The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Scottish Secessionism

September 5, 2012

My colleague, Charles King, has a great piece (gated) in Foreign Affairs on what the success of the Scottish National Party says about secesssionist movements everywhere.

Opinion polls suggest that the Scots are unlikely to approve independence outright. Instead, they will probably settle for some form of “enhanced devolution,” an increase in the considerable policymaking power granted to Scotland over the last decade and a half. But the rise of Salmond’s SNP has sent an unexpected shudder through British political life. The outcome of Scotland’s vote will also reverberate throughout Europe, setting a precedent for dealing with fundamental questions of governance and sovereignty. What kinds of units deserve self-determination, especially when they base their claim not on minority rights but on the simple desire to do things their own way? What options are open to democratic polities that seek to counter secession when military force is unimaginable? The question of Scotland’s future is not just about the durability of the United Kingdom. It is also about the uses of quiet maximalism — the way in which astute regional parties, aided by creaky central institutions and unimpassioned opponents, can unbuild a workable country while no one seems to be looking.

I’ll note that a good deal of the Scottish-based SF I’ve read recently presumes an independent Scotland, which is interesting in of itself. Also seems relevant to Quebec, where a more social-democratic leaning enclave exists within a polity that is less so.

The questions of democratic self-determination here really are thorny; I wonders if and how the discussion would be different if Scotland (for example) weren’t a pre-existing administrative unit.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.