I think one shouldn’t be able to secede on economic grounds alone, but when other necessary conditions do exist, it doesn’t hurt to have some oil in the ground.

52

kb 01.23.07 at 1:23 pm

So if Scotland were to secede on economic grounds, what stops some historical minor kingdom/barony on the east coast of Scotland that would happen to get a lions share of the oil reserves because of its geographic location from then following the same principle?

The ones to watch here are the shetland islands.
They’ve traditionally been the area most hostile to scottish independence & many(most?) shetlanders do not regard themselves as scottish. And why should they use their oil revenue to subsidize the scots ?

53

tom hurka 01.23.07 at 1:32 pm

Chris: Your argument now is that the secessionists’ motives *might* be unrespectable. But what if they’re not? Quebec would almost certainly be worse off economically after separation, but sovereignists still want it, because of their desire for a kind of association with all and only other Quebecois. Much as I don’t want them to secede, I see nothing disreputable in their motivation. Your original position was against secession (in the absence of injustice) in all cases; now it seems to be weakened so it’s against only secession from unrespectable motives.

Matt: I doubt Quebec’s secession would cause injustice to anyone in Quebec. It might harm them in an extended sense, by putting them in a situation where they’re not living in the political unit they’d most desire. But right now Quebec sovereignists suffer the harm of not living in the political unit they’d most desire. As other posters ask, why privilege the status quo? Why count existing harms (in the extended sense) less than ones that would result from new political relationships?

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Chris Bertram 01.23.07 at 1:45 pm

Tom, I think you’ve got the dialectic mixed up. I wasn’t modifying my argument, I was responding to your suggestion that “So far as possible, people should be able to associate politically with all and only those people they want to associate with and that want to associate with them.” Generally speaking, your free association argument has the defect that people will try to include those with whom association is beneficial and exclude those who are not. (Cf motor insurance, health insurance etc).

(If you want a link back to the Buchanan argument that I mentioned in the opening post, though, it would be the point that allowing a right to secede based on your principle generates perverse incentives to actions which harm the vulnerable.)

55

dearieme 01.23.07 at 1:46 pm

The more interesting question is when can you vote to expel people or districts. Under what circumstances could the echt Scots vote to expel the bloody Glaswegians?

56

leederick 01.23.07 at 2:28 pm

I don’t think you can upheld a right to secede, inherent in the people of an area, in the face of the Scotland/Orkney problem.

How can Scotland have the right to secede from the UK, and the Orkneys have the right to secede from Scotland and remain within the UK? That seems pretty close to a proof by contradiction. You can’t uphold a right for Scotland to secede without denying just that right to the Orkneys. So how can there be a right to secede?

57

lemuel pitkin 01.23.07 at 4:05 pm

Nobody, anywhere, proposes that states can be set up by any geographically contiiguous group of people who want one. Every state is presumed to embody the common interests and will of some pre-existing people, usually but not always a nation in some ethnic-linguistic-historical sense. Every even remotely plausible secession movement is based on the notion that the seceding unit has some kind of existence as a people, to which existing boundaries don’t correspond.

(In that sense, what teh Civil War in the US established was that there was one American demos, not a separate demos in each state.)

Many of us may not like these facts about the world — we may not beleive that “nations” or “peoples” exist prior to states. But to talk about these questions as if Scotland were an arbitrary set of lines on the map, and not one of finite number of distinct imagined communities, misses the issue entirely.

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lemuel pitkin 01.23.07 at 4:08 pm

That’s why, contra leederick, it is entirely reasonable to allow Scotland to secede from the UK but not to allow the Orkneys to secede from Scotland, if we think Scotland is a demos in the relevant sense and the Orkneys aren’t. Of course maybe the Orkneys do have enough of a sense of forming a distinct community to justify a right to secession there, too — I really have no idea. But it’s an empirical question, not one that can be answered by first principls.

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Bondwoman 01.23.07 at 4:18 pm

“maybe the Orkneys do have enough of a sense of forming a distinct community to justify a right to secession there, too” I think the Orkadians would say they definitely do. Different heritage (Norse, not Gaelic or Scots), very different dialects and accents.

