News media are filled with pros and cons opinions on the Scotland's
independence referendum. But the arguments boils down to just two
crucial points. While the pro-independence crowd has argued that an
independent Scotland would be able to exercise democracy, rights of
self-determination, with full political decision-making power as a
nation, the status quo or pro-union camp has argued that the union has
lasted over 300 years for one reason: because it works; and why throw
away the security and benefits of staying with the United Kingdom.
On 18 September 2014, about 4 millions of Scots will vote on whether they want their country to become independent or remain part of the United Kingdom.
According to a YouGov poll of 1 September, the lead for the no campaign at six points, down from 14 points in the middle of August and 22 points early last month. Excluding those that are still undecided, 53 per cent would vote no, while 47 per cent would vote yes.
The Guardian's essential guide on “Scottish independence”, dated 23 April 2013 wrote that 4 million people, officially registered to vote in Scotland, including those aged 16-17, will be eligible to vote; polls will open from 7am until 10pm on September 18 and voters will be faced with a single question: should Scotland be an independent country? They will only be able to vote 'yes' or 'no'.; only a simple majority vote of 51 per cent is needed to secure victory; and votes will be counted overnight in each of Scotland's 32 local authorities and the results will be announce on the morning of September 19.
Brief historical backdrop
Scotland's relations with England have been marred by independence movements, crowns unification of the two political entities, political union and recently, the independence referendum movement. Following are important historical mile stones that form the contemporary political development of the today.
• William Wallace and then Robert the Bruce led “wars of independence” 700 years ago.
• In 1314, Edward II, then attempting to subjugate Scotland, at Bannock burn was defeated by the Scottish.
• In 1513, Scotland was defeated by the English at Flodden.
• In 1603, the Scottish and English crown unification, when King James IV became overall monarch of the British isles.
• In 1707, political union of England and Scotland and political power moved to London.
• In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie, led the Jacobite revolt against Hanoverian rule by London. It ended in crushing defeat at Culloden in 1746.
• After several failed attempts, notably in 1913 and 1979, a Scottish parliament was established in 1999.
• In May 1999, Scotland held its first election for a devolved parliament and in July the Scottish Parliament held session for the first time since the previous parliament had been adjourned in 1707.
• In May 2011, Salmond and the Scottish National Party (SNP) unexpectedly won an historic landslide victory giving the nationalists majority control of the Scottish parliament
• On 15 October 2012, the Edinburgh Agreement (full title: Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland) was signed between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, on the terms of Scottish independnece referendum 2014 (Sources: The Guardian & Wikipedia)
Key arguments and supporters
The status quo camp argued that the UK is the most successful economic and political union of modern times, and that change needs to be slow and careful. The UK brings security and shared risk, and common values. It is supported by Ruth Davidson, Scottish Tory leader; Lord Forsyth, former Scottish secretary; Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretary.
Devo-plus – devolution plus - camp said that Scotland needs to take responsibility for the taxes it spends, and mould policies to its needs and raise the taxes to match its spending. It is backed by Reform Scotland think tank; Scottish Liberal Democrats; possibly Alistair Darling; devo plus campaign; senior figures in Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
The Independence camp reasoned that there is no reason why Scotland cannot control its own destiny, become equal to England, and take its full place in the world. Scotland and England would remain firm friends. It is backed by Alex Salmond, Scottish National party, Scottish Green party, Sir Sean Connery, Sir Brian Souter, Stagecoach owner, the Scottish Socialist party and Solidarity.
According to Matt Qvortrup in his research piece titled, “The History of Ethno-National Referendums 1791–2011”, he writes:“There have been 157 ethno-national referendums since the Second World War. Thirty-four of these were held between 1989 and 1993 and were all more or less direct consequence of the fall of communism. That such momentous events shake the political kaleidoscope is not surprising, nor, perhaps, is it surprising that the developments left their mark on legal practice. There is a bit of a sea change in the new doctrine adopted after 1989. As Matthew Craven has observed, “Of the new states that were to emerge in the 1990s … most held plebiscites or national polls by way of authorization.”
But cautioned that not all the ethno-national referendums held after 1989 are related to the end of the Cold War. The referendums in Canada in 1992 and in Quebec in 1995 are a result of an internal dynamic, and the same is true for the polls held in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1998 and the plebiscite in Burundi in 2005.
He further pinpoints the fact that democracy and rights of self-determination goes hand in hand as follows:
“The history of ethnic and national referendums started in the wake of the French Revolution. Nationalism and self-determination went hand in hand, and this was resolved through referendums. E. H. Carr, the British historian and theorist of international relations, observed correctly that Self-determination and democracy went hand in hand. Self-determination might indeed be regarded as implicit in the idea of democracy; of if every man's right is recognised to be consulted about the affairs of the political unit to which he belongs, he may be assumed to have an equal right to be consulted about the form and extend of the unit.”
Also touching on the issue of “Independence Referendum”, Wikipedia has collected data, which are highly interesting.
