The Fight for Scottish Independence

In the early 1700s, The Acts of Union were passed by the British and Scottish Parliaments and joined the two countries together into a united kingdom called Great Britain.  However, after 300 some odd years together, it seems like they might be getting ready to go their separate ways.

In last year’s elections, the Scottish National Party won 69 of 129 seats in the Regional Parliament.   This victory has come almost 80 years after the party was first founded, with the express purpose of reversing the Acts of Union.  The party leader, Alex Salmond has promised that there will be a referendum no later than 2014 to allow voters to decide.

However, Mr. Salmond is facing an uphill battle, with strong opposition coming from British Prime Minister David Cameron.   In a cabinet meeting, Mr. Cameron took the view that “any issues affecting British sovereignty are the exclusive purview of the British Parliament, as specified in the statute that granted limited powers of self-government to Scotland.”  Scotland’s Deputy First Minister fired back that this was simply a blatant attempt for Westminster to interfere in a matter that should be left to the Scottish government and people.  The Scotland Act of 1998 created the Scottish Parliament, with the power make primary legislation in certain devolved areas of policy, in addition to limited tax powers.  Other policy areas are reserved for the English Government and Parliament.

Mr. Salmond is hoping to delay the referendum until 2014 to allow the independence movement time to grow. He is also in favor of having of having several different options placed on the ballot.  For voters who are uncomfortable with the idea of full separation, there would be the choice of “devolution max,” which would allow Scotland to gain full autonomy of their domestic affairs.  As of now, opinion polls are showing that around 30% – 40% of Scottish voters are in favor of full separation and 70% of the public in favor of expanding Scotland’s existing devolutionary power.

Mr. Cameron on the other hand, while willing to entertain the idea of a referendum, is hoping to have it sooner rather than later, to prevent any further gains in the independence movement.  He also is in favor of only allowing 1 choice on the ballot; full independence or nothing.  He swore, “I will campaign to keep the United Kingdom together with every single fiber I have.”

One comment

  1. This scenario is interesting because it does not pose a classic self-determination scenario under customary international law. Self-determination as a positive entitlement to secession had traditionally been applied only to classical colonial entities where the right to self-determination could only be exercised within the boundaries established by the colonial power: once a colony has gained independence, it will defend its own territorial integrity. The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law and the 1993 Vienna Declaration both affirm the principle of self-determination as a universal right, but they reject secession from independent states “conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…, possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour” (UN Declaration). But international law is getting away from this strict interpretation and recognizing that the authority to govern is based on the will of the people. It will just be fascinating here to see just how that will is articulated.

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