60

wizzen 01.23.07 at 5:51 pm

Let’s add a bit more context. Labour supporters in England are at the moment extremely worried that Scotland will vote for independence. It would mean 1) no in-built majority of Labour MPs at Westminster 2) (probably) Scotland’s remaining oil money funding an economy independent of Westminster 3) (probably) the removal of Britain’s only naval nuclear base (at Faslane).

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tom hurka 01.23.07 at 6:24 pm

The suggestion was only for a prima facie right of political association, one that has to be weighed against other factors and may often be outweighed. But there being a prima facie right means that if a group of people want to secede and no significant harms will result, they should be allowed to secede. I submit that that’s the case with Scotland and Quebec.

The remedial view is much more restrictive, since it allows secession only given serious injustice against the would-be seceders. But I don’t see the argument for it. How does the showing that secession would be undesirable if had certain bad effects show that it should be forbidden even when it won’t have those effects? (By Chris’s own lights the Scots aren’t paying others’ health and welfare bills; they’re getting theirs paid. And that’s certainly true of the Quebecois.)

Also, it’s been a while since I read Buchanan’s book, but I would have thought the incentives were the opposite of those Chris describes. Allowing secession *encourages* decentralization, since those who might secede are bought off with grants of lesser autonomy. That’s the story of Quebec: the ‘knife-at-their-throat’ strategy, leading to more provincial power.

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djw 01.23.07 at 6:35 pm

Much as I don’t want them to secede, I see nothing disreputable in their motivation.

From the perspective of first nations inside Quebec territory, the cultural and political vision of the separatists often looks a bit worse than “disreputable.”

63

djw 01.23.07 at 6:56 pm

Chris’ footnote seems important. One might agree that the British aren’t currently perpetrating injustices against the Scottish, but they do have a bad habit of doing just that, if we take the long historical view, which might make a secession demand a bit more powerful.

(Perhaps Buchanan addresses this concern; I haven’t read his stuff)

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cac 01.23.07 at 10:08 pm

One argument for allowing secession that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned is that if you make it clear to people that, subject to some sort of process (possibly involving a super majority), you will let them go on their way, you do make it easier to channel separatist urges towards peaceful means. I’m sure the decline in IRA violence has much to do with the IRA being convinced that, should Ulster vote to leave the UK and join Ireland, it would be free to do so (this has been UK Govt policy for at least 30 years but the IRA was not convinced of it – nor of course for a long time did they accept the right of Ulster rather than Ireland to decide its fate). Compare this with, say, Kashmir, where the Indian Government’s absolute refusal to consider the possibility of it leaving the Indian Union means that a Kashmiri nationalist either has to make the best of being Indian or take up the guns. There is no middle ground.

An added “benefit” (if you can call it such – my impression is that not a few Canadians and English would like nothing better than to be shot of the Quebecois/Scots) is that the need to deal with practical issues such as how you mobilise a democratic majority and then what you do with your independence when you’ve got there may constrain separatist ardour in a way that being a romantic freedom fighter does not.

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lurker 01.24.07 at 3:32 am

The idea that only injustice justifies secession is unfortunate as all you generally need to provide the necessary injustice is a terrorist campaign provoking the predictably heavy-handed and stupid repression. In what way would that be preferable to a civilized divorce, Czechoslovakian style?
Still, the question is a difficult one. How about Yugoslavia? On what basis is it usually taken for granted that Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia but the Krajina Serbs had no right to secede from Croatia? That Bosnia (with no previous existence as a sovereign nation and no clear majority in favour of establishing one) had rights but the self-indentified peoples living within that particular administrative unit did not? A continuation of the Federal Yugoslavian state might have been desirable in many ways, but that would have required suppressing the Croatian and Slovenian democratically elected governments. No easy, clean solutions I can see.
@46,
Nations have to be created from pre-existing human materials. Obscure baronies won’t do, unless a quirk of history has allowed them to survive to this day (Kuwait, Monaco).
@54,
people may have morally excellent reasons not to associate with people with whom association is not beneficial. I reduce my chances of getting murdered enormously by choosing not to associate with career criminals. And some states seem to always end up with governments not much better than career criminals.

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lurker 01.24.07 at 4:12 am

@55,
The South African government’s promotion of independent bantustans might be a practical precedent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transkei). Did not work and I doubt if there’s any way of justifying it either.