Accordingly, from the period between 1990 to 2014, there have been 26 independence referendums, which mostly gained independence, with some achieving de facto independent status. The up-coming or expected independence referendums are to be held in Scotland, Catalonia, Kurdistan, New Caledonia and Bougainvillea. All will be recognized referendums by the concerned state, except for Catalonia, which is part of Spain, and Kurdistan, belonging to Iraq.
Scottish secession drive
With the poll indicating that the pro-independence trailing behind closely the pro-union campaign, the outcome could go either way. If the pro-independence prevail, a new nation-state will be born and political and economic adjustment will follow, especially between the UK and Scotland, followed by fine tuning of international relations and commitments. Other than that, the status of UK in UN security council and its international relations would have to be reviewed. If the pro-union camp wins, the “devo-plus”- devolution plus - and “devo-max” - devolution maximum - will likely follow, so that the Scottish desire to be independent could be softened or dampened, even if it is going to be for the time being.
According to an opinion piece in The Guardian, on 4 September, Simon Jenkins, who also admitted to be a pro-independence supporter, pointed out that “ the no campaign offers merely stasis. Even with devo max, Scots would remain in political shackles. It’s time to break free.”
He further said that the result “ will be nothing like the alarms or promises made by both sides. Pick apart the no vote’s “devo-max” and the yes vote’s “independence-lite”, and the practical differences are not great. Both will deliver a distinctive Scotland yet one still close to England. Whatever deal follows whatever vote, there will be joint citizens, open borders, a common currency, joint banking, arrangements on welfare, security, tax-gathering and broadcasting. Scotland may set its taxes differently, but the scope for drastic change will be limited.”
The beauty of the Scottish independence referendum is that it is so matured, civilized and democratic, all nation-states facing such ethnic self-determination should take it as a model for various ethnic conflict resolution.
What can Burma learn from Scottish experience
Lately, a report in SHAN, in an opinion piece, on 19 August 2014, highlighted a point regarding secession issue troubling the USDP-Military regime, which is in the midst of nationwide ceasefire negotiation with the ethnic armed groups, striving for more rights of self-determination.
One of the problematic issue, from the nine sticky points highlighted by the report, regarding the nationwide ceasefire agreement draft, is “the Panglong spirit and Panglong promises”, which the USDP-Military government had rejected the latter saying it contains the right of secession.
President Thein Sein, meeting with leaders and representatives of the political parties, at Mingala Hall of Yangon Region Government, on 29 March 2014, said:
“The door is kept open to discuss all matters except matters related to secession from the Union of Myanmar, and issues that can harm national sovereignty.”
On a lot of occasions, during the ceasefire talks between the ethnic armed organizations and the government, this line of argument has been repeatedly aired, making it the principle fall-back position of the regime.
But the interesting posture is the recent linkage of the secession clause, written in 1947 Union of Burma Constitution, and the Panglong Agreement, openly rejecting the “Panglong Promises” as the foremost obstacle and hindrance for the ongoing peace process.
To wrap up, first, the ethnic self-determination or ethnic upsurge is very much alive and the tendency is increasing, rather than decreasing. Second, if the count of ethno-national referendums, specifically, the independence referendum, are of any indication, the stateless or non-state nations and ethnic groups will continue to exercise and struggle for their rights of self-determination, if given the chance. If not, open conflicts would continue to pop-up. Third, all ethno-national referendums are not only striving for secession and many will be happy to practice harmonious, peaceful co-habitation, if there would be a proper give-and-take, power-sharing mechanism, like genuine federal union for example.
Last but not least, the Burmese government should learn from all these episodes that by merely pressuring the other ethnic groups to refrain from leaving the union coercively is no guarantee that it won't exercise their rights of self-determination in the future, as the recent Scottish independence referendum has explicitly shown. And the best way to do it is to ask for voluntary participation, which is already the case now for non-Burman ethnic nationalities, and try to grasp the existing opportunity to cement it by being fair and equal to all the other ethnic groups, in power-sharing, resources-sharing and all other political aspects.
Namkham farmers’ protest highlights urgent need for moratorium on resource extraction during peace process.
The anti-mining protest by over 3,000 villagers in Namkham, northern Shan State, on September 5, 2014, highlights the lack of protection against damaging mining, and the urgent need for a moratorium on resource extraction in ethnic areas until there is genuine political reform and peace in Burma.
Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation
Shan State Development Foundation
Shan Students’ Union (Thailand)
Shan Women’s Action Network
Shan Youth Network Group
Shan Youth Organisation (Taunggyi)
Shan Youth Power
Tai Literature and Culture Society
Tai Youth Network, Workers’ Solidarity Association,
Nang Muay Noom Hom: +66 81 992 8683 (Burmese)
Hor Hseng: +66 93 264 9487 (Shan and English)
Website: www.shanhumanrights.org, www.shanwomen.org
Attachments: a map of the Namkham mining area, and photos of the mining impacts