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21 - 27 Jan , 2012
Scottish Independence IssueScottish Independence Issue

When the BBC announced a few days ago that the first salvoes in the dismemberment of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had been fired, it was not being melodramatic. However, strange as it may sound to those for whom any talk of any alteration in the boundaries of the state is akin to treason, this is exactly what is happening though those of us with an incomplete understanding of democracy - which is most of us - would not believe it.
When the Scottish National Party or SNP won the last Scottish elections beating Labour hollow, it had promised a referendum to the Scottish people on the subject of Scotland's secession from the United Kingdom. The SNP was under the impression it could hold its referendum whenever it pleased and was planning to do so around the autumn of 2014. The idea of Scottish independence does not, at this point in time, enjoy majority support with most polls showing support for ranging between 32 and 38 per cent. 2014, however, is going to be a year in which Scottish patriotism is likely to be whipped up to near fever frenzy as it is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the first war of Scottish independence, fought on the 24th day of June, 1314. At that historic battle, which took place some 20 miles from modern day Dundee (the exact site of the battle is still a matter of dispute among historians), the forces of that great Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, routed the forces of the English king Edward II to notch a date in history that has become the stuff of Scottish legend. The SNP government therefore thinks that its best chances of winning a referendum on Scottish independence is in the wake of the anniversary celebrations.
But the wily English have their own cunning plans. British Prime Minister David Cameron in an effort to stymie the SNP plan came out with a statement saying that due to the uncertainty about Scotland's future continuation as a member of the United Kingdom, both British and Scottish business was being affected adversely and that therefore the Scots must have their referendum as soon as possible and certainly within the next 18 months, ie, by June 2013. The carrot he hung out with it was that he was prepared to grant that such a referendum, if held by June 2013, would be considered binding whereas the result of any referendum held by the Scots after that date in 2014, would be only recommendatory in nature. The Scots replied by saying that this was a red herring and that any referendum, whether conducted in 2013 or 2014, would be recommendatory in nature because the British Parliament is the sovereign power and no one can dictate to Parliament. But the Scots took deep and serious umbrage to Scottish Independence Issuethe Parliament in Westminster telling them when to hold their referendum and when not to hold it; surely this was a matter which was exclusively within the powers of the Scots to decide. The English disagreed with that saying that as long as the Act of Union of 1707 which brought Scotland into the United Kingdom, was in force, the Parliament in Westminster had the authority.
Mr Cameron also insists that the referendum should be restricted to a straight question asking the people whether or not they want Scotland to remain in the UK. The Scots want a slightly broader choice in which the question of 'devo max', as the media fondly describes it, is also put to the people. This question would ask whether people would like 'maximum devolution' of powers to Scotland, a state of affairs whereby defence and foreign affairs may be left with the Parliament at Westminster but powers in all other subjects would devolve to the Scottish Parliament - basically, not all that different from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's six points supported by his Awami League party in the former East Pakistan. Mr Cameron does not want the ballot paper in the referendum to contain any such choice as in all probability the referendum would show massive Scottish support for this option; some opinion polls have it that this idea of 'devo max' is supported by as many as 84 per cent of the Scottish people. A consultation paper is said to be under preparation which, it is expected, will say on the basis of legal advice that the independence referendum will be binding under the Scotland Act only if both parliaments agree to its going ahead. But whether such a referendum is legally binding or not, the moral force that it would carry would be so heavy that no British government would find it politically possible to disregard it.
Whichever way this pans out, some things are for sure; for one, it can be taken for granted that it will be the Scottish people and the Scottish people only who will decide the future of their land and whether or not it is to continue to be a part of the United Kingdom; and for another it is certain that if in the end Scotland decides to leave the United Kingdom and become a separate country, this will happen without a shot being fired in anger. And therein lies the true moral of this story.
For the democratic will of the people is not limited to its powers to decide which government they should be ruled by. That will is the basis of the state itself and the borders of the state draw their sanctity from this supremely sovereign democratic will. Thus if the people do not desire that their land should be part of a larger state but that they should stand independently on their own, that is all that matters and counts.
It is said that if this concept of the democratic will had been prevalent seven hundred years ago, that other great Scottish hero William Wallace, on whom the movie Brave Heart was based, would not have been hung drawn and quartered back in 1305 for having defied the authority of the English King Edward I, whose son suffered the defeat at Bannockburn. For all that Wallace wanted, all that he fought and died for, was for his countrymen to have the right to decide their own statehood. Back in 1305, it was treasonous to even think so. But 700 years on, it is discussed quite openly and no stigma attaches to those who discuss the issue.
Pakistan, of course, is a very long way away from coming anywhere near to that level of democracy. Even India, whom so many Pakistanis admire for the stability of its 'democracy', has, when compared to a truly developed democracy, only a democracy of sorts. For if Indian democracy had come anywhere near the levels of British democracy, there would have been no issue over Kashmir. In a true democracy, the right of self determination is inherent, an inalienable part of the parcel; you do not need a resolution of the United Nations or any other organisation to validate it. In so far as this is of comfort to any Pakistani, Indian democracy is no closer than Pakistani democracy to understanding the true ethos of this much underestimated and misunderstood word.

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