67

ajay 01.24.07 at 5:22 am

42: Control, in the sense of stewardship, might be very good and necessary. But given the uneven and arbitrary distribution of natural resources, favouring some and disfavouring others, as a matter of brute luck, we should be reluctant to endorse a strong finders-keepers principle.

At this point my faith in the existence of a strong link (or indeed any link) between the brains of political scientists and the real world may be said to have weakened somewhat.

Yes, it’s unequal that Norway has a whole lot of oil and France doesn’t really have any, or that Botswana has diamond mines and Ireland doesn’t. Come to that, it’s also unequal that France has vast areas of sunny, fertile soil and Norway is largely barren mountains and snow. And it’s unequal that Zambia is full of tsetse flies and crocodiles, while Great Britain contains no predator more lethal than the humble badger.

But given that a nation-state consists of a bunch of people living on a bit of land, what solution do you propose? Should every state be reorganised into a long thin strip extending from the pole to the equator? The “if the stuff is on your land, you own it” principle seems the only possible remedy.

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Sophia 01.24.07 at 7:43 am

re comment 63 by djw: the terms British and English are not synonomous. While the English have over the years done many bad things to the Scots, and vice versa, both nations are British, being inhabitants of the island of Britain.

Also, if one is taking the long term historical view, many of the more notable bad things that have happened in Scotland, such as the Highland Clearances and the brutal 17th century wars of religion were done by Scots to Scots (not without willing accomplices in the various central governments, of course). For some other things, such as the aggression of Edwards I-III, Henry VIII, Cromwell etc the blame is firmly south of the border.

69

TheIrie 01.24.07 at 7:43 am

I agree with ajay. It seems to me ‘political scientists’ think in terms of principles, and principles absolutely never apply in reality. I am unaware of any principle which determines a policy. There may be policies which happen to be consistent with principles, but I reckon you can always find something to contradict. Classic example would be free trade. If you do want to pretend principles are important, then secession should be entirely the decision of those wishing to secede based on the principle that any authority can only derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

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Z 01.24.07 at 8:13 am

But given that a nation-state consists of a bunch of people living on a bit of land, what solution do you propose?

If you are looking for real-life examples, ajay, you can have a look at the European Union. Some natural resources are under the joint administration of the EU, even though they can be found within the borders of one particular nation-state. That way (and it is only one of plenty I can think of), the “injustice hat France has vast areas of sunny, fertile soil and Norway (make that Sweden for my purpose) is largely barren mountains and snow” can be mitigated. It is conceivable that some fossil resources will be under the joint administration of most of the world within my lifetime. On the more general subject, I wouldn’t want to speak for Chris, but I seem to remember from previous posts of his that he looked at the statu quo with great defiance.

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abb1 01.24.07 at 8:13 am

@69: It would’ve been easy if there was only one principle; this could be a contradictory combination of several principles.

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Jacob T. Levy 01.24.07 at 8:38 am

A question for Tom Hurka, if he’s still reading.

I seem to recall from Berna’s original consent theory of secession (which resembles what you’re putting forward, nu?) that he was willing to bite the bullet on smaller and smaller referenda. The majority of any area well-defined enough to be able to hold a vote could make a decision, subject only to technical constraints about minimum state size– constraints that don’t hold if they’re border regions opting to remain with the original state rather than would-be microstates.

Do you hold with that, too? The day after the Quebec or Scottish referendum, some substantial number of border towns or border regions (and First Nations Quebec is a border region– it’s contiguous with the ROC) organize new referenda and vote to stay with the original state.

Do they have a right to do so? Does the seceding territory have a right to stop them? Is the case at all asymmetrical from the initial secession?

My suspicion is always that consent theories that don’t bite this bullet are piggybacking on an unarticulated and implausible nationalist account– it’s *nations* that have to consent to live together– but getting rhetorical traction from sounding like principles of individual consent. The pragmatic shrug– “we should live according to consent insofar as possible, but there has to be a limit”– if it happens that the shrug always comes at the preexisting provincial-cum-‘national’ border.

A plug: the best recent treatment of this literature and these questions is Wayne Norman, _Negotiating Nationalism_, Oxford 2006.

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TheIrie 01.24.07 at 8:38 am

abb1 – I don’t get your point.

