Monday, September 22, 2014

Right to self-determination: proceed with caution

There're those who belief that secession and independence would automatically solve all problems faced by a people. But a more rational consideration of what's at stake or what's to come after independence would show otherwise.

Scotland was in the spotlight in light of a referendum to decide whether or not the territory should remain part of the United Kingdom. When the jury was still out, there was a lot of speculation and analysis about the possibility of a victory by the "YES campaign". But the verdict showed after all votes were counted that the "NO campaign" carried the day. Scotland rejected independence. The people decided to stick with their United Kingdom.

According to the BBC, Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

I welcome the results of the referendum and applaud the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide, because -- let's face it -- Westminster could have blocked or delayed a referendum. By allowing the process, the government under the leadership of Cameron acted in good faith in recognition of the right of self-determination.

I believe all peoples have the right to determine their political status. I recognize and would defend the right to self-rule or self-determination, which is a core principle in international law. The right is expressly provided in international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see article 1), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see article 1).

However, I also believe that peoples should exercise this right with caution -- except in cases where there's urgency prompted by a brutal and oppressive occupier.

Advocates of secession often point to the availability of natural wealth and resources in their territory as proof that they would be better off as an independent country. Natural resources alone, in my opinion, should not be the driving force for self-rule. Other factors should be considered, and all major uncertainties should be sorted out before independence. When it comes to independence, a leap in the dark is, without a doubt, reckless.

It would have been disastrous, I feel, for the people of Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom without a clear structure in place to ensure their well-being after independence. A lot of uncertainty surrounded Scottish independence. It's baffling that about 45 % of Scots voted in favor of independence without knowing, for instance, what currency an independent Scotland would use, and without knowing how long it would take the country to join the European Union -- from where many Scottish farmers expect subsidies. Security and defence questions were not also considered or clarified by "Yes Scotland", the main campaign group for independence.

Scotland no doubt has natural resources. In fact Scotland is richer per capita than the UK, and about 90% of the UK's oil comes from Scotland. But resources do run out. It's therefore important, in my view, that independence should not be anchored predominantly on the availability of natural resources.

In my view, majority of the people of Scotland voted wisely in the referendum. Majority of Scots seem to understand that secession doesn't necessarily make all socio-economic and political problems go away. Food for thought for separatist movements across the globe.

Personally, I take away two lessons from the Scottish referendum: firstly, wealth of natural resources doesn't necessarily mean majority of people in a territory will vote in favor of secession. And secondly, an independence referendum (or calls for it) by peoples entitled to it is sometimes necessary in order to force change -- as evidenced by the fact that David Cameron and other British leaders promised under the pressure of a referendum to devolve greater powers to Scotland. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not change will be delivered as promised.

Failure to fulfill the vow made by UK party leaders panicked by the referendum, I believe, would mean another referendum in the future. And Scots might not vote "No" to independence again if they're forced to return to the polls in the future because of a broken vow.

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