In the last few weeks the United Kingdom government has given approval to Scotland to hold a referendum on its independence. The Foreign Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh welcomed this decision stating “London’s position proves once again that respect for human rights and nations’ self-determination is the priority for democratic states.” Whilst this statement was probably issued for political purposes, there is very little comparison between the position of Scotland and that of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the social and humanitarian positions being quite different.
Just over 400 years ago, the countries of Scotland and England were connected by a common monarch – one who was Scottish. The monarch, King James VI of Scotland (1st in England), was the nearest family member of the childless Queen Elizabeth I of England who was eligible to be crowned King of England. This convenient common monarch helped bring to some closure the centuries of warring between the 2 countries, and eventually led to the passing of the Acts of Union in 1707 which formed the Kingdom of Great Britain. This was done with the consent of the Parliaments of both countries, and served to create an island unit .
In the 300 years since the Union, the two countries have amalgamated together in a way such that the term British has become the most popular description of the people in the UK. The prescence on the world stage of the separate nations is confined to narrow sporting interests ( e.g. Rugby, football, whereas in the Olympics it is grouped as Great Britain). The separate cultural heritages are maintained, predominantly for tourist reasons, and the ancient languages are spoken by very few people. Whilst people’s accents will easily identify which country they come from within the UK, the relevance of the distinctions is minimal with many Scottish people living and working in England and vice versa.
Since the 1960’s and the discovery of North Sea Oil, the Scottish independence movement has grown up as a minority interest. They made political capital out of “Scottish oil” being sent to London for English people, but this has largely been dismissed as the rants of fringe politicians. In the last 15 years a referendum was passed to devolve certain powers from the UK to a Scottish parliament – this was established in 1998. This is consistent with the principal of de-centralisation within the UK and a similar Welsh Parliament has been formed in the same period.
For the majority of the people in the UK, and particularly on the mainland, the idea that England, Scotland and Wales is a single body with regional differences is not an issue, it’s a way of life, and does not cause any problems whatsoever. There are inevitably regional differences, in terms of wealth and living conditions, and this exists in England as well ; this is nothing unusual.
The desire for Scotland to become independent is driven by a small number of people in search of solving a problem that does not exist. The current wealth and development within Scotland is because it is part of the Union and attracts subsidies and grants from the central UK Government.
True independence comes when one has control of one’s finances and defence. This is where the logic and the sense start to break down. Would an independent Scotland stay with the British Pound?; in which case they would be tied to decision making in London. Would they move to the Euro, and all of the uncertainty and trauma that this may give? Or would they form their own currency and take the risk of how the world markets would value such a new entrant in the current world climate. The British army is fully integrated across the Union with little by way of distinction – how would one determine which elements were Scottish?
The other significant issue is “Who is the Scottish nation”? Is it anyone who lives in the geographical region? This would include a lot of English, Irish, and Welsh people as well as migrants from other countries – so who is becoming independent? Is it only people who can identify a given ancestry? With centuries of integration this would be impossible to determine and extremely undesirable.
The fact of the matter is that Scottish independence is nothing to do with human rights or self-determination, this is a political project from a few people who are trying to further an unnecessary and impractical cause. This is far from the position in Artsakh where an identifiably different nation of people were “allocated” to Azerbaijan as a result of an arbitrary decision by Stalin in the 1920’s. A situation where there is animosity with the other country, and where there is a wrong to be corrected. Any independence discussions with Scotland will be transacted in a very civilised, safe, environment – there will be no conflict, no urgent humanitarian issues to resolve, no ancient cultures to re-establish, or wrongs to right.
If the Artsakh people are looking for a parallel with Scotland’s quest for independence, then this will only lead to great disappointment and political irrelevance. A look across the Irish Sea to Ireland presents a completely different situation and the Republican movement might be a source of much more interest.
Categories: Self-Determination Cases