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Chris Bertram 01.24.07 at 9:06 am

To amplify Sophia’s point above, anyone interested in these issues should read Linda Colley’s _Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837_ . The thing that really always sticks in my mind from Colley is her quotation from an essay written during the First World War (p. 175-6):

bq. Today a Scot is leading the British army in France [Field Marshall Douglas Haig], another is commanding the British grand fleet at sea [Admiral David Beatty], while a third directs the Imperial General Staff at home [Sir William Robertson]. The Lord Chancellor is a Scot [Viscount Finlay]; so are the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary [Bonar Law and Arthur Balfour]. The Prime Minister is a Welshman [David Lloyd George], and the First Lord of the Admiralty is an Irishman [Lord Carson]. Yet no one has ever brough in a bill to give home rule to England.

All of which puts into perspective the anti-colonialist rhetoric of Scottish nationalists over the years: at the high point of Empire, Britain was led by Scots.

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abb1 01.24.07 at 9:10 am

It’s just that there might be other principles involved here; different people have different views on sovereignty. What do you do if a large majority of the whole entity don’t want its part to secede? What is the ‘consent of the governed’ in this case?

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quintin hoare 01.24.07 at 9:34 am

@65
The question of what justified secession in the case of the former Yugoslavia is certainly difficult if you fail, as lurker does, to take into consideration the country’s own (1974) federal constitution. The latter recognized a right of secession to the federation’s six republics (rather than to the nations upon which five of the six republics were based,the exception being Bosnia), on the grounds that the republics – including Bosnia, with its three main national groups – had voluntarily joined the federation in 1943-5 in an act of self-determination. When the EU’s Badinter Commission recognized in 1991-2 that the Yugoslav federation was in the process of dissolution (a process initiated and led, incidentally, by Serbia), it took the obvious course of accepting the right of secession of the six republics. Pace lurker, a two-thirds majority of Bosnians did express their clear support for independence, in a democratic popular referendum, with citizens (not member of national groups as such) voting.

All this is not really difficult at all. The only serious problem relates to the status of the two ‘autonomous provinces’ of Kosovo and Vojvodina, formally within the republic of Serbia, which had since 1974 enjoyed virtually equal status with the six republics but whose autonomy had effectively been ended forcibly by the Milosevic regime in 1989-90. It would have been open to the Badinter Commission (or Western governments) to decide in 1991-2 to recognize a right of secession to eight federal units rather than just to six republics, thus sparing a lot of subsequent grief.

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quintin hoare 01.24.07 at 9:37 am

@76
‘members’ not ‘member’ in parenthesis at end of para one – apologies!

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ajay 01.24.07 at 10:42 am

All of which puts into perspective the anti-colonialist rhetoric of Scottish nationalists over the years: at the high point of Empire, Britain was led by Scots.

How silly of the Scots to resent being ruled by the English in 2007 when, a mere ninety years previously, there were a few Scots in positions of power!

More relevant might be the fact that it is apparently entirely acceptable at present to suggest that Scots should be banned from being prime minister or from many of the other offices of state.

Incidentally, on the “right to secede”: does this mean that, given the Irish could vote for Westminster MPs, Ireland had no right to secede from the United Kingdom?

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Chris Bertram 01.24.07 at 10:50 am

Ajay: (1) that isn’t acceptable; (2) Scots occupy many of the key ministerial positions _now_ (3) it is _absurd_ to claim now (2007) that the Scots are being ruled by the English.

And the parallel with Ireland doesn’t hold. The Irish were the victims of sustained injustice in the very recent past and so the remedial argument applied fully to them, not so the Scots. (The Welsh would have also had a good claim, btw, imho during the period of language suppression).

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Katherine 01.24.07 at 11:25 am

May I add another question and say, then, that if Scotland wish to secede and the Orkneys didn’t, what actually is so ridiculous about allowing exactly that? Geography? There are many territories in the world that are split; the US and Alaska; Angola and Cabinda Province (not a terribly good example but it exists).

81

TheIrie 01.24.07 at 11:49 am

@75 abb1 – What do you do if a large majority of the whole entity don’t want its part to secede? What is the ‘consent of the governed’ in this case?

In this case ‘the governed’ are the Scots, and it is their consent that should determine the question. For the English and the Welsh, it is not a question of being governed, but of governing.

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franck 01.24.07 at 12:15 pm

The Scots position on “Scots occupy many of the key ministerial positions now” is that ultimately that doesn’t matter. Scotland is still poor, unhealthy, and saddled with nuclear weapons the vast majority of Scotland (something like 70%) doesn’t want.

The argument is that Scotland becoming independent would mean that it would pursue policies that it is unable to pursue now because the English prevent them. Like joining the euro, not funding a large military, providing better social services, not engaging in prememptive wars, etc.

The comparison with Ireland and other small countries in the EU is instructive – even if Scotland only behaved like the mean of this group, it would still be significantly better than it is doing now.

It’s also interesting that the SNP has many ethnic minority members and makes a real effort to reach out to immigrants. In fact, the SNP wants a much less punitive approach to immigration than the governing Labor party and wants _more_ immigration to Scotland.

At least in this thread, I haven’t seen any real response to the Scottish argument. I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but at least some of it is pretty compelling. It seems to me that a lot of the Scottish independence movement is driven by a desire for a better life, and that needs to be addressed by politicians in the UK if they want to prevent it.

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Jacob T. Levy 01.24.07 at 12:17 pm

A quirk about the ‘ruled by’ claim: the party for which a majority of English voters voted last time around does not govern. The party for which a majority of Scottish voters voted, does govern.

Labour nonetheless won more English *seats* than the Tories, so the result’s not quite as neat as all that. But still.

84

franck 01.24.07 at 12:19 pm

One could sum up the Scottish problem like Winston Churchill did of the Irish and Home Rule:

“We think that the Scots have too much power in this country and not enough in their own.”

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ajay 01.24.07 at 12:20 pm

Chris: 1) you may not think it’s acceptable to suggest that Scots should be banned from being PM – neither do I – but millions of people do; 52% of English voters, for example.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4770685.stm

2) the fact that Scots occupy some ministerial posts now is no consolation, especially as, by definition, the governments least dependent on Scottish votes and most hostile to Scottish interests are also least likely to have Scottish ministers. (See the entire 1980s.)

3)it is very far from “absurd to claim now (2007) that the Scots are being ruled by the English”. The final law of the land in Scotland is laid down by a parliament which is overwhelmingly composed of English MPs representing English constituencies. And yes, I know about devolution, and it doesn’t matter; Westminster could abolish the Holyrood parliament at will. See, for a loose parallel, Stormont.

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abb1 01.24.07 at 12:48 pm

TheIrie, but right now they are elements of one single entity. And it’s not just a collection of parts, the parts joined together created something that’s in a different category of things.

OK, imagine a divorce. In most cases it’s not just a bunch people living in one apartment, one of them decides to split – and voila. It would’ve been nice, I admit, but it’s not like that.

87

decon 01.24.07 at 1:41 pm

Ya’ll will probably enjoy reading Robert Young on the topic of secession in general and Quebec specifically….

Two practical, and related, problems. Legitimacy and unraveling. Does anyone doubt that Slovenia’s secession precipitated the unraveling of Yugoslavia? Hard to argue with their right to go. Easy to argue it allowed Slobo to have his way in the rump Republic, and thus unleashed the hell that followed. And thus perhaps we should think very carefully about tipping the scale against secession in other circumstances even where we recognize the “right” of secession.

US southern secession was the opposite of Democratic. Deep south “elections” were badly flawed, other southern states basically forced to follow in the “unraveling” pattern. Secession was certainly “about” slavery and intended to protect property rights in slaves, but it was not a slaveholders rebellion — large slaveholders were conservative and (presciently) appalled at the risky proposition of secession. Only relevant “lesson” from the subsequent civil war is might makes right.

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tom hurka 01.25.07 at 2:49 am

Jacob:

I haven’t read much of this literature, so I don’t know Berna. The consent theory I encountered was in an article of David Gauthier’s.

But yes, I mostly would bite the bullet on smaller referenda, especially in regions contiguous with the seceded-from state. And I think that’s very much the consensus view in Canada outside Quebec, i.e., in the event of Quebec sovereignty the First Nations (and maybe even the west island) get to decide where they go. Lucien Bouchard’s view that Canada is divisible but the boundaries of Quebec are inviolable is considered a joke.

