FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Scotland’s Vote and the Future of Civil Society

Scotland’s vote for independence fell well short of victory.  But pro-independence Scots will surely try again, just as the Quebec Sovereignty Movement has stayed optimistic over many years in its fight for independence. From a practical point of view, perhaps the Scots are better off staying in the United Kingdom. Independence would have raised difficult challenges concerning foreign and defense affairs, oil and the environment, among many others. Yet as we look around the world, we find that governments have become increasingly unable to placate widespread anger and demands for change.  The sovereignty and decentralization envisioned by Scotland and Quebec is not just appealing, but a rational response of civil society to ineffective, unresponsive leaders.

What might have been the implications beyond Scotland if it had gained independence?  Would the success have inspired others, much like the rapid diffusion of the Arab Spring? Would Scottish independence have prompted a similar movement in Wales?  Might Catholics in Northern Ireland have raised demands for union with Ireland?  What about Catalonia?  Kurdistan? Tibet? Chechnya?

Secessions of parts of a state to form a new one generally are not well received by other countries.  An independent Scotland—not to mention an independent Quebec, Kurdistan, or Tibet—does not have support from the US or any other major country, so far as I’m aware.  Eastern Ukraine’s breakaway only has Russia’s support.  The general assumption among policy makers is that backing another country’s breakup might come back to haunt their country.

Of course there are exceptions. The breakup of the USSR and the split of Sudan into North and South did not seem to arouse much disapproval. But the international approach to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan is more typical: for all the ethnic, religious and political forces within those countries that are pulling them apart, and that might make the case for division into new countries, no one seems in favor. We might reasonably assume that governments are not concerned with the blowback of supporting secession more than they are with the empowerment of civil society.

We are on the threshold of a new era, the likes of which we haven’t seen since decolonization in Africa and Asia after World War II, in which attempts at breakaways will be more common. Popular dissatisfaction with government is rampant around the world, regardless of the political system. Demand (for services, satisfaction of grievances, regulations or deregulation) greatly exceeds what large centralized governments can supply. And the opportunities for people to display, communicate, and organize their dissatisfactions are also far greater than ever before.  Many groups will demand not just greater local autonomy but the right to fully govern themselves.

This possibility should not be surprising.  Americans, Chinese, Russians, French, Iraqis and many others are fast reaching the point where it is apparent that units of governing have become too large to accommodate the scope of the demands placed upon their national leaders.  It’s no longer just a matter of ethnic or religious differences.  Climate change and other large-scale environmental problems, rapidly growing rich-poor divides, unemployment, cross-border immigration, migrant workers, tainted food and water deficits, unmanageable public health crises—all these are creating serious protests that challenge the managerial abilities of governments. Central governing units need to be smaller if they are to be responsive, accountable and effective in the public interest.

“We are living in an era of unprecedented level of crises,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as a new General Assembly session opened in New York.  For how long can these crises be contained or ignored?  Will they be handled nonviolently?  I’m old enough that it’s possible I won’t be around when these questions are answered.  When they are, I can only hope the Scottish option is accepted as a reasonable alternative to terrible destructiveness.  My grandchildren may one day be living in a country called Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada), and that increasingly sounds like a good idea.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zibi: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail