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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Secession Homework

I am currently in a class at BGSU called "Comparative Government". We basically learn the ropes of different countries' government structures. It's like a series of 2 week junior-high government classes. We have discussion questions to do, so I figured I would cross-post my own writings here. Bear in mind, these are not the most politically brilliant pieces ever and are limited to 1-2 double-spaced pages, so it's not like I can even begin to cover all the bases.


The question for this assginment:

"Many Scots feel loyalty to Scotland and not Britain. If a majority of Scots decided democratically to declare Scotland independent, do you think that the government of the United Kingdom should allow Scotland to separate? Why, or why not? Suppose the people of Vermont (or Texas)voted to secede from the United States. Should Vermont (or Texas) be allowed to leave? Why, or why not?

More generally, under what circumstances should secession be permitted? Do you believe that ethnic or religious groups are entitled to their own nation-states if a majority of the group's members want to have a separate nation-state? If not, how should multi-ethnic states manage ethnic differences?"


Response:

Secession is a tricky topic to tackle because it has no universally correct answer. In the case of modern Scotland things are more docile than in most cases where secession is considered, making things much easier to discuss. The Scottish people feel that they are more a part of Scotland than the United Kingdom, yet they are considered by the United Kingdom and the world to be a part of the Kingdom.

Secession would probably be possible for Scotland if it were done by popular vote. The Scots already have their own parliament, governing bodies, and laws in place. They have also traditionally been capable of governing themselves, so in each of these cases self-governance should not be an issue. The one issue that may be a sticking point is the concessions the United Kingdom’s parliament has made to Scotland, such as the Scots’ disproportionate representation in the House of Commons (Munro 109). The argument that they are not represented in the currently recognized national government would hold no basis, unlike the North American colonies in the later half of the 1700’s. The United Kingdom may fight secession though Parliament, but force would probably be precluded due to international pressure.

The circumstances under which it would be acceptable for a region to secede are where the true difficulty comes into play. The ability to self-govern would be a major issue for the potential new nation. If it would be incapable of governing itself, it would most-likely become a contested ‘hot-zone’ or a lawless zone as much of the southern handle of Somalia is today. If this were to be the case, then it would probably be best for secession to not occur. If it could self-govern, then that would be one major point toward the legitimacy of secession.

Resources are another major issue. If there are resources in an area that would not have the infrastructure to effectively utilize them without their original national government’s involvement then an economic depression would be likely. If they were able to build up their own infrastructure this aspect would be effectively negated. The other aspect of the resources issue would be how willing the parent government would be to depart with them. The secessionists could argue that it rightfully belongs to the people on the land, but there would be, more often than not, a case for the parent government to step in and seize land that it has its own perceived legitimate claim to. The drive for a nation of Kurdistan runs into this with Turkey over who would control the water supply, an issue neither side seems willing to budge on.

Human rights abuses should be an aspect of the legitimacy of a secessionist movement. Semantics enter here with who defines what human rights abuses are, so this issue would be an exercise in complexity on its own right.

Religion and ethnicity often enter into the debate over the right to secede. The Kurds wish to establish the state of Greater Kurdistan, but this would require taking territory from Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, and Syria, ultimately resulting in a fragmented state. This would be the result if other ethnic groups were to secede from their current governments as well. A prime example would be the emerging state of Palestine (a case of a fragmented state within a perforated state). The major problems with fragmented states such as this are what to do about border security, trade, transportation, and the governance of regions of mixed ethnicity or religious beliefs.

When cosidering states seceding from the United States of America, popular vote within the state should be the basis for if it withdraws from the Union, as per the rights outlined in the Constitution. However, the past has proven that the federal government would probably fight this move, in a military manner if need be. In practice military strength of the state would most likely be the determining factor for the outcome of an attempted secession from the United States.

Intellectually there are many criteria that would make a secessionist movement ‘right’ or not. In the end, the legitimacy of such a movement relies on how far the secessionists are willing to go to break away compared to how bad the government wishes to keep them as part of the nation.

Works Cited

Munro, Colin R. “Scottish Devolution: Accommodating a Restless Nation.” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 6 (1999): 97-119.

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