I said ‘mostly’ because I’m not committed to a pure consent view. Maybe there are other conditions a seceding group has to satisfy, e.g. maybe they can’t be seceding just to avoid contributing financially to the poorer parts of the larger state (Slovenia seceding from Yugoslavia?), though there are also difficulties with that condition. And maybe they have to already form some kind of unity, such as that of a nation or other cultural group (and I don’t see what’s so implausible about that). So I don’t have a fully worked out view.

But the Buchanan view in Chris’s original post struck me as way too restrictive. Consent/association has to play some role. If a group that meets whatever the other conditions are (as I think Quebec and Scotland clearly do) chooses to secede, I don’t see any basis for denying their right to do so.

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lurker 01.25.07 at 4:00 am

@75,
one conservative argument for the status quo is that it is the status quo and radical changes involve the risk of radical evil. The status quo of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union was a one-party state with little petty bourgeoisie regard for constitutional and legal niceties and no tolerance for secessionism. Change that, and we no loger have the status quo, all sorts of changes are not just possible but inevitable. And the constitution of such a state is hardly a quasi-sacred document like the US Constitution is to most Americans. I can’t imagine feeling bound by something like that.

90

Chris Bertram 01.25.07 at 4:29 am

Tom H (and probably some others):

We need to distinguish between

(a) Is it generally speaking (on whatever grounds, including prudential ones) a good idea to permit secession when various conditions are satisfied.

and

(b) On what grounds should international law recognize a right of secession.

The Buchanan answer is to (b) and says remedial grounds only.

If Buchanan is correct then the Scots do not have a right to secede according to the conditions that ought to be embodied in international law.

But it does not follow from this that the UK should only permit the Scots to secede if they meet those conditions. It may be the best thing for all concerned that the Scots secede if they want to, it may be highly unwise to try to hang onto people who want to go, etc. etc.

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abb1 01.25.07 at 6:49 am

I think the “remedial grounds” thing sometimes has “the chicken or the egg” quality.

Small number of a minority’s nationalists feel oppressed and want a separate state -> the state starts suppressing potential separatist movement -> more minority’s members feel oppressed and join the movement -> the state steps up the repression -> pretty soon the nationalists have all the remedial grounds they need. All it took to start the second war in Chechnya was a couple of explosions.

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Jacob T. Levy 01.25.07 at 10:29 am

I agree entirely with Chris’ last comment, with the addendum that I think Buchanan’s rejection of the primary-right-that-should-be-recognized-by-international-law piggybacks on a rejection of primary-right-as-a-matter-of-moral-principle (and that I endorse both rejections). I take a relatively permissive stance toward what secessions it would be best overall for outsiders not to stand in the way of. But that’s not a reason to refrain from denying, over and over again, the premisses of nationalist-secessionists’ arguments.

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ajay 01.25.07 at 11:02 am

As I say, Buchanan’s approach would deny a reasonably well-ruled colony the right of self-determination. How would modern Australians (for example) feel about being a colony, run from London through an appointed Governor-General?

Furthermore, although it might be morally wrong for Britain to invade, subjugate and annexe Denmark, for example, once it had done so Buchanan would say that it was also wrong for the citizens of British Denmark to agitate for the return of their independence, assuming that the rule of the British Governor wasn’t unusually harsh.

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Jacob T. Levy 01.25.07 at 11:23 am

Ajay, all that’s required for the conclusion not to hold is to say that formal incorporation into the demos– that is, democratic voting rights– is a core part of being treated reasonably justly. And Buchanan says so. That does mean that the overseas French departements have no primary moral right to secede unilaterally– but I don’t find that an obviously false conclusion.

Australia having a proportionate number of seats at Westminster and being part of a unified democracy would be a proposal subject to fatal practical objections of a sort Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin first laid out. But it wouldn’t be the same kind of thing as being ruled from the outside by an appointed governor (as Massachusetts was by 1775).

And I think it’s entirely telling that only France has ever really tried that imperial strategy in modern times. Real empires don’t want to see the colonized outvoting the colonizers, so they don’t admit the former to the demos– and so those excluded do have a right to secede.

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tom hurka 01.25.07 at 12:26 pm

Doesn’t Buchanan say that having been forcibly incorporated into another state is an injustice that justifies secession, so the Baltic states would have had a right to secede from the Soviet Union even if they had full democratic participation in it? And aren’t colonies, assuming they didn’t voluntarily become such, in the same position? Like Ajay, I find Jacob’s position way, way more restrictive than is plausible. (If the U.S. forcibly annexes Canada but then gives Canadians equal votes, Canada has no right to secede? Balls to that.)

