Photo: Scottish Government.
On the face of things, the positions taken by the Yes and No camps in the referendum campaign would seem to be diametrically opposed. Yes argue that an independent Scotland would be better off: it would be richer, stronger, greener and fairer, resembling Norway or Sweden as much as the UK. No argue that an independent Scotland would be worse off: it would be poorer, jobs would head south and it would lose, along with its EU membership, the disproportionately large influence it has internationally by being part of the UK. Yet despite the appearance of opposition there is something that Yes and No have in common, which is that both are offering answers to the same question: what is best for Scotland?
But why think that “what is best for Scotland?” is the relevant question to ask? Here’s a strikingly different approach we could take. We could ask, “What is best for everyone in the world, no matter where they live?” Asking this question would force us to think beyond Scotland’s borders and take into account the interests of all those upon whom the referendum will have an effect. Clearly, the outsiders who will be most affected are those living in the rest of the UK. In the event of a Yes victory, politics within the rest of the UK is set for a shake up. Continue reading →
With the referendum for Scottish independence upcoming, my question has three possible contexts of application: it could be about the position of Scottish prisoners as nationals of the United Kingdom in political elections; it could be about Scottish prisoners under independent Scottish jurisdiction; or it could concern the say of Scottish prisoners in the decision on which of those other two contexts applies after September. This last question is particularly interesting because it opens onto some deeper issues about what it means to be part of the Scottish people at this time of potential constitutional change.
I was prompted to this reflection following a recent group visit to HMP Shotts, at the invitation of prison governor Jim Kerr, to learn about the nature and conditions of prisoners’ work there. (It was an enlightening experience, as Liz Cooper has described in her blog). The topic of voting didn’t come up, but more substantial issues about prisoners’ relations to the wider society did. Continue reading →
Photo by Scottish Government
What is perhaps most striking about the debate regarding Scottish independence is not what people are saying but what they are ignoring. When one brings the philosophical literature on secession to bear on the public debate one notices that a number of points are being assumed that require defence. In this article, I wish to address a crucial assumption made on both sides, by the No camp as much as the Yes camp, by the UK government as much as the SNP: the assumption that Scotland has a right to unilaterally decide it’s future.
What gives Scotland a moral right to secede anyway? One plausible view of secession is that an area of a state only has a right to secede if it is suffering serious forms of abuse. Something close to this view is defended by perhaps the most prominent theorist of secession, Allen Buchanan. It is also the view invoked in the world’s most famous secessionist document, the US Declaration of Independence. According to the Declaration, “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”. Secession can only be justified in light of “a long train of abuses”. It was the long train of abuses that George III had supposedly inflicted against the thirteen colonies that, in the eyes of the Founding Fathers, justified their bid for secession. What “long train of abuses” can the residents of Scotland complain of? Continue reading →