The Chris/Jacob distinction isn’t being ignored. But their view implies that if the UK allows Scotland to secede, they can say ‘You have no right to do what you’re doing, and we have the right to stop you, but we’ve decided not to do so because it would cause a lot of bother.’ I just don’t see any reason to accept the first part of that as a claim about moral rights. I can see in principle an argument that international law shouldn’t recognize that moral right, because it would so often be abused. But I don’t see the argument in practice. To repeat, the arguments why allowing a prima facie (and only prima facie) right of secession would have bad effects appeal to conditions that aren’t always present, and in particular aren’t present in the cases we’re mainly discussing, Scotland and Quebec.

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abb1 01.25.07 at 2:18 pm

…having been forcibly incorporated into another state is an injustice that justifies secession…

Who wasn’t forcibly incorporated? By this standard every town in Italy should be able to declare independence.

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Craigers 01.25.07 at 6:54 pm

So much to deal with here and so little time… I’ll make just a couple of points.

Matt: I doubt Quebec’s secession would cause injustice to anyone in Quebec.

I can assure you that aboriginal peoples in Quebec, who have treaty relations with the federal Crown but none with the province of Quebec, would be most seriously injured.

As to the ‘right of secession’ point, call me old-fashioned, but I thought the right of self-determination was generally accepted?

It certainly is. There are certainly live debates within the public international law community about the extent of the right of self-determination (specifically, which groups have it and which don’t) but customary international law provides, without question, for the right of self-determination for national groups.

Lucien Bouchard’s view that Canada is divisible but the boundaries of Quebec are inviolable is considered a joke.

Tom, it’s certainly considered a joke in English Canada; in Quebec it’s considered to be very much “on the table”, at least as a negotiating position.

All of which puts into perspective the anti-colonialist rhetoric of Scottish nationalists over the years: at the high point of Empire, Britain was led by Scots.

Britain was led by Scottish aristocrats – linked and co-opted via economic and marital ties to English interests. Douglas Haig has about as much in common with Alex Salmond or your typical SNP supporter as a herring does with a parking meter.

Also, incidentally, Beatty was not a Scot – he was born and raised in Cheshire.

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Craigers 01.25.07 at 7:10 pm

The argument is that Scotland becoming independent would mean that it would pursue policies that it is unable to pursue now because the English prevent them. Like joining the euro, not funding a large military, providing better social services, not engaging in prememptive wars, etc.

This is the crux of the argument, I have always thought. Not that Scotland isn’t well or fairly represented in Parliament or at Whitehall; rather, that the Union results in Scotland living under principles and policies that are not appropriate for a nation of its size. In other words, principles and policies that may well be appropriate for one of the world’s powers (declining but still powerful) but not particularly appropriate for a small, northern country.

As a person proud of his own English parents and ancestry, it’s painful for me to admit that the Union isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

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lurker 01.26.07 at 3:34 am

@95,
Non-inclusion in the demos as grounds for secession: how about an old (so as weaken the forcible incorporation excuse for secession) multiethnic state with a non-democratic government? Are you a part of the demos if the demos is powerless?
@96,
there’s a difference between being conquered within living memory by people who are nothing like you and whom you despise and being incorporated in a national state of your own people several generations ago. But obviously there must be some kind of statute of limitations on this particular justification.
IIRC Newfoundland was not happy about having to join Canada, but the British refused to have it as a colony anymore. Should people have the right to remain a colony if they really want to, even if the colonial power does not want them anymore? For that matter, should people have the right to join a nation that does not want them?

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abb1 01.26.07 at 5:18 am

@99 – the “your own people” bit is plain meaningless, it has no basis in reality.

An Italian in my office despises “his own people” living anywhere below Tuscany, says Naples is the last place in the world he would visit. People living in the Baltic states were officially a part of the same people – the Soviet People, and I’m sure some felt that way too, why not.

And your “statute of limitations” idea seems to be pretty much an equivalent of Chris’ “remedial grounds”, “recent victims of sustained injustice”.

Yeah, IMHO there is simply no hard-and-fast rules here, no defined rights, just whatever the political process (including political violence) leads to.

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